Ormskirk Theatre Company search for new venue in time for 25th anniversary

Save Ormskirk Theatre

Save Ormskirk Theatre - Credit: Archant

Local amateur dramatics group faces the threat of closure. Words by Rob Gemmell

I spoke to Gary Simpson of Ormskirk Theatre Company about the group who now face the threat of closure unless they are able to secure a new venue to stage their performances.

The Ormskirk Theatre Company began in Ormskirk in 1991 and are approaching their 25th Anniversary at the beginning of 2016. For the majority of that time they have staged shows at Ormskirk Civic Hall (with occasional productions at Southport Arts Centre, The Engine Rooms in Skelmersdale and even a production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2006).

“Dwindling audiences generally for amateur theatre meant that productions at the Civic Hall became less profitable and, as the theatre company receive no external funding, we began to write and perform murder mystery evenings as fundraisers for local groups in the region. These murder mystery evenings raised nearly £250,000 for charities across the country and when performed by ourselves locally, have managed to keep us afloat.”

“In the Spring of 2013 we were approached by the owners of Disraeli’s in Church Street in Ormskirk and asked if we were interested in using a large function room upstairs as a rehearsal space - free of charge, on the basis that the room had lain empty for over two years and that we would bring a bit of business to the pub.”

“When we saw the room we realised the potential to convert it into a small studio theatre and with the pub’s blessing spent £3000 giving the room a facelift - a coat of paint, a new stage area, curtains, lights and seating - to convert it into a small 50 seat theatre. Part of the room was even converted into a cast dressing room; the bar next to the stage was still functional and Disraeli’s offered to provide cut-price theatre meals to audiences attending our events.”

In July 2013 “Upstairs at Disraeli’s” (as the theatre came to be known) was launched with a performance of The Anastasia File, a small production with five actors and a single set which was ideal for the intimate venue. From this small beginning, the theatre began to flourish. To ensure a steady flow of customers, Ormskirk Theatre Company turned themselves into a small repertory theatre, rehearsing within the building and staging productions at least once a month upstairs at Disraeli’s. Over the next two years, four six-monthly “seasons” were announced. 24 productions by the Ormskirk Theatre Company, the Derby Players and visiting bands were staged, straddling the full artistic spectrum. Serious dramas included Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and Jim Cartwright’s “Two”, music evenings encompassed rock, folk and jazz; interactive murder mysteries, a series of popular one-act comedies and even an adult pantomime completed the line-up.

Most Read

The performances were met with critical acclaim, and the OTC received 7 awards and a further 18 nominations at the local National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA). One of our number, Pat Baker, was presented with the Best Actress Award for the North West Of England in 2014 for her performance in The Anastasia File.

A new proposed fifth season for late 2015 was set to be the best yet, with a rock night, two new murder mysteries, a court-room drama, a pantomime, a special Remembrance Day concert and two new productions from The Derby Players and, for the first time, the Too Friendly Theatre Company. Sadly, it was not to be.

“On May 10, the morning after a sell-out performance, Marston’s - the brewery - who own Disraeli’s - announced a major refurbishment of the building. Sadly, the theatre was not part of their plans and so the rest of the season was cancelled.”

“Now, The Ormskirk Theatre Company and the Derby Players - who have an even longer and more distinguished history dating back to the 1940s - find themselves without a home. Sadly, the Civic Hall, site of our previous exploits is now privately managed and has been priced out of our range.”

“A Facebook page and Twitter feed have formed part of a major publicity campaign to try and keep amateur theatre alive in Ormskirk: ‘Save Ormskirk Theatre’. At the moment we are looking for somewhere to rehearse and to perform, but would dearly love somewhere where we could enjoy the same good relationship we have had with Disraeli’s over the last 2 years - a fixed performance and rehearsal venue where, in return for our use of the premises, we can bring in a bit of business through regular, varied performances. The initiative certainly worked well in Disraeli’s and proved to be financially viable.”

“If you know of any venue that would be willing to have us visit to rehearse or perform, or - even better - consider letting us set up a permanent base, we would love to hear from you. We can be contacted via our ‘Save Ormskirk Theatre’ page on Facebook, or through our website, www.ormskirktheatrecompany.co.uk, or by phone on 01695 577393.”

You can visit the “Save Ormskirk Theatre” social media pages at twitter @ormskirkt and www.facebook.com/pages/Ormskirk-Theatre-Company/608466202543629

www.robgemmell.co.uk @RobGemmell1