A theatre in Portsmouth has warned it will have to start its business from scratch, following a “malicious” burglary that left the building trashed.
Artistic director Richard Stride said the burglars had “destroyed nearly everything”, including props, computers and its server, and the perpetrators had left the venue covered in bleach.
The incident took place at the grade II*-listed Groundlings Theatre, which has a capacity of 180, in the early hours of September 29.
Stride told The Stage that the theatre was due to be holding panto auditions that morning.
“One of the local volunteers and also a parent and their child had turned up early, saw the door was open, came in and saw all the mess, and were greeted by two burglars,” he said.
“One of the burglars said ‘all right, love’, and then they scarpered.”
Stride said he cried when he arrived at the theatre and saw the damage, which he estimates will cost “well into the thousands” to repair.
A Facebook post from Groundlings Theatre said: “On Sunday morning the theatre was burgled, which is always very distressing; however, the two men in question then spent two and a half hours trashing the theatre.
“They destroyed nearly everything, from pulling out wires to plug sockets to covering everything in bleach and fire hydrant foam.
“They destroyed our computers, server, equipment and props. The damage is huge. We wept, to be honest.”
Stride said the burglars also smashed in about seven doors and took a safe and money from the tills.
“The worst of it is that they maliciously destroyed the servers, and that’s 20 years of work down the drain.
That’s all our programming, everything, we have to start the business from scratch,” he said.
He added: “It’s been quite traumatic for everyone really.”
Across the two days following the burglary, 40 volunteers came together to clean the theatre in time for a press launch on October 1 for the venue’s Christmas show, Jack and the Beanstalk.
The theatre has confirmed that all shows and classes for its children and adult drama classes are to continue as planned.
The venue has set up a crowdfunding page, which aims to raise £5,000 towards the cost of repairs.
Police are investigating the incident.