Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Theatre needs to replace old lights to stop fire risk

Theatre needs to replace old lights to stop fire risk

THE stage lighting at the Kenton Theatre in Henley must be replaced as it is decades old and a potential fire hazard, says the new manager.

Max Lewendel, who was appointed in July, has asked the town council for a £15,000 grant towards a new system which would be safe and more energy efficient.

At the moment, performances are lit using up to 60 old-fashioned incandescent lamps, each a single fixed colour.

These are connected to a rack of 120 “dimmer” sockets, the individual brightness of which can be turned up or down with a dial.

The theatre’s technicians produce different shades by overlapping coloured beams and adjusting the brightness of each as required.

This uses up to 1,000 watts of power, between 10 and 20 times the amount that passes through a domestic light, and is equivalent to switching on 2,400 light bulbs at once. It also produces a large amount of heat and the theatre must constantly monitor the temperature to ensure a fire doesn’t start.

The sockets themselves date back to the Fifties and were originally installed at the London Coliseum, which considered them outdated when it donated them to the Kenton in the Seventies.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s finance strategy and management committee, Mr Lewendel said he wanted to install a modern system using LED lightbulbs, which use less electricity and can also change colour.

It would first buy a new dimmer rack which would cost £33,600 but save up to £2,000 a year on repairs and maintenance and take another £1,000 off the theatre’s £5,000 annual power bill.

This would mean the outlay was paid back within nine years while providing a safe and reliable service. New LEDs, which would consume 90 per cent less power than the existing bulbs, could save more than £3,500 per year.

The theatre is also seeking £15,000 towards the new lights from South Oxfordshire District Council.

Mr Lewendel said there were also plans to spend up to £500,000 on refurbishment with much of the money coming in the form of grants from arts bodies.

The work would include a new, safer staircase leading to the cellar.

Mr Lewendel said: “We’re very well attended with a lot of traffic coming through and lots of children’s performances, which is partly why I fell in love with this gorgeous building.

“It has always been my dream to come to a theatre that’s at the heart of its community and there’s a lot we can build on to improve it.

“We want to address some of the challenges we face in the 21st century such as climate change and the need to reduce our carbon footprint.

“There’s also the question of safety as the current system is very old-fashioned and rather reminiscent of Bletchley Park. Those sockets are so old that it’s a miracle they’re surviving.

“We’re not going to throw them away — we’ll probably put them in a display case.”

Henley Mayor Ken Arlett said: “I’ve seen that wiring and anyone who has seen it will inevitably wonder how the place hasn’t burned down already.

“It’s incredible that anything works among those miles of cabling.

“We should fund this as it’s the fourth-oldest working theatre in Britain and part of our community.”

Councillor Lorraine Hillier said: “They’re not asking for the full cost and at some stage the new lighting will benefit most of the people living here so I think it’s only a small ask.”

The committee opted to defer a decision until the theatre provides a more detailed breakdown of the costs, including quotes from different suppliers.

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