The curtain rises and the stage is empty. There is silence. What’s the name of the play? It may sound like the start of a joke but it isn’t one.
Where is the new National Theatre that the Government promised us back in 2013? According to the press release at the time it was “expected that the first performance and inauguration will take place in 2015”.
It’s 2017 and not a brick has been laid. I filed press questions with the Government four weeks ago. My questions have been met with total silence.
The Government spent £3.5 million on buying the Queen’s Cinema which lies abandoned at the moment with no sign in the area that any development is imminent.
No-one is saying rush the project – it needs to be thought out well and delivered properly. It should be a theatre that serves the needs for future generations of Gibraltarians. To think only about the needs of our community today would be short-sighted. But, it’s already two years delayed.
The issue of a new theatre is becoming a never-ending story. The GSD administration got the Theatre Royal totally wrong. It was a fiasco. It ended up costing the tax payer millions and shattered the dreams of many. We have been disappointed in the past so I don’t think it’s unnatural for the delay by this administration in delivering on this to raise questions.
An artist’s impression of the exterior of the new Queen’s National Theatre was included in the 2015 GSLP-Liberal Manifesto. It’s my understanding that the ‘Theatre Committee”, which was announced with great fanfare, hasn’t met since. Is it because plans are agreed? If so, why are works not underway?
Whatever the Government is thinking or planning, it needs to break its silence and provide the taxpayer with an update.
The Government was able to build a bank and a university almost in a flash. Why not a theatre?
Some will ask whether in a Brexit scenario it’s wise to invest in a new venue like this. Others, like Ellen Harvard, a theatre director at the National Theatre in London, think investment is vital.
“I think theatre matters when society is starting to feel really fractious and spreading apart. Being a member of an audience and watching something with up to one thousand other people who are all focussing on one thing – in our case something magical and positive – that’s an extraordinary thing”, she told me.
If we are to continue progressing as a community that invests in the arts, that wants to continue attracting international names and touring companies (as promised by the GSLP-Liberal Manifesto) a new, modern theatre is paramount.
If it’s business as usual despite Brexit let’s press ahead with the local projects planned.
Ellen Harvard told me that following the Brexit vote she “went to the Beyonce gig at Wembley and it was incredible. I had felt quite deeply about the vote and I felt concerned and worried and it was really amazing to be with thousands of people at a live event celebrating something, celebrating performance and art and I think this translates into theatre”.
She believes that “live theatre is alive in London”.
The record number of entries for this year’s Drama Festival, currently underway at the Ince’s Hall, is a reflection that theatre is very much alive in Gibraltar too. In order to continue growing and developing the many art forms delivered locally the resources and facilities need to move forward too.
There have been some great improvements in refurbishing the John Mackintosh and Ince’s Hall theatres in recent years. Both play important roles in our community, are constantly in use and are spaces that should be kept, but as Gibraltar continues to prosper so should our theatre offerings – both in terms of originality and quality.
There are many events which are being held in smaller venues because we don’t have a proper custom built space for larger productions. Many rely on Government grants because they are not cost effective. The new theatre could also accommodate many of the large events that need to be set up in other spaces, costing the producers (or Government through subsidy) thousands of pounds in setting up stage, lights, sound etc…
Minister for Culture, Steven Linares, said four years ago that it was time Gibraltar had more than just a “vision” for a new theatre but that it should actually become a reality. He said the Government was “committed to doing so in this four year term” and added he was very much looking forward to delivering on this commitment.
Ellen Harvard says that “theatre makers have a responsibility to create works that challenge, persuades and gets people talking. Also to get people together in an audience”.
Hopefully that for us can mean a full house in a brand new Queen’s National Theatre.
The audience deserves it and so do those who tread the boards – the theatre community of Gibraltar which has been waiting patiently in the wings.