‘The people are without a doubt the heart of Brentwood Theatre’: Arts venue marks 25th anniversary looking at the past, present and future

PUBLISHED: 15:18 22 January 2019

Alice Through The Looking Glass in 2016. Picture: Carmel-Jane Photography

Alice Through The Looking Glass in 2016. Picture: Carmel-Jane Photography

Carmel-Jane Photography

Thousands of visitors, hundreds of performers, plays and musicals, but only one venue - the Brentwood Theatre.

Godspell in 1994.Godspell in 1994.

The end of 2018 marked a milestone in the history of the beloved theatre, in Shenfield Road, which has spent the past 25 years as the borough’s home of entertainment.

“I feel incredibly proud to be associated with an independent theatre like Brentwood that has been around for this long and has become such an important venue for the development and growth of performing arts in the town”, theatre manager Ian Southgate said.

“Over the last 25 years, the theatre has grown and developed with the needs of the community.

“I also feel a great sense of responsibility shepherding the theatre into its next 25 years, so much has been achieved since the theatre opened in 1993 – I’m so grateful to everyone who has contributed to its success and on whose shoulders we now stand – and I know that we have so much more to offer yet!”

Legends of King Arthur in December last year.Legends of King Arthur in December last year.

Having performed at the theatre as a child in the Brentwood Operatic Society’s production of Little Shop of Horrors back in 1996, and then going on to work behind the bar and produce Christmas shows at the venue, Ian was no stranger to the Brentwood Theatre so the role as theatre manager was the perfect fit for him.

“It felt like coming home in many ways and it’s been brilliant to bring my experience of working and managing other theatres to bear on a venue that’s so close to my heart.

“One of the many highlights for me has been working with the volunteers and staff of the theatre, they are without a doubt the heart of Brentwood Theatre.

“It’s full of people of substance and integrity who work for the good of our whole community.”

The Brentwood Theatre in the middle of being built.The Brentwood Theatre in the middle of being built.

Celebrations have been in full force in the first part of the year with an open day, a party celebrating talent in the borough as well as a special production of Charley’s Aunt, the first ever play to be produced at the theatre.

Member of the theatre’s trust and board of directors William Wells, who was in the original 1993 production of Charley’s Aunt, once again performed in the anniversary show in January.

He said: “The original 1993 production used a minimal set and no set, transforming the play and brought it alive for a late 20th century audience.

“This opened the door for the theatre to be used in all manner of experimental ways which has continued to this day.

“Now, 25 years on, here we go again with the same play which still resonates into the 21st century with a new generation of actors to perform it for us, except for myself of course!

“Personally it is a surreal experience and not one I could have envisaged 25 years ago!”

Determined to always improve visitors’ experiences, the theatre was delighted to receive planning permission to build a significant extension to the foyer and bar area to make it even more spacious and versatile.

But as well as commemorating the past and showing commitment to its present needs, the venue is looking towards the future by launching the Brentwood Youth Theatre for 10-16-year-olds, as part of its larger Get into ARTS! programme where young people can work with experienced performers and practitioners.

Ian said: “As we enter our 25th year, we wanted to acknowledge the past while setting our sights firmly on the future, starting with enthusing and encouraging our future audience and performers!

“Personally, I wanted to create the kind of group that I wish was around when I was younger, so with Brentwood Youth Theatre we are providing an affordable and easily accessible opportunity for young people to get into drama in a fun and supportive environment.

“I think the theatre is incredibly important to Brentwood; it is the only dedicated arts venue in the town and provides a ‘home’ for over 20 local groups to perform, not to mention the thousands of audience members who visit us every year.

“We provide a space where people can feel the whole gamut of human emotions from laughter to tears, see fantastic worlds brought to life and sing their troubles away all in a warm and friendly environment.

“I would like the theatre to continue to encourage opportunities, creativity, enthusiasm and passion for the performing arts in Brentwood as it has done so brilliantly for the last 25 years!”

President of the theatre Lord Petre, who has been involved since the theatre’s opening, added: “The very idea of a theatre in Brentwood was, from the first, a brave and adventurous one. It was an act of faith by our inspirational founders that funding would be found for what Simon Callow calls ‘a sacred arena of the imagination’.”

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