Council told to face the music with Fame far from selling out

The high number of empty seats for the show, which ran over six days in August, prompted critics to voice concern about the council’s plan to build a larger theatre.

But Town Hall has responded to say that one show’s ticket sales should not be taken in isolation.

The 80s film and TV series adaptation was one of its flagship productions this summer and was backed by a large publicity campaign. But for some performances more than 400 seats were empty, despite numerous pairs of tickets being won in competitions.

This has fuelled the argument of opponents to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s [TWBC] £90million Calverley Square, which would include a 1,200-seat theatre.

The authority said its early ­calculations estimate 49 per cent of tickets were sold for Fame, which was ‘above the target set in [its] business plan’.

Bob Atwood, Chairman of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance political party, formed primarily in opposition to Calverley Square, said: “I don’t know how TWBC arrived at their business plan figure, it seems strange they would target less than half the total ticket sales. That can’t be viable moving forward.

“I would express caution about judging anything that took place in August as residents are away for the holiday.

“Having said that, I would be quite worried about these figures, especially looking forward to the 1,200-seat theatre which I should think would need to be at least 80 per cent full to break even.”

Planning permission has now been granted for Calverley Square, which would also house council offices when it opens on land next to Calverley Grounds when it opens in 2022.

TWBC is pinning its hopes on the theatre proving a financial success. Their business plan states the theatre is likely to require subsidies until it achieves annual sales of towards 400,000.

Consultant Bonnar Keenlyside stated in the report this may take seven or eight years to attain. The Assembly Hall’s annual number of ticket sales is around 130,000.
Mr Atwood added: “I think [the jump from 130,000 annual tickets sold to 400,000] is highly unlikely.”

Alliance Cllr Nick Pope added: “I am unable to see how the 1,200-seat theatre in Tunbridge Wells will ever be financially viable. Regular theatre goers will continue to go to London, where there is so much choice within easy reach.”

A spokesperson for TWBC said: “Ticket sales at the theatre are doing well. The business plan for the Assembly Hall Theatre includes short-term targets while the theatre is on the current site and looks ahead to a new theatre on the Calverley Square development.

“Theatre attendance for last year, 2017/18, exceeded the target for 2020/21 and box office revenue was more than £100,000 over budget. If this growth continues the future of the new theatre looks very ­promising.

“Looking at one show in isolation doesn’t give this bigger picture, nor does it recognise that the new theatre is expected to have a very different offering to the Assembly Hall.

“Final ticket sales for Fame are still being calculated but initial information shows that attendance is over 49 per cent, which again is above the target set in the business plan.”

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