The Harrogate Theatre column with David Bown

The Emperors New Clothes had a remarkably talented cast.
The Emperors New Clothes had a remarkably talented cast.

In a week when Harrogate launches an ambassadors programme, with leading local figures tasked to bring new business to town, you may have spotted in the business section of The Advertiser last week, the article on Richard Bielby (the production manager at the theatre) and Harrogate Theatre Scenic Services (HTSS).

Richard has developed a thriving business building sets for theatres all over the country.

Our portfolio of clients is daunting. Recently we have been responsible for national tours of Thoroughly Modern Millie starring Michelle Collins, Shirley Valentine starring Jodie Prenger, Northern Ballet’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, English Touring Theatre’s Brideshead Revisited, French without Tears and Silver Lining written by Sandi Toksvig.

Other shows include the new production of Tommy opening to rave reviews in Ipswich (a fully accessible production with a cast of disabled and non-disabled performers), Derby Theatre’s production of Betrayal, Newcastle Live’s The Red Lion starring Stephen Tompkinson, Garsington Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro, Grange Park Opera’s Die Walkure, Sheffield Theatre’s The Nap, Hull Truck’s The Gaul, Educating Rita and Treasure Island… not to mention work for English National Opera and the Leicester Curve, as well as jobs abroad in Dubai and at Sydney Opera House.

Richard and HTSS have also built this year our own shows – The Emperor’s New Clothes and Dick Whittington.

The first played for 12 performances over the Easter period and had approximately 3,000 people attend (very encouraging for a spring venture) and of course at Christmas we had over 35,000 people from all over the world pay a visit to Harrogate’s pantomime.

The point I’m making is that Harrogate Theatre and the arts are serious business opportunities that make a significant contribution to the local economy.

Furthermore, whilst The Emperor’s New Clothes was charming audiences at the theatre, Russel Brand and Billy Ocean were selling out the Royal Hall and the Convention Centre.

In total, Harrogate Theatres generate over a quarter of a million visits a year to an event, with many other organisations from all over the country heading our way for consultations regarding their own set building requirements.

All this activity has an associated secondary spend in hotels, shops, bars, restaurants and parking that contribute to the positive perception of the town.

It’s with this in mind that we have embarked upon exploring the possibility of a significant refurbishment of the theatre on Oxford Street.

The evidence is there – investment in the Arts can have huge benefits for Harrogate and the buoyancy of the local economy.

Thank you to all who supported our production of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

It was such a joy to see so many families making a visit over Easter. Phil Lowe the director and the production team put together a terrific show with a remarkably talented cast. It’s such a great story that will always have a contemporary resonance.

What’s coming up? Well, next week sees the opening of a new adaptation of the HG Wells classic novel The Invisible Man, presented by the brilliant Thunder Road Theatre Company. I’ve mentioned 1927 Theatre’s Golem many times, please come and see this world renowned company present their unique style of innovative story telling. You won’t be disappointed.