Spa Pavilion and NGA Theatres – Are the Cracks Beginning to Show?

So a year on from its grand reopening – as many of us predicted – the Spa management is beginning to make the ‘use it or lose it’ noises we thought would happen. After year trumpeting how well they have been doing they have at last started to admit that a continual offering of tribute acts do not bring the punters in and they express huge surprise that ticket sales are falling off – in spite of this being a main criticism of the previous theatre companies that ran the Spa.

Of course the support from the public was good in the first few months as people were willing to give the new management the benefit of the doubt – but theatre cannot live by tribute acts alone – there has to be something a bit more exciting – and there has to be community use and community goodwill – something once again the current management at NGA Theatres has failed to explore or nurture. There are many amateur groups in the Felixstowe area – but most now perform at Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge – including the Drama Festival, or at venues in Kesgrave or Ipswich, having been completely priced out of their home venue.

How soon before NGA start suggesting that it’s our fault they cannot make ends meet – and that their only alternative is to redevelop the building as flats – perfectly allowable in the dodgy contract they signed with SCDC, who were only too happy to give the building away and wash their hands of the responsibility.

When the Spa Pavilion was sold for a £1 to building developer and Essex radio entrepreneur Ray Anderson last year – a man with an extremely iffy business past – there were two main reactions. For some it was just relief that the Spa was going to open again – and the hope it would become a venue to rival The Regent in Ipswich. For the rest of us – dismayed as we were that the council had not seen fit to grant one of the many community groups in the frame the same generous benefits – we doubted that a man who had left other businesses in dire debt and with no theatre experience behind him would be able to make a profitable business where others with more experience had not, and from a theatre that was built for a different era and which needed a complete re think in order for it to survive.

The Spa Pavilion was built for a different age – an age without TV and the internet when the only entertainment was live acts or cinema. The building needs vision in order for it to survive – it needs the auditorium to be remodeled into a smaller, more intimate and flexible space with conference and exhibition facilities. A year on its the same building – the same auditorium – the same facilities as failed to make a profit in the past.

In his opening address Anderson promised big names and that there would definatly be no tribute acts. The Spa has since seen a year of mainly tribute acts – or 60’s has beens. The previous theatre management failed to make a profit in spite of a £250,000 subsidy by the council and filling the theatre with shows most weeks. Anderson has no such subsidy and the theatre is dark many weeks of the year. He also has shown a complete disregard for the many community groups that used the Spa in the past – Stage Door, Felixstowe Musical Theatre, FADOS – allowing only Suzie Lowe access with the panto spot  – always lucrative for any venue – and a summer show run which used to be a slot for a vibrant summer youth project.

In an article in the Ipswich Star last week Anderson complains of the lack of support and that he has had no grants or funding. However The Spa Pavilion was in August named as one of 15 projects along the country’s coast to receive an award of £34, 500 from the Great British Coast fund to update its access for people with disabilities.

I thought the idea of giving the theatre to NGA for a £1 was that this would enable them to spend money improving the facilities. However the theatre still has restricted and old entrances with steep sloped access ramps, heavy wooden doors and a lift which is beyond economic repair, forcing wheelchair-bound customers to navigate the outside of the building in all weathers to reach the auditorium from the theatre’s bar.

So what have they been spending their money on? A paint job? Plugging the roof? We all know that most of the essential repairs had already been done by the intrepid Roger Miller before the NGA moved in.  Surely disabled access is one of the most important improvements for any public building?

Fortunately for NGA the grant will allow work to start to increase accessibility for all staff and customers, and allow the less able and wheelchair users to perform and work on future stage productions.

Ray Anderson, said: “We knew when we were planning to re-open the Spa Pavilion that our budgets would not stretch to many essential improvements.

“We are delighted and very grateful therefore that our application to fund these vital works has been successful.

“It will enable us to improve access for both wheelchair users and those with other physical impairment beyond all recognition for a wide range of the community, and especially staff, theatregoers and performers. We will do our best to have these improvements in place in good time for the winter.”




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