A new plot twist beckons in the long-running drama concerning Tyneside’s oldest theatre after its current management company decided to call it a day.
SMG, which has had a contract to programme the Grade I-listed Tyne Theatre & Opera House for the past 10 years, has decided not to take up the option of continuing for a further five.
The company, which owns the Metro Radio Arena and also programmes Playhouse Whitley Bay, has agreed to manage the theatre on Westgate Road, Newcastle, until January next year.
SMG and the owners of the theatre, the Tyne Theatre & Opera House Preservation Trust, have stressed that all shows currently booked – including appearances by the comedian Dawn French and the panto, Cinderella – will take place as planned.
Preservation Trust chairman Frank Lloyd issued a statement saying: “The board is currently finalising plans for a new management of the theatre which will enable it to fulfil its charitable objectives by completely refurbishing the theatre and fully involving the local community and the people of Newcastle in a comprehensive range of entertainment and educational opportunities.”
The statement adds that the Trust is working closely with SMG to ensure a smooth transition and that the programme for 2015 would be made public in the near future.
Mr Lloyd, who took over as chairman when Malcolm Dix left the role in April after 12 years, said plans were in hand to submit a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) next year.
A previous second failed bid for HLF funding had signalled that the Trust needed to build up its education work and its links with the local community. “That’s a major area for us and what we need to focus on to move forward,” Mr Lloyd said.
The Trust is currently looking for new board members, particularly those with experience in business, finance and cultural diversity.
Colin Revel, in charge of theatres for SMG, said: “It was a 10-year contract with the option for another five years which we haven’t exercised. The 10 years will be up in October but we have agreed to stay until January. That will give the Trust more time to see what they want to do.
“The idea was always that at some stage the theatre would get refurbished and everything would be rosy thereafter. That hasn’t happened but we’re still pretty proud that we kept it going.
“The Trust have got an opportunity now to go forward down a different route.”
Mr Revel said six SMG employees worked at the theatre, three full-time and three part-time. Their future would depend on what happened at the theatre.
SMG, which also runs theatres in York and Scunthorpe, would continue to run Playhouse Whitley Bay. “We have a contract with the council which is very successful,” Mr Revel said.
The deal with SMG was struck with developers Adderstone Properties which bought the theatre, now known as the Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre, in 2003 along with surrounding buildings which it subsequently turned into flats.
Tyne Theatre & Opera House Preservation Trust was established in 2004 to look after the building. Newcastle City Council then bought it from Adderstone Properties in 2008 and handed it over to the Trust on a 99-year lease.
The theatre has had a chequered history since it opened in 1867, having been commissioned by the radical politician and industrialist Joseph Cowen whose statue stands not far away on Westgate Road.
Lows include the fire on Christmas Day 1985 which destroyed the fly tower and stage.
Among the highs are the reopening just a year later after intensive repair work and the performance of Tosca, starring celebrated tenor Placido Domingo, in 1983.