Portsmouth Theatre threatened with closure after NatWest's 'utter incompetence'

 

Arts Correspondent

When a Portsmouth theatre had its bank accounts accidentally shut down by NatWest in January, the management wrote it off to bad luck and looked forward to getting back to business without too much fuss. 

Yet two months on, the issues are still not fully resolved and the business interruption means the Groundlings Theatre is “on the brink” of closure, with problems with its suppliers and ticket sales plunging 90 per cent.

Artistic director Richard Stride revealed the theatre is to hold a fundraising event on Sunday as he seeks to cover the estimated £10,000 in lost revenues over the past two months, while he has unsuccessfully sought a loan as well as arts grants.

The financial state has become so parlous that the theatre currently cannot even afford to call out a plumber to mend a broken toilet, and there are fears that the gas may soon be cut off.

Mr Stride said: “We haven’t been able do the things we would normally do to keep the theatre running. Things began to spiral out of control and we’re now at the point where we’re threatened with closure.”

The problems at the 180-seat venue started on 13 January when Mr Stride was unable to access its accounts over the Internet. After days of fruitless attempts, NatWest informed the management that all four accounts had been closed and it was unable to withdraw money or pay its bills.

“The bank had made a huge error; they closed the accounts and couldn’t tell us how much money was in there. They’ve never explained how or why it occurred,” Mr Stride said.

“Initially we weren’t that annoyed as everyone makes mistakes. We didn’t realise the implications and what it would cost us.”

NatWest pledged to have the accounts fully up and running in three weeks but Mr Stride complained about the poor service he received and 10 weeks on “this is still continuing. The issue hasn’t been fully resolved whatever they say.”

The bank apologised for the error to Mr Stride, which is his stage name. The artistic director’s real name is Richard Hurdle.

A spokeswoman for NatWest said: “Mr Hurdle had access to funds throughout the temporary closure of his account, and we were in contact with him during this period. The account has since been reinstated.”

Mr Stride claims the bank initially offered to cover any losses but has instead only covered his daily phone calls to the branch and offered £500 in compensation, after initially offering £50.

The theatre, which has been running for four years, stages everything from Shakespeare and musicals to pantomime. Last year attendances had risen more than 50 per cent over 2012.

Yet this year has proved a nightmare. Management now has access to three of the four accounts, but the impact of the interruption of the past months has been devastating for the business.

The Groundlings has been unable to print marketing materials or brochures. Key services have also been withdrawn as a side effect of the closure of its accounts, with the cancellation of all its standing orders and direct debits.

Mr Stride said while many businesses he works with had reacted well, his theatre had also lost a lot of goodwill among companies for an issue that was not its own fault.

Ticket sales subsequently collapsed, with the theatre forced to cancel a series of shows, including recent children show Storybox. This weekend, The Pillow Maker will go ahead with fewer than 10 tickets sold.

“About 50 per cent of my time is dealing with the bank. I can’t do my normal job,” the artistic director said. “This process has taken an enormous amount of time and money.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum