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Why there won’t be an outdoor production in Lancaster’s Williamson Park in 2019

PUBLISHED: 09:00 12 February 2019 | UPDATED: 09:00 12 February 2019

A scene from The Dukes UK Theatre Awardwinning production of The Hobbit which played to sell out audiences last summer

A scene from The Dukes UK Theatre Awardwinning production of The Hobbit which played to sell out audiences last summer

Joel Fildes

Theatres across the region have exciting programmes planned but the curtain has come down - for now - on one highlight of the cultural calendar

Lotte Wakeman, the new artistic director at the Bolton OctagonLotte Wakeman, the new artistic director at the Bolton Octagon

It has entertained audiences since 1987 but there will be no play in Lancaster’s Williamson Park this year. The Dukes Theatre’s pioneering outdoor productions have been put on hold as they launch a fundraising campaign to ensure the walkabout theatre becomes an annual institution again from 2020.

The theatre’s artistic director, Sarah Punshon said: ‘For 2019, we’ve taken the difficult decision not to create a Williamson Park show but after much needed investment in our technical equipment, the play in the park will return in 2020, bolder and better than ever.’

The Dukes was the first theatre in the UK to produce this brand of outdoor walkabout production and film star Andy Serkis and Coronation Street actor Cherylee Houston are among those to have acted in the park.

A writer has already been commissioned for the 2020 play in the park and the title will be announced later this year.

A spokesperson for the Dukes added: ‘The intermission in 2019 will give us the chance to get fundraising underway so we can refresh and renew some of our technical equipment, some of which is well beyond its working life.

Taking a year off will mean we won’t be risking mechanical failures or putting our technical team under unfair pressure until these problems can be addressed.

‘Many arts organisations across the country are facing changes to their funding as a result of reduced public sector spending and we are no different. This means there is a need to make careful and considered decisions, which we have done in this case.’

The fundraising will be kicked off by a sold out on-man show by Burnley-born Sir Ian McKellan in May which is part of a nationwide theatre tour – he’ll also be at Wigan, Liverpool, Manchester, Bolton and Keswick – to mark his 80th birthday.

The Dukes 2019 season also features a new show by Wigan’s Stuart Maconie and Lancastrians, a new play based on interviews with 500 people from across the county, presented by Junction 8 Theatre in association with The Dukes.

In a further sign of the pressures facing our arts institutions, Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre has scrapped its in-house repertory company. The theatre – which launched the careers of actors like Bill Nighy, Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaite – revived its resident cast of actors in 2016 after a gap of 25 years but have said it puts too much strain on the venue’s finances.

The Everyman’s 2019 season will include a new production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, played by Liam Tobin, who was a member of the rep company.

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