A busy year of expanding the programme, making bold strides in its learning and participation work, and some successful shows has helped Norwich Theatre Royal enjoy another bumper year and generate £34m for the local economy.
The figures were unveiled at the theatre’s Centre Stage event as it reviews the successes and future plans of Theatre Royal, Norwich Playhouse and Stage Two.
Plans are also being unveiled for further development of the programme, which will include more world class dance and drama, the long over-due return of a major Opera Company to Norwich and a new season of work focusing on issues around homelessness.
Guests at today’s event were told the Theatre Royal, Playhouse and Stage Two:
- Sold a total of 417,000 tickets to 80,136 bookers
- Welcomed 3622 performers for 718 performances of 289 productions
- Audience levels remained high with 72 per cent average capacity at Norwich Theatre Royal and 69 per cent capacity at the Playhouse.
- From an annual turnover of £14.3m, a surplus was generated of over £350,000 which will be re-invested into sustaining buildings and ambitious programming for the year ahead.
Chief executive Stephen Crocker (above) said the last 12 months have seen some strong foundations dug in the development of their audiences, programming and engagement. He said: “It was very clear to me when I came to Norwich in January 2017, the whole team here were keen to build on our phenomenal success by developing our range, our ambition and our impact. This led to a year developing our vision for the work on our stages, away from our stages in the community, and how we work as an organisation.
“We have now articulated this bold new vision and strategy, and are making huge strides towards achieving it by being more daring, distinctive, daring and diverse. I want our artistic programme, across our three stages and for 52 weeks of the year, to bring the world to Norwich and Norfolk, and take Norwich and Norfolk to the world. I believe passionately that our towns, cities, audiences and communities should be able to benefit from the very best artistic work not at the expense of London but without having to go to London.”
Programming highlights of the past year include three productions from the National Theatre as Jane Eyre (above), The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time and Hedda Gabler all took to the stage. Northern Ballet also broke new ground with their new production of Casanova, which was penned by Eye-based author Ian Kelly who is an expert on the legendary lover, and choreographed by former Northern Ballet dancer Kenneth Tindall.
Dance audiences enjoyed Matthew Bourne’s Blitz-set blockbuster Cinderella, the haunting Ghost Dances from Rambert, and the modern and edgy Chotto Desh which was performed as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
Opera and classical music performances were also a key part of the programme with further development of those genres to come. Glyndebourne brought their world premiere tour of Hamlet to Norwich mixing the Bard’s tale with the emotion of operatic arias and choruses. A new programme of classical music programming also proved very popular with the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra and European Chamber Orchestra enjoying strong audiences of more than one thousand people each.
Musicals also continued to attract bumper audiences with Beautiful, Sunny Afternoon and Funny Girl all coming to Norwich straight from the West End. A company of talented actor-musicians joined forces with Strictly winner and Casualty favourite Tom Chambers in Crazy For You, while two brand new musicals also proved to be hot tickets with the stage version of Fat Friends with a cast including Jodie Prenger and Kevin Kennedy, and The Band featuring the songs of Take That and starring Let It Shine winners Five To Five creating brisk box office business.
The Theatre Royal also worked hard to develop its learning and participation work both within the Stage Two building, which is now two years old, and out in the community. Stephen Crocker said: “We are fiercely committed to engaging with all ages, sectors and areas of our community. Our work with young people continues to grow and expand but we have also had incredible success with older members of our communities increasing our provision for older people particularly in the areas of performance and scriptwriting.”
Highlights included the first two Creative Matters seasons which are month long programmes that provide the opportunity to look at topical issues in a creative way within a safe space. The first one on gender and sexual identity saw Alexis Gregory’s play Safe take to the stage. Cast and produced in-house, it told the story of young people whose lives were dramatically affected by rejection because of their gender or sexual identity. A second on men’s mental health, run in partnership with Norfolk County Council’s Public Health Team, included one-half of the Nimmo Twins, Karl Minns, sharing his own battle with mental health issues in a live In Conversation event with Stephen Crocker.
The last 12 months also saw the Theatre Royal and Playhouse formally merge. “This ensured the Playhouse had a prime spot in the heart of our family of venues turning our ‘happy marriage’ into a ‘happily ever after.’ It has continued its eclectic and inspiring mix of programming spanning all genres of work under the leadership of Caroline Richardson. In time for the merger, we were particularly delighted to be able to complete a much-needed refurbishment of its auditorium space ensuring it is comfortable for audiences and performers alike in years to come,” said Stephen.
Looking ahead, a number of exciting performances and projects are also planned, some of which were announced today. A number of new dramas were announced including The Girl On The Train, a stage adaptation of the best-selling book and must-see movie with former EastEnders star Samantha Womack in the cast, plus the returns of both Glyndebourne and English Touring Opera.
The theatre will also continue its long relationship with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures as they bring Romeo and Juliet to the Theatre Royal next year. This will be a passionate and contemporary re-imagining of Shakespeare’s classic love story bursting with youth, vitality and Matthew’s trademark storytelling.
The company has strong ambitions to support the next generation of on-stage talent. Inspired by the success of Lord of the Flies which was performed in the city in 2014 combining professional dancers and young men with little or no dance experience, Romeo and Juliet will feature the finest emerging male and female talent from the East of England who were discovered during open auditions earlier this year.
Norwich Playhouse will welcome Welsh National Opera who return to the city for the first time in 46 years next summer as they present their chamber version of Don Pasquale.
Meanwhile the next Creative Matters season in February next year will focus on homelessness, in partnership with Broadland Housing Group. Already confirmed will be a brand new piece of theatre conceived by the renowned theatre company Cardboard Citizens which will be drawn from the stories and words of those who have experienced homelessness in Norwich.
Now Stephen is looking to the future with his team and aiming to continue the work of broadening and strengthening the venues while also ensuring they play their part in keeping the region a key player within the cultural tourism sector. He said: “In everything we do here, our profound belief is to inspire a sense of the magic of theatre in all those who see our performances, take part in our activities, work here or just spend time in our buildings. A commitment to the kind of brilliant experiences we have been celebrating today at Centre Stage underpins everything we do and shapes how we work as a team, the partners with whom we work and the way we welcome our visitors.”