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Judi Dench and Ian McKellen help reopen Robin Hood Theatre

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Judi Dench has joined performers Ian McKellen and Sylvia Syms in donating money towards securing the future of a 150-seat theatre that has been dark for seven years.

The Robin Hood Theatre, in Averham near Newark, will reopen on April 8. It has special significance to Dench because she performed there in the 1980s. She is among a number of financial donors to the theatre, which was shut suddenly in 2007 following an inspection by Nottinghamshire County Council into its safety.

More than £50,000 has now been raised – through a mix of production profits, donations and grants – to enable its refurbishment, which includes new heating, lighting, access and public facilities.

Its owner, the Robin Hood Theatre Company, is keen to send a message to professional touring theatre companies that it is back open for business.

Previously, it has hosted professional companies as well as organisations such as the Cambridge Footlights, alongside amateur work from the theatre’s own acting company.

Val Wilson, business director for the theatre, explained that the county council closed the venue in 2007 “on the spot” after discovering issues concerning fire hazards and other health and safety issues.

Following this, the theatre’s management team has worked towards reopening the theatre. The Robin Hood Theatre Company has presented work in community centres and schools during the period its main venue has been closed.

Wilson said she had been the main fundraiser and added: “It’s been a bad time for getting money but we have managed it by getting personal donations, donations from celebrities, and £5,000 from the Theatres Trust.”

She added that she had written to McKellen, as the president of the Little Theatre Guild, and to Dench, because she had appeared at the venue when she was originally to have performed in Cats in London, but had been forced to pull out because of an injury.

“When [Dench] was asked if she would like to bring her show to the Robin Hood Theatre, she did. And my husband stage managed her. So when this happened I wrote to her and she immediately donated. Sir Ian did the same, and Sylvia Syms also gave us some money,” Wilson added.

She said the venue had no council support and that she was keen for touring companies to use the space.

“It can’t be dark. We’ve got to raise enough money to keep us going, to maintain it,” she said, adding: “Although we open in April, it will be work in progress. It won’t be finished. We need another £100,000 for a large extension that needs fitting out.”

The theatre was built in 1913 on the grounds of Averham Rectory by reverend Joseph Cyril Walker, who imported a proscenium arch from Italy for the venue.

It became a public theatre in 1961 and its opening featured a performance from Donald Wolfit, who also purchased the freehold of the theatre in 1967, when its future was in jeopardy, allowing it to continue operating.

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