Thursday, 18 October 2018

Kenton Theatre draws up plan for new auditorium

A SECOND auditorium could be built at the Kenton Theatre in Henley

A SECOND auditorium could be built at the Kenton Theatre in Henley.

Ed Simons, chairman of the theatre’s trustees, revealed the plans at the annual Henley town meeting last week.

The theatre owns a portion of land next to its New Street premises which it wants to redevelop.

The idea was first floated last month in response to a suggestion by Mayor Martin Akehurst that the town needs a new multi–purpose arts centre with up to 600 seats.

Mr Simons said a venue like this would have an impact on the Kenton, which is the fourth oldest working theatre in the country.

He said a new Kenton auditorium could have up to 100 seats.

“We want the Henley community and beyond to realise that they can come to a first class theatre locally without having to travel to London and at a third of the price,” said Mr Simons.

“Our problem as it stands is access. The only way you can get to the piece of land we own is via the passageway to the left of the theatre and through the backstage.”

He said the land was “substantial” in size and currently had outbuildings that were used to store sets.

Mr Simons said: “We can put up a very nice structure there which is linked to the theatre. We would sit down with a working group and say, â??okay, what’s required?’ Whether we could get a significant auditorium in there would depend on the brilliance of the architect. You can certainly go to two storeys. Whatever’s up there will be nicer than what is there at the moment.”

Mr Simons suggested that part of the windfall from developers building new homes in the town could be put towards the new auditorium.

He said the idea of a 600–seat venue was “nonsensical”, adding: “You may fill it six times a year but what do you do for the rest of the time?”

Meanwhile, the Kenton foyer is to be refurbished this summer. The box office and bar will be redesigned and repositioned and the area will be repainted.

“It will be sparkling,” said Mr Simons. “The foyer hasn’t been touched for probably 50 years and it needs to be welcoming.” The theatre will close in July after its final event of the season, a Pavarotti tribute gala featuring Carl Taylor, and re–open in the first week of September.

Mr Simons reported that the Kenton now had net assets in excess of £500,000 while more than 40,000 people came through its doors last year. He added: “The most rewarding part of it is that everybody in town loves it.”

The Mayor, a former professional actor, said: “Ed has been keen to extend the Kenton for some time and it could certainly support a bigger  auditorium.

“Any expansion of that sort of facility in Henley I thoroughly support.

“What the whys and wherefores are though, considering that it’s a listed building of historical interest, I don’t know.”

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