The Secombe Theatre, Sutton and its neighbour the Charles Cryer Studio Theatre, Carshalton are the only two theatres in the London Borough of Sutton. Both are currently closed and face an uncertain future.
This former church was constructed in 1937 and is a commanding red brick building. It was converted to a theatre in 1984 and named after Cheam Road's famous resident, Harry Secombe. A traditional proscenium arch auditorium. Under Council management the theatre was run as a multi-purpose entertainment venue, also hosting community and conference events. It was regarded as a flagship venue for community activities and business events in the borough.
Why is this theatre at risk?
In August 2014 the London Borough of Sutton announced plans to close both the Secombe Theatre and Charles Cryer Studio theatre. Following public opposition to the Council’s plans the theatres were offered to community groups, individuals and companies interested in taking over the venues and a bid from newly formed Sutton Theatres Trust was accepted. However, the new operator went into administration in August 2016. Both theatres have closed and their future is now uncertain. It is understood that most of the theatre equipment has been removed from both theatres as part of the administration asset sale. Whilst it was hoped that the London Borough of Sutton would consider bids to reopen the theatre, the council has since confirmed that it will only offer the buildings on a commercial lease.
Whilst there are separate community groups interested in both theatres which could provide both with a new lease of life, the cost of a commercial lease is untenable to any theatre of this scale. We have been supporting and providing advice to these local groups. Not only does the current situation leave both buildings at risk, but also the London Borough of Sutton as the only London Borough without a theatre, and the largest council in the country without any theatre provision.
The Secombe is also at risk of development. The Sutton Town Centre Masterplan calls for a new performance and arts centre on a different site, and notes this is of particular importance if the Secombe is ever redeveloped. Theatres Trust has recommend that a new theatre of comparable size and amenity must be provided were this to occur. In addition, in 2016 the site adjacent to the Secombe Theatre has applied for outline planning permission to build new residential units, leaving the theatre at risk of noise complaints and requiring costly acoustic upgrades.
Theatres Trust has been in discussion with the Council regarding the substantial benefit to the borough of the retention of both the Cryer and the Secombe Theatres. We have also been offering advice regarding theatre operation and the necessity of offering the right lease terms to allow for sustainable business operation.
We continue to support the community groups which want to see theatre returned to this borough.
Image: The Secombe, Sutton Theatres