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.”

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before