Anniversary at King's Lynn's medieval gem
A large audience packed into St George's Guildhall on Sunday to hear the first annual update from Shakespeare's Guildhall Trust (SGT) and to commemorate 575 years of performance at the UK's oldest theatre.
Founded just over a year ago, SGT is working to try to keep the theatre open and is seeking an agreement with the borough council to deliver its vision for a single organisation and management structure to run the Guildhall for the benefit of the whole community.
Speaking to the Lynn News after the event, SGT chairman Ivor Rowlands reiterated some of the key messages of the day: "A lot has been achieved in a short time; the theatre is still working; huge thanks are due to all of our sponsors, helpers and supporters; but we mustn't confuse that with the key priority that we need the borough council and National Trust to formalise the role for SGT in their future plans for the Guildhall.
"Without this formal agreement, the SGT vision for a sustainable, mixed-use arts venue with community, youth, education and heritage at its core will not be realised."
The audience heard that SGT has commissioned a costed architectural study that provides full disabled access for audience and performers as well as an accessible toilet, modern flexible seating and new food and beverage provision including opening up a new courtyard on the north side of the Guildhall.
The total cost estimate for the work is approximately £5.6m. SGT believes that it can raise this money from a variety of sources but only if the borough council provides a formal endorsement of their partnership.
Newly elected, James Wild MP, showed his support to SGT by presenting five Bard Star awards, for outstanding contribution to SGT, to Jason Fuller, Gary Pooley, Anne Roberts, Diana Fox Brindle and Alive Corn Exchange staff.
In a Tweet after the meeting James Wild said: "Enjoyed talking to Ivor [Rowlands] and Tim FitzHigham about Shakespeare's Guildhall Trust's plans and how I can support them. Pleased to present well deserved medals and fizz to volunteers. Making the most of our heritage assets is a big part of attracting more people to King's Lynn."
In a special performance, King's Lynn Young Players performed the 'play within a play' from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Trustee Tim FitzHigham said that the choice of this scene is really special because we know that the performance in 1445 was of a 'Guild Play', and this scene shows us how Shakespeare portrayed a guild Play 100 or so years later.
Tim had given an entertaining account of that first production in 1445 ... along with a recap on his record-breaking exploits and the oddity that is Diss.
Three leading academics each then gave a short talk on various aspects of the Guildhall's history.
Dr Kate Parker explained the role and importance of the guilds in medieval Lynn and how Lynn had more Guilds than any town other than London. Dr Paul Richards talked about John Brandon, MP for Lynn and described by the Hanseatic League as 'Britain's greatest pirate'.
It was John Brandon and his associates who, in 1376, founded the St George's Guild in Lynn. Professor Elizabeth Pye then described the archaeological features of the building and made an appeal for the recovery of some ancient timbers and the remains of the Georgian theatre that went missing after the renovation of the Guildhall in the 1940s.
Appearing via video messages were Alex Horne, Neil Morrissey, Tim Bentinck and the country's self-described "fifth-best Shakespeare impersonator" David Mitchell, who gave a particularly heartfelt message about the need to protect such gems as the Guildhall.