Boost for theatre plans as Royal Philharmonic pledges support

The head of the country’s leading orchestra has said Tunbridge Wells could become a regular touring destination if it goes ahead with its theatre and civic centre development.

James Williams, Managing Director at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra [RPO], visited Tunbridge Wells last week to encourage the Council to press ahead with Calverley Square.

He said the £108million theatre and town hall office development was ‘a great opportunity’ to put Tunbridge Wells on the cultural map.

“We play regular regional venues and we have a community education programme to meet local needs,” says Mr Williams, who has managed the world-famous 75-piece orchestra since 2016.

He says these regional venues are in places such as Reading, Hull, Scunthorpe and Lowestoft, but the RPO is prevented from coming to Tunbridge Wells.

He said: “We are currently looking at our next funding rounds at the RPO and would love to come to Tunbridge Wells.

“But the theatre is just not fit for purpose. The opportunity is there for Tunbridge Wells to have a fully owned theatre that will bring in the names.

“As it stands the current venue is not fit for us or the likes of War Horse or the other income generators that allow you to run a full cultural programme.”

He added: “Calverley Square is a great opportunity, as it is in the perfect location. Out of town will not work – you want the restaurants and bars and other businesses to benefit from a theatre. Culture is a great economic driver.”

The RPO boss is among dozens of leading lights from the theatrical world who have encouraged the Council to continue with its 1,200 seat theatre project, which is currently frozen until September 25 while councillors examine possible alternatives.

Theatre director at the Royal Opera, Sir Richard Eyre CH CBE, has said Calverley Square would enable ‘The best of theatre, ballet and opera to be available to those who live outside London’.

And Lee Dean, theatre producer for West End and Broadway shows says The Assembly Hall Theatre is not suitable for his shows.

But said of the new theatre: “With circa 1,200 seats and state-of-the-art facilities you will have no trouble in attracting the very best of what British Theatre has to offer.”

Paul Elliott, the producer of the stage version of Dirty Dancing said: “I have just become aware of the situation regarding the proposed new theatre project for Tunbridge Wells and the potential problem that has arisen which may prohibit the construction of this venue.

“If there was a theatre with modern facilities that could host them it could become a magnet for the best of other producer’s products for many years to come and make Tunbridge Wells an enlightened centre of cultural activities.”

While Rufus Norris, Artistic Director of the National Theatre said it would be a ‘travesty’ if the project did not go ahead and urged councillors to ‘please reconsider’.

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