Taunton Brewhouse’s allies say show must go on despite closure
The candle still burning outside the Taunton Brewhouse hours after a candle-lit vigil said it all, love for this theatre will not be quenched.
Less than 48 hours after the Taunton arts centre announced that it was going into administration and closing, there is a growing band prepared to put their hearts into its resurrection. Veteran Taunton Deane Borough councillor John Meikle, 89, founder chairman of the Brewhouse, is calling for an army of volunteers to come forward.
Outside the theatre yesterday flowers and candles left by the hundreds who turned out for Thursday night’s vigil still lay in tribute. Roses deliberately decapitated are a sad symbol of public sector spending cuts which added to the theatre’s financial problems.
Resolute amid the ruins Mr Meikle said: “My target is an army of 400 volunteers, in the first 24 hours I am closing on the first hundred by email.
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“The tone of the emails is quite moving, the Brewhouse is held at a much deeper level than I had thought, for example a volunteer email to me said: “That theatre holds so many memories and has been so important in my life, that I am not prepared to let it slip away.”
“When we built the Brewhouse there were 400 of us. With the support of the Deane Council I have taken upon myself the job of producing another army from which a new theatre trust will be created.
“It’s sad but in the end inflation defeated the survival of the Brewhouse. In the 1970s I could hire the leading Oxford Playhouse Touring company for £2,000, and still make a £1,000 profit. Today that would be at least a £10,000 loss.
Mr Meikle wants the council to give special support to help village drama groups encouraged to use the professional stage and believes hiring it out as conference centre would help, while still ensuring around 150 days for professional artists.
Though a Conservative he is critical of his own arty’s stance on the arts. The theatre was hit when Tory-led Somerset County Council axed arts funding in 2010. “The Conservatives are not very good at arts and crafts, they need to wake up,” he said.
Provincial theatres are the cradles for the best talents, Stephen Daldry, director of Billy Elliot, The Reader, and overseer of the Olympic and Paralympic Games opening and closing ceremonies began his love for theatre at the Brewhouse and is its patron.
Mr Meikle knows that the: “power lies with the administrators” who have appealed for viable options to reopen the theatre. Meanwhile traders in the town have been hit by the crisis, and the 15 full-time and 35 part-time staff are also among the casualties.
Taunton Deane councillor Ian Morrell has suggested that councillors could halve their allowances to raise more than £120,000 to help reopen the Brewhouse.
Other theatres have lost arts funding, but one, the South Somerset Distgrict Council Octagon at Yeovil has just celebrated a £77,00 Arts Council grant for dance projects.
Mr Meikle asks volunteers to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or post to 4 Queens Drive, Taunton TA1 4XW.