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Brenda Blethyn supports plans to extend the Arden Theatre in Faversham

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A BAFTA-winning actress says she is “extremely jealous” of a historic theatre after bosses revived plans for a £500,000 extension.

Brenda Blethyn, the star of ITV crime drama Vera, was speaking as she launched a project that will enable the Arden Theatre in Faversham to cater for community and local school groups.

Faversham Mayor Cllr Trevor Martin greets actress Brenda Blethyn at the launch event for the plans
Faversham Mayor Cllr Trevor Martin greets actress Brenda Blethyn at the launch event for the plans

Volunteers who run the theatre say the extension is “imperative” to meet increasing demand from a growing local population and to improve facilities like changing rooms and toilets.

A planning application for the extension was originally approved in 2019, but the scheme was put on the backburner when the pandemic hit.

Permission has now expired and will need to be renewed, which the committee hopes will be a formality.

Theatre group chairman Jo Andrews spoke passionately about its future at the launch event at the weekend, which was also attended by town mayor Cllr Trevor Martin.

How the Arden Theatre extension would look
How the Arden Theatre extension would look

She said the venue, next to the town’s swimming pool in Leslie Smith Drive, was becoming increasingly popular, not just for performance art and the newly-launched youth theatre but also as a space to hire out to a variety of organisations.

“With this natural growth of activity, we are outgrowing our space,” she told guests and supporters.

“Often, we are in the situation needing to hire other spaces for rehearsals, as other shows are in rehearsal at the theatre.

“Recent changes to child protection laws have meant we are pushed for changing space to be legal – we have a desperate need for separate changing areas.

The Arden's refurbished auditorium
The Arden's refurbished auditorium

“We are without our own toilet facilities as well, which we share with swimming pool users.

“Apart from anything else, this can destroy the ‘magic’ created on stage for the audience, and in addition, it is tricky to supervise with young cast members.

“Storage space at the theatre has always been limited and a perennial problem. As our service to the community grows – our space must also develop.”

Although there are currently insufficient funds to start building work on the extension, the group has been able to afford to refresh the theatre with a new stage, new and adaptable seating and a new colour scheme for the auditorium.

A CGI of the Arden Theatre extension
A CGI of the Arden Theatre extension

Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers christened the refurbished 98-seater auditorium on March 30, when the seating was arranged to provide theatre-in-the-round, which the group says was an impressive demonstration of the exciting possibilities for performances.

“This surely must enhance the chances of attracting grants for the extension, so it’s now up to all of us to make it happen,” said Mrs Andrews.

The new extension will be named the Mary Caryer Studio in recognition of the former long-serving group chairman who remains a supporter of the theatre.

The Arden Theatre in Faversham wants to expand
The Arden Theatre in Faversham wants to expand

In her home town of Ramsgate, Brenda Blethyn is patron of the Granville Theatre which has been closed for more than two years. The building has now been put up for sale by Thanet District Council, despite a petition to save it.

Speaking after the launch event, fellow committee member Richard Andrews added: “It was nice for Brenda to say how impressed she was with our little theatre.”

He says the group will organise fundraising events and prepare grant applications to organisations like the Arts Council and the National Lottery to kick start the fundraising.

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