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Dark times for Derby Playhouse as board closes theatre

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Derby Playhouse has gone dark, after the theatre’s board took the decision to place the company into administration.

Following months of speculation about the venue’s critical financial situation, staff were told last week that the theatre had gone into liquidation and that they were all redundant.

It has now been confirmed that the organisation and theatre have been placed in legal control of professional insolvency practitioner Tenon Recovery, who will “determine how the affairs of the company should be managed”.

A statement from the Playhouse board explained: “Given the insolvent position of that company and the fact that the directors are lay volunteers, the board has determined that the interests of creditors and all other interested parties are best served by placing the company into administration forthwith.”

Last Thursday, the board’s decision to close the theatre was defied by cast and crew, when they went ahead with a press performance of Treasure Island to a non-paying audience.

Backstage and front of house workers joined the cast and the artistic directors Karen Louise Hebden and Stephen Edwards on stage at the end of the performance. In an emotional appeal, Hebden paid tribute to the “amazing” cast, crew and band for their performance.

She said: “I know they are professionals and this is what they do, but I know how hard it was for them. It took place against the advice of the trustees and it was a fantastic performance. We have been fighting for the future of this theatre since 2002.”

The news comes after an earlier revelation that the venue faced a £300,000 shortfall in expected revenue and needed £70,000 to pull it out of danger of closure. Venue officials blamed the financial problems on disruption caused by the development of the surrounding Westfield shopping centre. Productions staged during that period performed below expectations.

Hebden added: “We traded through the dark period because we were told it would be better when the work [on the Westfield shopping centre] was finished. The people of Derby and Derbyshire deserve to have a theatre in this town.”

The theatre was refused a £40,000 cash advance by Derby City Council, despite Arts Council England agreeing to bring forward £70,000 of the venue’s grant and offering a further £30,000 on receipt of the local authority accepting the plan.

Meanwhile, former board chair Jonathan Powers told the audience that Edwards had offered £282,000 of his own money, secured against the theatre lease, to keep it going. However, the offer was turned down. He said that Edwards had paid £40,000 of his own money for staff salaries, and had also offered the liquidators £30,000 so that the theatre could be pulled back from the brink.

Powers added: “The city [council] is in denial over the Westfield shopping centre. They say it had no impact. They insult the people of Derby by suggesting they can’t enjoy fine theatre. I am appalled. I hope they get behind it and try to get this pulled back.”

Michael Hall, who resigned as a trustee three weeks ago in protest at what was happening, told the audience that the box office had taken £200,000 in advance for Treasure Island, which was to have run until January 26, 2008.

A statement from the city council, which has charged the theatre with bad management, said the closure was “a great disappointment”.

“Now that the Playhouse board has taken the difficult decision to take the company into liquidation, the council will do all it reasonably can to ensure that the Playhouse building continues to play a crucial role in the cultural life of the city,” the statement said.

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