Sheffield’s Merlin Theatre celebrates 50 magical years
The Merlin Theatre in Sheffield is working its magic again as it nears its 50th anniversary.
The opening date, April 23, will be marked by a special production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with performances on April 20 and 21.
April 23 was also Shakespeare’s birthday.
The 200-seater theatre in Nether Edge was built in the grounds of Tintagel House in Nether Edge – hence the name – and is run to help young people with specialist needs.
It is managed and run by Freeman College and Brantwood Specialist School, which focus on children and young people with autism and a range of behavioural, emotional and mental challenges.
Students at the college can gain valuable skills by working at the Merlin in a variety of roles, said theatre manager Sarah Spencer.
The idea is also for the theatre to become involved in the community. Sarah said: “It’s really this give and take relationship.”
Anyone can hire the theatre to put on their own events or performances and in the process support its valuable work.
Sarah said: “A lot of people don’t know the theatre well, or didn’t know it existed. We want to put it back on the map.
“The people who go have such wonderful experiences with the Merlin.
“It’s really nice for people who do remember it to come back and we’re also creating new experiences for the audiences.”
She said that the theatre is going from strength to strength, with 40-plus bookings made for this year already.
The fascinating-looking building, based on the designs of a Swiss theatre called the Goetheanum, also stands in beautiful gardens.
It proved a perfect setting last year for the Sheffield Street Tree Festival, organised by campaigners against the mass felling of the trees.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
The theatre has long-standing links to a group of people whose spiritual beliefs led them to try to make the lives of Sheffielders better.
Freeman College is named after Sheffield-based social entrepreneur and pioneer Arnold Freeman, who lived from 1886 to 1972.
Freeman became warden of The Settlement in Shipton Street, Upperthorpe in 1919, an educational movement set up to improve the lives of poor people, that later included the Little Theatre.
Freeman became a follower of the educationalist Rudolf Steiner, of Steiner Schools fame.
His anthroposophical philosophy links spiritual and scientific ideas and stresses the freedom of the individual.
Arnold Freeman’s initiative was taken up by fellow anthroposophist Christopher Boulton, who bought Tintagel House and built the 220-seat theatre in the grounds. The theatre opened in 1969.
Sarah said that Tintagel House, built during the 1850s, was set up as a place for needy Sheffield residents to have a roof over their head and warm food, encouraging community spirit and to pass on the help they once received..
When Christopher Boulton died in 1973, the baton passed to Robert Chamberlain and his wife Mary, who ran the theatre for many years.
Freeman College took over the building in 2005.
A terrible flood in 2011 closed the theatre but it reopened four years ago after a successful fundraising campaign to undertake a £1.1 million refurbishment.
The production of Twelfth Night is the theatre’s first in-house production, with a cast of locally-based actors working on a profit-share basis.
To book tickets, go to eventbrite.co.uk or visit the theatre’s Facebook page.
Dore Gilbert and Sullivan Society also perform The Yeomen of the Guard there this week.