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Shakespeare expert offers King’s Lynn Guildhall support

todayFebruary 19, 2021 5

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A distinguished Shakespeare scholar and historian has joined in the debate about the future of Lynn’s historic St George’s Guildhall and made an offer of help and support.

Professor Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford, had raised questions about West Norfolk Council’s role after it failed to get Government grants for it.

He said that the eyes of Shakespeare and theatre history would be on Lynn.

A vision for the future of the St George's Guildhall in Lynn. The bar area. (44355440)
A vision for the future of the St George’s Guildhall in Lynn. The bar area. (44355440)

But he has followed this up with a message of goodwill, following assurances from senior council figures, and is offering to make the expertise of the Institute available to campaigners.

The intervention comes as the Shakespeare Guildhall Trust (SGT) celebrates what it says is an “overwhelming response” to the mailshot sent out worldwide last week setting out a vision to give the theatre a future.

SGT chairman Ivor Rowlands said that the publication of the brochure, sent to more than 600 key individuals and organisations, from politicians to performers, has sparked a flurry of correspondence.

“The publication of Our Vision has really captured the public’s imagination and we have been inundated with letters and positive messages in support of the Guildhall and in favour of SGT’s proposals. It’s been a real effort to respond to and deal with all of the enquiries we have had”.

One of these messages has come from Prof Dobson, who travels the world lecturing on Shakespeare and is also professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of Birmingham.

He has told West Norfolk Council: “If there is anything the Shakespeare Institute can ever do in the way of providing detailed information about the history of the building, about the Elizabethan touring companies or about actor Robert Armin, do let me know.

“Good luck also in harnessing the enthusiasm of the Trust, who are currently so very active in publicising the Guildhall. Very best wishes.”

Earlier, Prof Dobson had contacted the council saying he was puzzled that public officials appeared so reluctant to collaborate with the SGT to ensure the building’s future.

He had pointed out: “As the examples of Southwark, Fuzhou, Prescot, Neuss and others show, even fake Shakespearean theatres can attract huge numbers of visitors and contribute signally to local regeneration. The Guildhall is the real thing.

“For what it may be worth, the eyes of Shakespearean scholarship and theatre history are on King’s Lynnat present: it may well be up to you to decide whether a neglected Guildhall becomes a source of notoriety for the town, or whether a rejuvenated and intelligently managed Guildhall becomes a source of fame and prosperity.”

West Norfolk Council deputy leader Elizabeth Nockoldstold the Lynn News that she had immediately gone back to Prof Dobson assuring him that the council does have plans and welcomed the vision and that it was funding that is the major issue.

“He then came back saying he was reassured and making this generous offer,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Rowlands has rejected claims that the trust itself wants to take on the management and running of the Guildhall, which is currently leased to the borough council by its owners, the National Trust.

He said: “This requires permanent, full time, well-qualified and experienced staff to run programming, events, education, catering, and visitor facilities. This is something SGT does not claim to possess, and of course neither does the borough council.

“SGT believes that the money invested in producing and distributing Our Vision, outlining proposals for the Guildhall, represents the genuine desire by SGT trustees, sponsors and donors to see a positive outcome for this historic project, at which we will have only one attempt at getting right.

“An incorrect or ill-advised decision now will have repercussions on the town for decades to come.”

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