Sheffield’s Library Theatre must not become side issue

Sheffield library theatre
Sheffield library theatre
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Sheffield’s ‘people’s theatre’ must not become a ‘footnote’ in the debate over the future of the central library, says an am-dram expert.

Phil Gascoyne, chairman of Sheffield and District Amateur Theatre Association, fears for the future of the 260-seat library theatre should plans to convert the library into a hotel go ahead.

This is the only theatre Sheffield actually owns. It’s the people’s theatre

He is concerned about how discussions so far have been dominated by what would happen to the Graves Gallery - which would remain in the listed building, under the proposals - with little attention given to the theatre’s fate.

His fears were compounded when Sheffield Council’s initial press release made no mention of the auditorium, and the theatre was then omitted from the council’s more recent list of five ‘cast iron commitments’ about the project.

The council has moved to reassure people about the theatre’s prospects, promising to ‘look at all options to secure its future’, but it has yet to make any guarantee – as it has for the central library service and the gallery.

“This is the only theatre Sheffield actually owns. It’s the people’s theatre, and we feel the council needs to continue to provide that facility. It cannot be allowed to become a footnote in these discussions,” he said.

“Thousands of ordinary Sheffield people go to the Library Theatre each year because we produce quality drama at a price people can afford.

“It’s not just used for drama either. It hosts concerts, dance classes and even wrestling, and is also used by local groups like Peak Rail and youth organisations.”

The Library Theatre is reportedly where Michael Palin made his first public appearance, and Mr Gascoyne says the former Monty Python star is not the only person to have used the theatre as a stepping stone to bigger things.

Mr Gascoyne says it is an affordable and accessible venue for theatre groups to stage shows.

The council has promised to consider options on how it can incorporate a theatre in the new library building, should the project go ahead.

Councillor Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, said: “I understand the importance of the Library Theatre. We have reassured the theatre group that we will look at all options to secure its future in the existing building or its replacement.”