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New £25m theatre planned as Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall replacement

The Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells. Photo: John Keogh
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Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall could be replaced with a new £25 million theatre, after the building was found not fit for purpose.

The 75 year-old venue, which is part of the town’s civic centre, needs £1.5 million as a “sticky plaster” to fix a leaky roof, install working air-conditioning, and improve cramped backstage conditions – among other developments.

But Tunbridge Wells Borough Council leader David Jukes said the current theatre’s state meant it would never be up to the standard required to host modern touring productions, and that a new theatre was necessary.

“When we had Evita in July, the temperature in the circle was about 35 degrees,” he said, adding: “If we expect people to pay for a good seat, we want them to enjoy not only the show, but the environment as well.”

The council is now considering a report that estimates the cost of a replacement theatre at £25 million – as well as looking at the improvements required to maintain the existing venue until a new theatre is opened.

Assembly Hall director Brian McAteer is backing the plans, explaining that rainwater leaked onto the stage during a show last Christmas.

“It was almost this waterfall shower curtain,” he said. “It’s not the best thing in the world, however I’m probably very, very lucky that it happened in panto where it’s a bit more ‘the show must go on’.”

Jukes revealed that a new theatre would take up to eight years to open, but assured the Assembly Hall would not close “until I go to the opening night on the new one”.

He also said the new theatre could be funded by disposal of the council’s unneeded assets.

The plans to improve the Assembly Hall will go before the council’s cabinet at the end of October.