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Feasibility study to explore Reading Prison as potential new theatre

Reading Gaol. Picture: Chris Forsey

Reading Gaol, in which Oscar Wilde was famously imprisoned, is to be investigated as the site of a new theatre.

Local organisation Theatre & Arts Reading is to carry out a feasibility study to determine whether a venue could be build on the Reading Gaol site.

Wilde was imprisoned in the Victorian prison in 1895. It closed its doors as a working prison in 2013, however last year hosted readings of De Profundis written by Wilde during his time there, as part of an art project.

TAR has secured a £20,000 grant from Arts Council England, as well as matched funding from Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire’s Trafalgar Entertainment Group and Festival Republic, which will also provide input into the study.

It is the latest in a series of plans to create a major new theatre for Reading, which go back more than a decade. Recent proposals to build a £25 million replacement for the Hexagon arts centre [1] were put on hold [2] at the start of this year due to “severe constraints” on funding.

Architects Foster Wilson are also working on the new project to ascertain where on the site a theatre could be established, as well as other uses for buildings there.

Architect Tim Foster said: “We are very excited to be undertaking this design study to look at the opportunity to develop a large-scale theatre for Reading, which will enhance the town’s cultural offer and create a home for high quality touring theatre.”

Squire, who is joint chief executive of Trafalgar Entertainment Group, added: “Reading has a lively arts scene and a thriving town centre with huge potential for a landmark theatre. We’re very much looking forward to bringing Trafalgar Entertainment Group’s expertise to the study.”

The Ministry of Justice is expected to put the gaol up for sale next year.