Berwick Playhouse decision may come back to haunt us

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SIR, - How sad to look at the demolition and dereliction of what was once Berwick’s proud privately-owned, non-taxpayer-funded, Playhouse Theatre, a theatre which gave much pleasure to so many children and adults over many years, and a theatre unique hereabouts because of its ability, due to its having a ’fly tower’, to fly (lower and raise) scenery in and out of the audience’s view - an ability which, due to its design, is permanently denied to The Maltings.

We have a well-recorded history of over 100 years’ involvement in ‘top level’ professional theatre [see www.theatrical-scenery.info] and when the Playhouse Theatre was put up for sale we tried to buy it in order to upgrade it and continue it as a theatre.

We had - as was well known to Shona Alexander, the then borough council’s director of regeneration - £1/2 million set aside to do so.

However, we found ourselves constantly opposed by the ‘let’s change Berwick’ determination of Shona Alexander; and in consequence The Playhouse was denied to us and instead sold on to a firm of speculative developers who had no connection whatsoever with Berwick other than that they also own the also now-derelict Joe’s site at the corner of Hide Hill and Silver Street and who - despite the fact that Berwick’s Local Plan stated that only if no-one wanted to continue The Playhouse as a Theatre would permission be granted for The Playhouse to be demolished and the site used for something else - were granted planning consent by the then Berwick Borough Council’s planning committee (under the chairmanship of Councillor Brian Douglas and heavily influenced by Shona Alexander who also - surprise, surprise - had the responsibility of ensuring the financial survival of the council’s own theatre, The Maltings), assisted by her planning department colleague Peter Rutherford (the man who, in a radio broadcast some years ago just after Pringle of Scotland closed its Berwick factory and laid-off well over 200 people, had undertaken to set-up a Task Force that would regenerate Berwick) to demolish it and replace it by 20 flats.

Doubtless Councillor Douglas and his planning committee - in allowing themselves to be persuaded by their ‘professional advisers’ Shona Alexander and her colleague Peter Rutherford to, against the wishes of the Local Plan, grant permission for the nearly 90 years old Playhouse Theatre to be demolished and replaced by flats - were unaware of the fact that many a UK Theatre that has been demolished and replaced by something non-theatrical resents its demise and thus has had a habit of leaving a ghost or two behind to haunt the area and those in and around it for many, many years, sometimes even for centuries.

Take, for instance, London’s old Royal Strand Theatre which, in 1905, was sold to a then owner of the London Underground who demolished it and replaced it by the Strand Underground Station (known today as the Aldwych Underground Station).

Now closed to the public the station is today used by Transport for London as a place to test new equipment: But many, many a time throughout the 103 years since the station was opened in 1907 the old Royal Strand Theatre site has been, and still is, haunted at night by a woman who makes a point of terrorising anyone who happens to be in the area.

So, if the 20 flats on Berwick’s Playhouse site are ever built, maybe the now-hastily-departed-from-Berwick Shona Alexander will come back to Berwick to be regularly seen in ghostlike fashion entering the flats and thereafter scaring the living daylights out of anyone in and around them.

Who knows ?

Merry Christmas!

TED LOVEDAY,

Managing Director,

Brunskill and Loveday Ltd.