A COUNCIL striving to develop its reputation for staging theatrical productions has defended itself against claims it has dumbed down the type of shows being offered in a drive to get “bums on seats”.

Darlington Borough Council officers said they had been delighted by the audiences attracted to the town’s revamped Hippodrome theatre since it reopened in November and the theatre offer for adults was being boosted at the neighbouring Theatre Hullabaloo.

A meeting of the authority’s place scrutiny committee heard alongside work to creatively explore Darlington’s railway heritage and efforts to bolster the Tees Valley UK City of Culture bid, Creative Darlington had recommended prioritising a push towards the town being recognised for its theatre offering.

A Creative Darlington report to the meeting heard with the openings of the Hippodrome and the Hullabaloo theatres last year, Darlington had made considerable progress towards its “theatre town” ambition.

It stated: “We have committed to work with Theatre Hullabaloo from 2018 to 2021 and there are opportunities to build on the pioneering work of Theatre Hullabaloo and support the developing profile of The Hullabaloo as a national centre of excellence.

“We are supporting Darlington Hippodrome’s developing work with Orchestras Live and Durham Music Service around audience development for classical music.”

However, Councillor Joe Kelley questioned whether the shows being offered were of interest to all residents.

He said when the authority closed Darlington Arts Centre in 2012 to save more than £500,000 a year, it had pledged to ring-fence funds from its sale for productions of “a slightly higher calibre, which attract audiences which might not go to a pantomime”. He said the art centre’s adult offer had “completely vanished.”

Between 1982 and 2012 the arts centre staged nearly 250 performances a year, the majority of which were considered to be “less mainstream”.

At the time of the closure, a council spokesman said it was “working to ensure a full arts programme” would continue across Darlington.

Cllr Kelley questioned what had happened to the money set aside for more intellectually weighty productions, and said shows at the Hippodrome had turned out to be “more mainstream” than had been staged at the arts centre.

He told the meeting: “I wondered whether we are missing a trick by just going for bums on seats totally and not really attracting those shows that are a bit more intellectually challenging than pantomime, that used to be on at the arts centre.”

Council officers said the Hippodrome, formerly known as the Civic Theatre, had always staged a popular variety programme and it continued to face some “financially challenging income targets”.

They added £800,000 from the sale of the arts centre had been used to develop the Hulabaloo theatre, where 50 per cent of the shows would be aimed at adult audiences.

What do you think of the shows at Darlington's Hippodrome Theatre?

What do you think of the shows at Darlington's Hippodrome Theatre?

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