Stafford’s Shakespeare Festival could be moved to ensure it goes ahead next year

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

A report to be discussed by Stafford borough councillors says the cost of staging the production at Stafford Castle in 2023 would be difficult in the current financial climate.

Freedom Leisure Trust, the not-for-profit organisation which runs a range of leisure and cultural services on behalf of the council, has asked for help with the increases in energy costs it is facing.

On Thursday, members of the council’s cabinet will discuss making a financial contribution as an “exceptional cost” to help Freedom through this difficult period.

And as part of the discussions, the cabinet will be asked to agree that the popular Stafford Shakespeare Festival will be hosted in the Gatehouse Theatre in the centre of town next year.

The festival returned to the castle for a two-week run this summer having been cancelled in the previous two years due to Covid – with the organisers reporting an increase in ticket sales compared to 2019.

Councillor Carolyn Trowbridge, cabinet member for leisure, said they wanted to make sure the long-running festival of the bard’s work would still be performed in Stafford.

“It is rightly acknowledged that our Shakespeare Festival is one of the jewels in the town’s cultural offering and, despite the difficult economic conditions, we are determined that the show must go on,” she said.

“Our leisure partners are a not-for-profit organisation and, like so many, their business is being severely impacted by the huge increase in costs, not least from energy bills.

“Staging the event at the castle incurs significant infrastructure costs due to the terrain and the provisions needed to protect this important heritage site and, even though the numbers attending rose from the event in 2019, it would still require a substantial subsidy to run.

“So, delivering it from our recently renovated theatre would ensure Shakespeare can go ahead in 2023 – and hopefully bring more people into the town centre. We will also not be in the hands of the gods when it comes to the weather, which can have a major impact on attendance and running costs of the outdoor event at the castle.”

The Freedom Leisure financial position has been provided to councillors in a confidential document but the report states: “Officers have been given information that demonstrates the substantial set-up costs required to lay on a safe production at Stafford Castle in 2023″.

It continues: “The overall forecast net cost of the production for 2023, in the context of the energy price issue and wider budgetary pressures on the contract, is significant taking account of the above set-up costs. So, it is considered both appropriate and necessary to review alternative options for the Shakespeare production for 2023.”

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