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Two week celebration to mark Bungay theatre's 10th anniversary

11 September, 2016 - 06:30
The Fisher Theatre in Bungay is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Picture: Nick Butcher.

The Fisher Theatre in Bungay is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Picture: Nick Butcher.

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It was built in 1828 by a Georgian touring company, and this month sees the 10th anniversary of the Fisher Theatre being reopened as a community arts centre.

The founding members of Bungay Arts and Theatre Society who reopened the Fisher Theatre. Picture: Phil Burton.The founding members of Bungay Arts and Theatre Society who reopened the Fisher Theatre. Picture: Phil Burton.

The £1m refurbishment and renovation project finished in 2006 after years of hard work by five local residents and an army of volunteers, and September 29 marks a decade since the reopening.

And to celebrate the milestone, two weeks of special events are being held.

Manager Laila France said: “We have a birthday tea, history tours, plays by local Fisher-theatre based companies, a film about putting on a show, and events linking us back to the Georgian past of this special place.”

The theatre first opened on February 28, 1828, and was one of thirteen designed and built across East Anglia by David Fisher, serving the circuit of Fisher’s company, The Norfolk and Suffolk Company of Comedians. It was sold in 1844 and had various uses over the years.

A drawing of what the theatre probably looked like in 1828 -  this was a sister theatre in North Walsham. Picture: Charles FisherA drawing of what the theatre probably looked like in 1828 - this was a sister theatre in North Walsham. Picture: Charles Fisher

But the idea to turn it back into a theatre started in 1995 with the formation of the Bungay Arts and Theatre Society (BATS) - made up by five local residents who thought the town was in need of an arts centre.

Trustee and founder member Sandra Cox said: “We thought when we started it would take us a year to raise the money, but when we got to the end of the first year we realised it was going to take much longer.

“But it seemed silly to throw away a year of hard work, so we kept going and we eventually opened in 2006.

“We started off with a derelict building and we raised just over £1m through fundraising and grant funding.

Anniversary events

•September 15 to 17 - Birthday by Joe Penhall, performed by UpShoot Theatre Company, 7.30pm, tickets £10 or £8.

•September 19 - Fisher Theatre Cinema, The Producers (original, 7.30pm, tickets £5.

•September 21 and 28 - Tour and Tea by local historian Chris Reeve, limited to 25 people, 2.30pm, tickets £12.

•September 24 and 25 - Slyghtly Hystorical by Diana Cooke, Hilary Mason and Cathy Gill, performed by Charmed Life Theatre Company, 2pm (September 24 only) and 7.30pm, tickets £12 and £10.

•September 25 - Vintage anniversary tea with entertainment from Bungay Theatre Group, limited to 45 people, 3pm, tickets £10.

•September 27 - An Exhibition of Curiosities, 6.30pm, tickets £5, enter your 21st Curiosity for £2.

•September 29 - Georgian Gambling Night and Cockfighting, tickets £5.

•September 30 - Birthday Cabaret, limited to 80 people, tickets £30.

“We used to buy a lottery ticket between us and all put in 20p in the hope we could stop the endless grant funding bids. But we never did win.”

The project was a real rollercoaster ride and even on opening day, when dressed in their finery, the team had to pitch in with the final clean up just hours before the guests arrived.

Jan Hughes, another trustee and founder member, said: “When we started we met every Wednesday without fail for 13 years. People used to say what a great job we were doing but we just took it for granted that it was what we needed to do.

“What brought it home for me was on opening night there was a group of people who gave us a plaque with our names on it to say thank you and that’s when it really hit home what we had done and brought tears to my eyes.

“We wanted it to be an arts centre for the community and it’s exactly that.”

The theatre is run as a charity and hosts professional performances, parties, weddings, conferences, an art gallery, café, youth theatre group and more. It receives no revenue funding

Mrs France said: “I’m so proud to be a part of this wonderful venture. I only came across the theatre the year it opened so didn’t know the amazing back-story. Now, knowing the ideas, huge effort and amazing tenacity of the founders of this charity arts venue, aided by many volunteers who have passed through those grand blue doors, I’m inspired to ensure this theatre remains part of the make-up of Bungay and continues to offer a variety of top class arts entertainment and educational opportunities.”

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