Maltings defended

PUBLISHED: 12:04 15 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:33 06 May 2010

SIR – It s a pity that Robert Hill (Herts Advertiser, October 8) cannot distinguish between someone writing to your paper as a private individual and someone speaking on behalf of a local society. It s also a pity that he feels the need to attack Simon Gr

SIR - It's a pity that Robert Hill (Herts Advertiser, October 8) cannot distinguish between someone writing to your paper as a private individual and someone speaking on behalf of a local society.

It's also a pity that he feels the need to attack Simon Grover and myself with such unsolicited spleen for being, as he implies, elitist enough to suggest that the Maltings Arts Theatre actually deserves council subsidy. It just shows how little he knows the place.

The theatre is five minutes down the line from Harpenden and seven minutes walk up Victoria Street. He should try it sometime.

Last Saturday, this invaluable, intimate performance venue in the centre of the city played host to the legendary UK jazz pianist, Stan Tracey, and his quintet. The event was sold out, and many would-be punters were left ticketless. The week before, a blues night was a sell-out too.

Elitist? I think not.

MARION HAMMANT

West View Road, St Albans

SIR - I have been following the recent correspondence regarding the Maltings Arts Theatre 'MAT' with great disappointment. My friends and I have enjoyed the facility on many occasions in the past and have been impressed by the way such a cosy little place can put on such a great big show, while still offering such a wide variety.

Across the country there are similar venues that need to be supported by their local authorities in the same way that SADC has to support the MAT, it is hardly unique. They offer quality, affordable entertainment to a local audience, i.e. they offer what we want at the price we are all prepared to pay for it. Because of our proximity to the capital, the MAT has to compete with all that London has to offer to attract a clientelle and I, for one, think they have been doing a great job.

What has not yet been discussed is the amount of support the MAT has given to local charity events. Here's an example:

I work for a medical charity (www.moteclife.co.uk) and play in local rock band, Deaf Shepherd. On two occasions the MAT has supported us by allowing us to stage a fund-raising show, for which we are very grateful.

The capacity of the venue allowed us to sell more than enough tickets to exceed our targets and help send medical teams to Ghana.

The staff have been brilliant and we are deeply thankful. There are no other venues in the area that would have contributed in the same way.

I was more than a little sad to read from Elton Townend Jones (Herts Advertiser, October 8), as he was one of them. I would urge readers not to see 'sour grapes' in his letter but to take his points for serious consideration because they demonstrate an organisation that needs the continued support of the community, not it's dismissal.

As I am led to understand it was never a realistic ambition for the MAT to be a major profit-making organisation and, as such, can't be seen as failing. If £150k costs 60,000 of us about £2.50 a year each I'm not sure where SADC get the two per cent from that Elton quotes but, if it is indeed correct then it is an absolute bargain. The average ticket price for an event in the MAT is about £13, I think. Compare that cost for you and your partner, say, with one event in London, including travel costs, time and convenience and it is a very favourable proposition.

What am I saying here then? SADC - you must continue to support this facility, it is priceless but, actually, quite cheap to you. Local people - come on guys, lend your support. This, I promise you, will be a clear case of 'use it or lose it'.

STEVE TOWNSEND

Jersey Farm, St Albans

SIR - I write in response to Elton Townend Jones' letter about 'The sad decline of the Maltings Theatre' (Herts Advertiser, October 8).

I must begin by declaring an interest. I am a member of the Company of Ten at The Abbey Theatre, St Albans. I act and direct there and have done so for over 40 years. There, I've said it, I've come out, I'm an amateur.

How good or bad I and my fellow members are will remain shrouded in mystery to Mr Jones for, as he made abundantly clear, he would: "no sooner watch amateurs act than have amateur surgeons remove (his) appendix". A witty (perhaps) but totally unhelpful and meaningless comparison. But never mind, Mr Jones has other equally telling arguments to advance to refute SADC's claim that there is an over-provision of theatre in St Albans.

Trestle's theatre is "too far out". Too far from where? Too far from where Mr Jones lives presumably. Anyway how far is "too far"? 100 metres?

The Arena is dismissed because it is "not a theatre". I recommend that Mr Jones has a look at The Empty Space by Peter Brook, one of the most highly regarded and influential directors this country has ever produced. In it, Brook writes that he "can take any empty space and call it a bare stage" In other words the special magic of live theatre can be created without the need for a conventional theatrical space, given the nature of the imaginative contract forged between actors and audience.

I regret the loss of any opportunity to bring live theatre to people, including the Maltings, but cannot support spurious and fatuous arguments for its retention.

The Company of Ten, which receives no subsidies from any source, recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary. For 75 years people have supported our productions. Some of these may have failed to reach our highest standards but has any theatre-goer never been disappointed by a professional production? It's in the nature of the enterprise surely, in any artistic endeavour. With, of course, the possible exception of the Maltings during Mr Jones' tenure there.

Our audience at the last night of our latest production was joined, at his own volition, by Sir Ian McKellen, one of the finest actors of his generation and President of The Little Theatre Guild, the association for amateur groups throughout the UK. Sir Ian was complimentary about all that he saw, was charming, modest and an enthusiastic supporter of amateur theatre.

So there you have it if you're ever thinking of coming to see us, do you follow Sir Ian McKellen's outlook or Mr Elton Townend Jones'. Tough call.

If I was to follow the latter I would not be introducing my grandson, age three, to live theatre by taking him to see Bear Hunt at the Arena, because it's not a theatre. I'd tear up the tickets for The Cat in the Hat at the Cottesloe, National Theatre, London, because it's too far.

I've decided he's too young for Treasure Island at The Abbey Theatre this Christmas so he's safe from contamination by a bunch of amateurs. Instead he will be at home with me studying how to become a surgeon specialising in appendectomies.

I suppose I could take him to the Maltings but somehow judging from the tone of Mr Jones' letter he and I might find that rather too patronising, arrogant and elitist an experience.

TERRY PRINCE

Gurney Court Road, St Albans

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