Loo becomes a theatre of convenience

Richard Smith
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:39
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The smallest theatre in the world is to open in a disused Victorian lavatory. The former men's public convenience is just 16ft long and between 6 and 10ft feet wide.

The wedge-shaped building in Malvern, Hereford and Worcester, has a stone facade and many of the original white splashback tiles inside. But a part-time social worker, Dennis Neale, 49, believes it will be the perfect venue for one-man shows, poetry readings and puppet shows.

He plans to create a stage at one end measuring 6ft by 4ft, with seating on two levels for an audience of 15 people.

Mr Neale, an amateur puppeteer of Welland, near Malvern, has already christened the building the Theatre of Small Convenience. "Obviously the takings would be rather small so its not going to be a huge money-making venture," he said. "But its a magical building and will provide a wonderfully intimate atmosphere.

"The seating has got to be very clever. I have this idea to do tiered seating in a honeycomb shape to maximise the number of people we can fit inside. The seats could be shaped like old-fashioned urinals which would be an unusual and eccentric touch

"There will be no room for a bar and the ticket attendant will probably have to stand outside. Unfortunately there will be no changing rooms which might challenge some artists. They will probably have to change in the car or at a nearby hotel - we could always provide them with an umbrella if it was raining.

"But I think it would be a challenge for actors to perform in such a small theatre. They certainly wouldn't need a microphone."

The new theatre in Edith Walk, Malvern will be half the size of the building which currently lays claim to the title of the world's smallest theatre. The 1997 Guinness Book of Records gives that honour to the Piccolo theatre in Hamburg, Germany, which was founded in 1970 and boasts an audience capacity of 30.

Mr Neale is hoping to rent the council-owned building for around pounds 35 a week. It will be a contrast to the Malvern Festival Theatre which is undergoing a pounds 6.8m facelift.

The spa town stages its own festival every summer in honour of composer Sir Edward Elgar who lived nearby in Lower Broadheath. But local wags are already suggesting the theatre should stage its own season of Shakespeare plays including Lav's Labours Lost, King John, Toilet and Cressida and The Two Gents Of Verona.

Mr Neale yesterday met the manager of Malvern's town centre, Jane Allen to discuss the project and is hoping the new theatre could open within three months.

"I think its an absolutely fantastic idea," Ms Allen said. "If theatregoers want something more intimate than the West End then Malvern will be the place."

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