OUTSIDE EDGE / The good burghers of Hammersmith

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The Independent Culture
The Lyric Hammersmith - the two words belong together, as much as the National Theatre or the Chichester Festival. If the Lyric in west London succumbs to the current threat of closure, the burghers of Hammersmith face the ignominy of being forever identified in public consciousness with Hammersmith Bridge, or the Hammersmith Flyover, becoming 'the place everyone just passed straight through' (unless they were headed for the Hammersmith Apollo).

Three years ago the council was rate-capped and the cuts were passed on to the Lyric; it built up large debts and will close on 1 April unless pounds 350,000 is raised.

The theatre has a history of support in high places but hope, this time, comes from the ground. There is enormous local support for the theatre, and people who have never given the local arts programme their full attention before are now genuinely concerned.

A local business forum has been created to support the theatre financially ('For a recent performance of Blood Wedding the local businesses' support enabled us to offer tickets at one-quarter of the normal price to local schools,' purrs Sue Storr, general manager of the Lyric) and to publicise the theatre's plight.

Shopkeepers and local people came out in force last Saturday, rattling buckets until they had collected pounds 9,000. Even the smallest shops are doing what they can. True to the spirit of the campaign, Macs Cameras, opposite the theatre, has supplied cameras and equipment free of charge for all the fund-raising events.

Local people have a lot to lose (no subsidised theatre in Hammersmith means no schools programmes, no Theatre in Education, no grass-roots venue where budding actors can learn their craft) and the whole community has rallied round. Loth to be outdone by the shopkeepers, the police turned out in uniformed force for a recent performance by the Cardboard Citizens company of an interactive play about homelessness by the homeless. Even Hammersmith and Fulham Council, not normally noted for its charity, has co-operated with the fund-raisers, allowing 'highwaymen' to collect from hapless motorists stuck in traffic on the Hammersmith Bridge.

The big money, of course, will come from those with more clout. The embattled theatre has never had any trouble attracting the stars (a typical Lyric cast-list is as impressive as any in the West End) and this Sunday the likes of Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax, Griff Rhys Jones, Maureen Lipman and Eddie Izzard will star in Alive and Kicking, a benefit cabaret at the London Palladium. Still pounds 220,000 away from their fund-raising target, the people of Hammersmith will be keeping a keen eye on the box-office.