Thursday, 16 September 2021

Theatre chairman and MD to leave

THE two most senior figures at the Kenton Theatre in Henley are leaving.

THE two most senior figures at the Kenton Theatre in Henley are leaving.

Ed Simons, the chairman of trustees, has resigned after six years in the role and general manager Wendy Bowsher is to leave after 10 years when her contract expires on September 30.

The departures come only weeks after a row at the historic theatre’s annual meeting over the election of trustees.

Mrs Bowsher, a former Gillotts School and Henley College student, has been involved with the New Street venue for more than 26 years and is its only paid employee.

Her role is being split into two with a general manager taking responsibility for the building and an artistic director who will be responsible for booking performers. The former position was advertised in last week’s Henley Standard and the latter will be filled later.

Mr Simons said: “I think that the theatre involves so much that the roles need to be separated.”

He paid tribute to Mrs Bowsher, saying: “She’s unquestionably part of the success of the theatre and she has been a huge asset.”

Mr Simons has been a trustee for almost 10 years and became chairman six years ago, succeeding property developer Alan Pontin.

He said: “I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I would say the theatre is valued and playing a valuable part in the community which is, I hope, a legacy.

“The community amateur societies have all maintained their relationship with the theatre and hopefully will continue to flourish as part of what the Kenton has to offer.

“I would have stepped down anyway at the next annual meeting. This just seemed like a good time – it’s the end of the financial year, the theatre’s in very good shape and it’s time to let somebody else take it on.”

Highlights during Mr Simons’s tenure included the theatre producing its own pantomime and bringing stars such as Marti Webb and Michael McIntyre to the theatre.

In June, he was involved in a row at the annual meeting when up to four vacant positions on the board were due to be filled following a ballot among members.

Five people were standing, including Mrs Bowsher, and Derek Gilbert, who were seeking re-election as both had finished their three-year terms.

The others were newcomers Jerry Anderson, a member of Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, actress Grainne Harling, of the Henley Players, and Henley actress Charlotte Howard-Mather.

When it became apparent that the election was contested, Mr Anderson voluntarily withdrew and there were calls for the remaining four to be elected by a show of hands.

Mr Simons insisted that ballot slips should be completed and circulated them but, unlike in previous elections, when members would place a tick against their preferred candidates, the forms also allowed people to vote against candidates.

Several members objected, saying there had been no consultation on the change and demanded a vote on whether the election should proceed.

When Mr Simons refused, it sparked a heated debate which eventually forced him to abandon the meeting.

This week, he said: “We took legal advice. The members will be written to very shortly with the benefit of that advice.”

He said the trustees would propose amending the theatre’s constitution so that no trustee would serve more than two consecutive three-year terms.

He said: “We feel there shouldn’t be any automatic right for the trustees to be there. You should say, ‘I’ve done my job, it’s gone really well, now let somebody else make it even better’.

“That’s what I think the trustees will put to the members — there’s no divine right to stay forever.”

Mr Simons admitted he had his critics but added: “If you polled the members they’d probably say I did a very good job. Others might say I’ve taken the theatre too far commercially one way or another.

“There are some very good new trustees that have joined over the past couple of years. There’s a massive pool of talent in Henley that are connected to theatre in one way or another. I’m stepping down confident I’m leaving the theatre in incredibly capable hands.”

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