Unease over fears Ilford theatre could be closed down

Rumours about the future of the Kenneth More Theatre are having a “devastating” effect on staff at the 37-year-old playhouse.

Council leader Cllr Keith Prince failed to quash rumours, which emerged at the weekend, that the council plans to close the venue and move amateur dramatic productions to the Sir James Hawkey Hall, Broomfield Road, Woodford Green.

The lease on the council-owned theatre, in Oakfield Road, Ilford, expired 18 months ago, and Cllr Prince admitted he is looking at “all options” with cabinet colleagues before making a decision.

Theatre board chairman John Lovell said: “The impact on the staff and volunteers has been devastating.

“I have been keeping them up to date with what’s going on as I believe in honesty and transparency but there seems to be a tight-lipped silence here [from the council].”

Mr Lovell told the Recorder he had been trying to get the lease renegotiated for “years” and until now felt progress was being made.

He added the move to the Woodford Green community hall is “simply not possible”, and argued it was not accessible by public transport.

Most Read

When quizzed about the rumours, Cllr Prince said: “I can’t say if that is something we would do or not.

“I have made no secret of the fact that I think we should build a centre of excellence for all of our arts centres in the longer term.”

The decision over the lease is due to be made by cabinet on December 6, but has been delayed at least three times since August.

Vivyan Ellacott, former manager of the theatre for 35 years, said: “There have been numerous occasions on which it was going to close, and I’ve sat through God knows how many plans for replacing it.

“I’d like more hard evidence first, but if there was an attempt to pull it down I would be the first one setting up my tent in front of the town hall to protest.”

KMT board member and Church End Cllr Richard Hoskins said there was a “dark cloud” hanging over the theatre while the lease remained uncertain.