‘It looks like a real theatre now’ - a glimpse inside the revamped Spa Centre

“FINAL Curtain” was the headline on the Courier’s front page when a report recommending the closure of the Spa Centre was published in 2009.

Antony Flint, the theatre’s manager since early 2010, was given two years to prove the theatre was an enterprise worth keeping.

Since then the outlook for the venue, which had cost Warwick District Council more than £500,000 to subsidise in one year, has improved dramatically.

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And recently the authority paid tens of thousands of pounds for improvements - two years earlier than first planned.

Reporter Oliver Williams was given the chance to see inside the refurbished theatre and see why the future is looking brighter for the Spa Centre.

COMFORTABLE seating, revamped public areas and an eclectic programme of shows to engage a wider audience.

All these things are now in place at Leamington’s Spa Centre and Cllr Sue Gallagher, who is responsible for culture at Warwick District Council, wants theatre goers to make the most of these improvements.

She says the ‘use it or lose it’ message she sent out two years ago remains the same.

Cllr Gallagher said: “People have to get into a habit of coming to use the Spa Centre. We’ve brought it back and I’ve been in loads of times since the refurbishments have been done and everybody says the same thing to me - ‘it looks like a real theatre now’.

“Antony has done so well. Because he wasn’t given that much money he has had to do wonders. We’ve got lots more seats, there’s more tables, we do food now, there’s grab bowls before performances and upstairs looks fabulous.

“It’s a facility for the people of Warwick district that we cannot afford to lose because if we lost it we’d never build another one, in the same way that we wouldn’t want to lose the swimming pool in Abbey Fields.

“It’s another way to show that this area is a great place to live, work and visit.”

Refurbishments costing £140,000 and including the addition of much-needed retractable seating in the main auditorium, took place over the summer.

Other work costing about £30,000 took place in summer 2010 with the former Royal Cinema being transformed into a studio which now stages up-and-coming comedians, musicians and fringe festival theatre acts along with a wide range of contemporary and classic films.

The studio, which has also had new ‘cinema style’ seating added, now also screens live shows and events from around the world.

Cllr Michael Doody, who is leader of the district council, has been impressed by this and other additions to the venue’s programme.

He said: “The one thing I wanted to see was a total change in the programme and I see that, we now offer a range for all sections of the public.

“Take myself, I like to come and see the ballet in the cinema. You can’t see better than the Bolshoi Ballet and it would cost a fortune to go to Russia to see it but I can sit in comfort here in new seats.

“The aspect of this place has changed remarkably. We are now filling the auditorium far better than we ever did before and that tells me that the programme that is out now is more desirable than it was before.”

He added: “We have to remember that when the Courier ran the headline ‘Final Curtain’ for the Spa Centre we were losing a lot of money, about £500,000, and we were putting on a programme that people were not in general happy to come and see.

“That is now totally different and we are moving into a different era of what residents want.”

Councillor Doody admitted the venue would never be self-sustainable but he said he was looking forward to seeing an improvement on its balance sheets.

He said: “We’ve done the major things. What I am looking for is an improvement in the finances of the place because theatres lose money like swimming pools lose money. I would never ever expect this place to pay for itself, I wouldn’t expect any of our swimming pools to pay for themselves but if I can see a reduction in the overspends then that has to be the way to go.

“As a council we are spending money for the residents and it all has to go back to what we charge them for council tax. There was no council tax increase this year or last year and we are still trying to improve all the facilities at all the venues that Sue looks after.”