Future of drama school in doubt after chairman resigns over 'threats'

The future of Anna Scher Children's Theatre, one of Britain's leading drama schools, was cast in doubt yesterday after its chairman resigned over an alleged series of "abusive threats''.

The resignation of Stephen Dawson came only weeks after Andy Smith, the director of the north London-based academy, also handed in his notice.

Their departures were prompted by an increasingly acrimonious dispute surrounding the reinstatement of the founding teacher Anna Scher, who taught at the school for more than 30 years after setting it up in 1968.

Miss Scher handed over control of the theatre to its board of trustees when she entered hospital with a depressive illness five years ago. But despite recovering fully, she has since been barred from returning to her position. Her plight prompted a string of celebrities and agents, including Kathy Burke and Ross Kemp, to campaign for her return.

Although they are among hundreds of peaceful campaigners, there were claims that a small number of supporters had adopted a more aggressive stance and issued the threats to Mr Dawson.

Yesterday, Miss Scher, a peace campaigner whose award-winning teaching methods combine the promotion of pacifism with moral improvement, welcomed the resignation but took steps to distance herself from those who endorsed threatening behaviour. She also remained cautious in analysing the implications the resignation would have on her role in the future of the school.

"It would be wonderful to return. But if not, I will teach elsewhere," Miss Scher said.

Mr Dawson was also reportedly the subject of "offensive and abusive" threats. Mr Smith added: "He has received threats but there have not been any acts of violence."

Patrick McCrudden of the Official Friends of Anna Scher Campaign said: "Anna has always wanted to keep the situation peaceful. Her whole work is based on peaceful things and none of her real supporters would endorse violence."

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