The £3.8 million refit of Letchworth’s Broadway Cinema to include a theatre has been finished – and the Comet was invited backstage for a sneak peek today ahead of the first show on Tuesday night.

The Comet: The stage of the Broadway Cinema's new theatre.The stage of the Broadway Cinema's new theatre. (Image: Archant)

Creative programmer Sue Scott Davison gave a tour of the art deco cinema’s new dramatic facilities, which include rigging, dressing rooms and a theatre seating up to 480 people.

And answering questions on stage about what the new theatre means for the Letchworth arts community, she said it would slot perfectly into that part of the garden city’s culture.

“I think it’s fantastic, and so many people have contacted me to say it was so long coming,” she said.

“Letchworth is very much based on the arts and crafts movement. It has a long history of visual arts – but it’s never had a theatre like this, and neither has Hitchin.

“If you think of the links actors like Sir Lawrence Olivier have to this area, it really surprises me that there wasn’t a professional theatre – a proper functioning one, rather than using a school hall.

“The old Plinston Hall needs a lot of work doing to it. I think to put a theatre in a well-loved building like this rather than building a new theatre – which was one of the plans put forward – is the right thing to do. People love coming here.”

The theatre won’t just serve Letchworth, though, Sue said – the plan is for it to serve all of North Hertfordshire and beyond.

“We need to develop an audience,” she said.

“We know the cinema audience, but we can’t rely on just Letchworth and its environs for the theatre because it’s more expensive to mount.

“We’re going out to Bedford and deeper into Hertfordshire, and we’re hoping people will come in from all over.

“So long as we can each season bring in some big names, I think people from the villages will come flooding in.”

Sue also remarked on the Broadway’s bucking the elsewhere-common trend of theatres converting themselves to show films, saying: “We’ve been a bit saucy. We’ve done it the other way around.”

Backstage, Sue said she had insisted on having trios of lights on each side of the mirrors – a single bar of light along the top had been proposed – and showed a lift that can carry up to 3,000kg of gear.

Asked by the Comet to sum up how it felt to finally get to this stage, Sue said: “It’s all a bit surreal. It’s been a long journey up to here, but now I think the real journey begins.”

Those looking over the new theatre included Letchworth BID manager Tom Hardy, who among other things worked at the Broadway a decade ago.

He told the Comet: “It’s going to be great. It’ll bring a different demographic into town. I think it’s going to massively improve what the town centre offers.

“I worked here 10 years ago and the thing I find is how the relationship with Cineworld in Stevenage has changed.

“Ten years ago people might have said they’d go down to the nice new cinema in Stevenage, and only come to the Broadway for the cheaper tickets – but now it’s reversed.

“Prices are reasonable here, but it’s an art deco theatre and people come here and get more of a real intimate, quality experience.

“Personally I’d rather sit in a 1930s art deco cinema than part of a modern, almost generic chain.”

Asked if he’ll be coming to take in some theatre himself, Tom – whose grandmother Ellen was at the Broadway’s gala opening night back in 1936 – said: “Yes, definitely!”

Letchworth journalist, writer and occasional stand-up comedian Jane Fae was also on hand for the sneak peek.

She said: “It’s brilliant because it offers a alternative that’s different. It offers range and it’s clearly geographically going to add something new.

“It’s not looking to take away from other established groups, like what we have at the Gordon Craig in Stevenage. I think people in North Herts are going to get something new and wonderful out of it – and in a year’s time I shall be banging on Sue’s door, saying I’ve got a production for her!”

The first show on at the Broadway Theatre – at the corner of Eastcheap and Gernon Road – is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, this Tuesday at 7pm.

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