Friday, 30 October 2020

Theatre criticised over hire increase for children’s group

Theatre criticised over hire increase for children’s group

THE Kenton Theatre has been lambasted for raising the cost of hire by the Henley Children’s Theatre group by almost 50 per cent.

The criticism was made by town councillors as they agreed to award the group a £1,000 grant.

One called the theatre’s action “utterly disgusting”.

The group, which is run by Muffin Hurst, has had an annual booking at the New Street theatre at Christmas since 1969, when Ms Hurst’s grandmother ran it.

But last year, the Kenton tried to move her production to February so it could extend the run of its own professional pantomime.

It then proposed charging her more than £9,100 for a five-day run of her production this year when she had been paying £3,675 for her usual week-long booking.

Ms Hurst, from Hambleden, protested publicly until the two sides agreed her show could run from New Year’s Eve to January 3 and that she would pay £5,500.

The theatre said this was due to it being a “premium” booking period.

Since then several Kenton trustees, including chairman David Tapp, have left.

In a letter to the council, Ms Hurst said: “I am unsure of our future at the Kenton Theatre.

“I am hopeful there will be new, more considerate management.... and more compassionate incomers.”

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s finance strategy committee, Councillor Laurence Plant said: “I find it very frustrating that a town and community asset such as the Kenton Theatre has deemed it fit and right to increase the rental fee for someone like the children’s theatre by so much. I think it’s utterly disgusting.

“If it falls to the town council and the taxpayer to make up that shortfall then I think that the Kenton should look very dimly on itself.”

Mayor Ken Arlett said: “The kids are the future of this town and to make it difficult for them makes no sense at all. The Kenton Theatre should think that way as well.

“Maybe with a new set of trustees they may change their decision.” 

Councillor Sarah Miller, who proposed approving the grant, said: “They do such a lot of great stuff for the children. I am surprised they did not ask for more.”

The committee also approved a £500 grant to Assisted Reading for Children (ARCH). 

The charity had asked for £2,500  towards books for the 24 Henley children that it helps and a duplicate book for the volunteers to use in order to follow covid-19 safety rules.

Councillor Kellie Hinton said she felt the commitee was being overly generous.

She said: “They’ve gone to other councils asking for £2,500, not because that’s what they need but because it’s the maximum they can ask for. It’s a nice cause but we are still a town council.”

Cllr Plant said: “I completely agree but they support 24 children.

“We are only giving them enough to support one more child if we gave 10 per cent and I’d like to think they’d be able to support more than that in the next year.” 

The committee also agreed a £750 grant for the Henley Symphony Orchestra, the same as the current year’s figure.

All three decisions have to be approved by the full council.

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