Spotlight on Kent's smaller Theatres

Most of the county's towns have their large theatres, but Kent is also home to a tier of much-loved smaller theatres that between them put on hundreds of productions each year

Most of the county’s towns have their large theatres, but Kent is also home to a tier of much-loved smaller theatres that between them put on hundreds of productions each year

Tom Thumb TheatreEastern EsplanadeCliftonville CT9 2LB01843 221 791

Tom Thompson

“The Tom Thumb Theatre is one of Kent’s smallest theatres. It was converted from stables and has been used as a theatre since the 1980’s. Sadly, Lesley, the previous owner died in 2006 and so the theatre faced the prospect of closing down for good. Keen that this wouldn’t happen, our family decided to pool our resources and buy the building,” says Tom Thompson.

“It’s the kind of theatre that you just fall in love with, so we were happy to do our bit to save it. The theatre was in a pretty sorry state when we became the owners but with the help of friends and family, we refurbished the venue and installed a comprehensive sound and lighting set up.

“After a number of preview events, we officially re-opened our doors two years ago with our launch show A Dreamland Sideshow Christmas.

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“Since then we have continued to put on performances, covering comedy, drama, variety, story-telling, and poetry. We only have 50 seats, so it’s tough to make a profit, but around 90 per cent of our performances have been successful – which we are very proud of, especially when you consider how much of a gamble theatre can be.

“We are still very much at start of our journey. Overall our hope is to create an intimate, vibrant performance venue catering for the diverse community in Margate, the wider Thanet area and beyond!”

Bromley Little TheatreNorth StreetBromleyBR1 1SB07917 853621 

Pauline Armour“Our vibrant theatre was established in 1938 on its present site which was converted from an old Victorian bakery. It is run as a membership club and limited company managed by a board of directors,” says Pauline Armour.

“The Bromley Youth Theatre Troupe is also based here and is dedicated to the development of youth performance skills and a wide range of theatre training.

“The group also provides an excellent forum for making new friends, building confidence, learning new skills and honing performance technique.

“During each term, the group works toward putting together a showcase production in order that its members can develop and display their skills.

“In addition to the youth theatre performances, we also aim to put on 11 general productions, so with the exception of August, we have at least one production a month.

“In the past year this has ranged from Equus and Brassed Off to Twelfth Night and the musical Oliver! We are very open to newcomers and whether you have an interest in acting or want to do something behind the scenes, then feel free to come along and talk to us.

“Membership provides a great opportunity to get involved in the theatre and also enables you to come and see some wonderful productions during the year.”

Tower Theatre FolkestoneNorth RoadShorncliffeCT20 3HL01303 223925

Peter Heselden“Back in 2001 the Fokestone and Hythe Operatic and Dramatic Society (FHODS) was looking for a new home and came across St Mark’s church, which was being sold by the Ministry of Defence,” says Peter Heselden.

“After we’d bought it we got some consultants around to see how much it would cost to renovate and they came back with a staggering �3m! We’re a group of limited means, so the whole idea was put on the back burner.

“A few years later a group of us went to Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells, which is also housed in a renovated church, and got talking to their owners who said that renovation could be done cheaply and that we should just use whatever cash we had and see how far it takes us. And that’s what we did.

“There are still some things to be done but we’ve managed to turn St Marks into a lovely theatre and have a real mixed bag of performances, something we continued to do even as the theatre was still being renovated!

“We have strong links with the community and lots of local groups use the theatre regularly, both to put on shows or to hold non-theatre related events, such as Folkestone Town Council’s Holocaust Remembrance day event.

“It’s always hard to run a little theatre, especially one that needs constant maintenance and is still in need of some renovation. But, so far I would say that it has been a success. We have 180 paying days per year, a figure that has grown each year since the theatre opened and which we hope will continue to grow.”

The Sinden Theatre Homewood SchoolAshford RoadTenterden TN30 6LT01580 764222

Dave Hutton “The theatre was created in 2003 from a school hall after Homewood School applied for and achieved Arts College status, which enabled us to attract external funding. Conversion work began in 2004 and the theatre opened that year,” says Dave Hutton.

“The Sinden provides facilities for the school and also for a wider audience through its role as a professional receiving theatre serving The Weald and south-east Kent. We try to strike a balance.

“As well as hosting many school productions, The Sinden provides a wide diversity of different performances for local audiences. Artists who have appeared on our stage have included Phil Cool, The Fureys and Davey Arthur, Maddy Prior, Dave Lee, Jimmy Jones and our patron, Sir Donald Sinden.

“We are very much part of the local community and the theatre provides facilities for a number of local am dram groups, including Tenterden’s operatic and dramatic society (TODS), The Staplehurst Drama Society and The Chandeliers Drama Group from Maidstone.

“The Sinden also frequently offers its facilities to local charitable organisations on a no-fee basis to stage fund-raising shows.

“Every year the theatre offers a real mixed bag of entertainment; during the Autumn 2011/Spring 2012 season you’ll see everything from opera to Cinderella and music from Les Mis�rables!”

Sheppey Little TheatreMeyrick RoadSheernessME12 2NX01795 665700

Jeremy Thornton “In 1968 the Sheppey Theatre Group and Sheppey Phoenix choir set up a committee to find ways they could help each other. When the chance came in the following year to buy a church hall in Meyrick Road for �1,000, it became clear that a new organisation was needed. So Sheppey Entertainment Association and Community Arts Council (SEA) came into being, comprising of the two founder groups,” says Jeremy Thornton.

“The refurbishment of the hall took a few years and a lot of hard work – some of it was done by prisoners from the nearby open prison! But finally it was all finished and opened during 1975.

“We used to put on a lot of professional shows but that’s no longer financially viable as there’s a lot less arts funding around today, so mostly what we put on here are performances by local am-dram groups.

“This theatre is at the very the heart of the community because so many of our local performance groups use the space we have here: The Mudlarks (the theatre’s resident drama group), The Newington Concert Party, The Sheppey Singers and the Meryick Minstrels.

“There’s something going on most nights of the year and we try to offer a broad array of performances so there’s something for everyone.”

Herne Bay Little Theatre44 Bullers AvenueHerne BayCT6 8UH01227 366004David MannersOur society was first formed back in 1947, performing in various venues, until our 40th year, when we opened our current theatre in Bullers Avenue.

It took us seven years to raise the money to buy this place, but it was worth it.

In 2007 we celebrated our 60th anniversary as a society and our 20th anniversary in our own theatre.

Around that time, after a good deal of fundraising, we were able to bring in easier wheelchair access to the foyer and auditorium, a hearing loop and accessible facilities, improve the kitchen facilities and general decoration and repair.

“We put on all kinds of productions during the year, including comedies, plays and even a panto. This year we are doing Aladdin.

“So far the theatre has been very successful. Any costs involved in the building work have been covered and we are now able to plough any profits back into the theatre. Our membership is constantly expanding, and we’re always happy to welcome new members to the society.

“Whether you would like to tread the boards yourself, try your hand at directing, get involved in the technical side, join our front of house team or just love theatre and would like to support a local society – we’d love to hear from you!”

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