Saturday, 31 October 2020

Four new faces join Kenton trustees

Four new faces join Kenton trustees

A NEW set of trustees for the Kenton Theatre in Henley has been elected.

Fresh faces include former Henley mayor Jeni Wood, Sarah Bell, a trustee of the Acorn Music Theatre Company, Alexis Lane, a partner at law firm the Head Partnership, and Piers Burnell, a theatre producer and radio presenter.

Serving trustee Claire Hewitt was re-elected for another three years but fellow incumbents Cliff Colborne and David Parsonson were not.

The remaining trustees are Julie Huntington and Judith Terry whose terms of office did not expire this year.

The results were revealed at the theatre’s annual meeting where chairman Christopher Tapp stepped down after almost two years in the role after deciding not to stand for re-election.

A new chairman will be appointed soon.

Mrs Wood, who lives in Peppard with her husband Barry, who is also a former Henley mayor, has been in public service since 2007, serving on Henley Town Council, South Oxfordshire District Council and currently Peppard Parish Council.

In her mayoral year, she raised £9,000, including £3,000 for the New Street theatre.

She has been connected with the Kenton for more than 40 years ever since her daughter auditioned for the Henley Children’s Theatre group. Years later, she became a member of HAODS and the Henley Players.

In her election submission, Mrs Wood said: “I volunteered as an usher and barmaid and my husband volunteered as front of house manager and barman. I worked on the coffee bar on Saturday mornings, when we were trying to attract more volunteers.

“We have been totally loyal to the theatre over 40 years and had great fun supporting Alan Pontin’s successful Kenton for Keeps freehold campaign.

“I wish to be a member of a harmonious team which restores pride in the running of our local treasure.”

Mrs Bell is married to Graham Bell, co-presenter of Ski Sunday, and lives in Henley.

Their children have performed on stage at the Kenton with Stageworks and the Acorn Music Theatre Company and at the Henley Youth Festival.

Mrs Bell, who runs a ski fitness sales company in the town, has been involved with the youth festival for many years, organising and co-judging the writing competition with Binfield Heath author Amanda Jennings.

She said: “The arts are currently on a knife edge and, at this time of uncertainty, I would like to make sure that the Kenton Theatre continues to prosper in this ‘new normal’ world by being backed by a creative, inspirational and positive team who want to put changing the Kenton from surviving to thriving at the top of their agenda.”

Mrs Lane, who specialises in employment law, has had a lifelong passion for the theatre.

When she became a member of the Kenton, she said: “Theatres are such vital spaces and to have this gem on the doorstep must not be taken for granted. I believe a good theatre is a source of live entertainment but also education, opening doors to new thoughts and ideas.”

Mr Burnell said he was keen to become a trustee as he wanted to become more involved in how the theatre was run.

He is a Kenton friend, member and “keeper” and has a background in theatre, producing and directing fringe productions in London and in Henley.

He also presents a show on Marlow FM and teaches drama part-time at Stageworks.

Mr Burnell said: “Not only is the Kenton of historical significance to the town but it provides a platform for young artists and gives them a chance to perform in a magnificent theatre. I really want to support and promote the theatre positively, which will help maintain it as a true community asset.

“Henley is very fortunate to have such an historical building and the Kenton deserves to be shown off.”

Mr Tapp, who runs an architecture practice, was elected chairman of trustees in October 2018, succeeding Rick White who resigned after less than two years following “internal disagreement over management issues”.

He oversaw one of the most tumultuous periods in the theatre’s history.

The Kenton, which is the fourth oldest working theatre in the country, has been closed due to the coronavirus since March when manager Max Lewendel left after just eight months. He was the fifth manager to leave in about four years.

Then the theatre announced it had made one of the largest losses in its history. It recorded a loss of £21,298 in the year to August 31, 2019 compared with a surplus of £8,172 in the previous year.

Last year, the Kenton was involved in a row with Muffin Hurst, of Henley Children’s Theatre, one of the Kenton’s longest-serving customers, as it wanted to move her annual Christmas pantomime to free up dates for its own professional show in order to increase revenue and charge her two-and-a-half times as much. The two sides reached a deal in February.

Trustees who chose not to stand again included Gráinne Harling, Dominic Scott and Linda Wallace.

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