Your chance to enjoy a year with The Playhouse – the venue which has ‘pushed boundaries’ for quality theatre

PUBLISHED: 08:00 12 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:37 12 January 2017

Weston Playhouse.

Weston Playhouse.

Archant

It may often be described a ‘dying art’ but theatre in Weston has enjoyed a remarkable upturn in fortunes, with The Playhouse enjoying huge growth in sales and footfall over the past three years.

However, it has not been easy, with the venue taking huge financial risks to welcome West End shows such as Blood Brothers and Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to its High Street stage.

Rehearsal for Murder at The PlayhouseRehearsal for Murder at The Playhouse

But so far, it is a strategy which seems to have paid off, and more of the same is in store for 2017 – and you could be on hand to enjoy the best of the year’s action, with an exclusive opportunity to win prime seats to a year of star-studded productions.

Reporter Sheridan Robins caught up with The Playhouse general manager Mark Thompson, who revealed his plans to bring the ‘West End to Weston’.

The Playhouse may not compare in size and stature to London’s West End venues but the 664-seat auditorium is seemingly perfect for touring shows and, of course, an ever-successful pantomime.

It has certainly put that space to good use this year, earning rave reviews and record box office takings with a string of hit shows.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor DreamcoatJoseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

But this is all a far cry from just three years ago, when The Playhouse had ‘lost its way’. The venue was offering fewer shows, with less variety. In other words, it was stagnating.

Those past three years have seen major changes though. Bigger, better and more shows have been enticed to Weston, and aspirations have been raised.

General manager Mark Thompson told the Mercury he wants the theatre to become the ‘hub of the town’.

He said: “What I inherited was a venue which had all the ingredients but no chef.

Birmingham Stage Company presents Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.Birmingham Stage Company presents Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.

“The improvements we have made have been a lot down to the Friends Of The Playhouse who have been phenomenal. They have raised £220,000 for the Playhouse which is an unbelievable amount of money.

“I was told the Playhouse had its place in the market but I thought that was rubbish – I wanted to go for the big shows and people laughed at me.”

By ‘big’ shows, Mark means productions which are well-known to theatre-goers around the country, and which require a lot of work behind the scenes. They often have household names attached to them and sets which need a large crew to pull off the transition to a smaller theatre.

Attracting this calibre of show also poses a number of risks – most notably financially. These established and well-polished West End shows require a guaranteed payment to the production company, no matter how many tickets are sold during their run, which could prove to be disastrous.

London, UK. 06.06.2012. The Birmingham Stage Company presents Horrible Histories.London, UK. 06.06.2012. The Birmingham Stage Company presents Horrible Histories.

Mark said: “We had to win back the audience and we have done that by pushing the venue with the big shows.

“This was a huge gamble. It took me 12 months to get a big show – with The Mousetrap coming in July 2015.”

But this risk paid off, with the venue enjoying its biggest ever week at the box office, grossing £120,000. To put this into perspective, pantomime (theatre’s traditional top earner) earns Weston’s theatre around £60,000 a week.

Following this success, the multi-award winning spectacle of Blood Brothers took this seaside town by storm. Maureen Nolan topped the bill, but hosting the show posed a number of logistical challenges for the theatre’s backstage crew.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea.The Tiger Who Came To Tea.

Mark added: “We were pushing the boundaries for this one and it was the biggest production at the venue ever.

“Even just getting it into the building was a challenge. There were five trucks and we had to organise road closures with North Somerset Council to facilitate. Normally we have shows with one truck so it was an experience and the team worked so hard.

“It was amazing. I saw what the team were capable of and the sales took off.”

This was certainly the case, as the record-breaking weekly gross was surpassed just three months later in October 2015 as the Willy Russell musical pulled in more than £153,000. Close to 5,000 people made their way to the theatre in those seven days.

We're Going On A Bear Hunt.We're Going On A Bear Hunt.

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soon followed, securing a hat-trick of broken records with revenue clocking in at close to £160,000 thanks to Joe McElderry’s star performance in one of the country’s most iconic musicals last year.

And the success continued in 2016. Indeed, last year proved to be a momentous year for the Playhouse, with ticket sales booming from 1.1 million in 2013, to 1.9 million over the past 12 months.

And while the whole team at The Playhouse is pleased with the progress, plans are afoot for the future. Some 10,000 more people who passed through the doors in 2016 than in 2015 but Mark says the real challenge starts now.

He said: “This year and beyond is about sustainability and we need to keep refreshing the programme.”

Rob BrydonRob Brydon

With a host of exciting shows in the pipeline for this year, including Annie Get Your Gun, and Madness musical Our House, 2017 promises to be another special year at The Playhouse.

And, for one reader, it could be even more special, as we have today teamed up with The Playhouse to offer an exclusive prize – a year of Playhouse tickets.

One lucky reader will win two tickets to a show of their choice – subject to ticket availability – for every month of 2017. That means the winner and a friend will be able to take in 12 of the theatre’s top shows for the year ahead, without paying a penny.

To enter, simply answer the question below.

Or, send your answer, along with your name, address and telephone number to: A Year With The Playhouse Competition, Weston & Somerset Mercury, 32 Waterloo Street, Weston-super-Mare, BS23 1LW by 10am on January 20.

Usual Archant rules apply and the editor’s decision is final.

By entering, you agree to be contacted by Archant.

Competition closed

Thanks for your interest but this competition has now closed

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