Taxing times, and bonus, for Sheringham theatre

A successful 50th anniversary summer drama season and refund from the taxman helped Sheringham Little Theatre to a profit this year.

Plans are under way for this winter's pantomime - a major fund-raiser for the venue, which is also midway through a �35,000 appeal to upgrade seating and equipment and has also just recruited a new chairman to lead it forward.

But trustees are also gearing up for tough times ahead as grant funding could be harder to get amid public sector spending cuts.

Theatre director Debbie Thompson told the annual meeting of the Little Theatre Society the summer repertory season, watched by more than 8,000 people, generated �12,000 more than projected and had attracted glowing feedback about its quality.

Preparations were under way for the Aladdin panto, penned by North Norfolk Radio's Greg Powles, and using more than 50 children in the cast. And the spring programme being announced shortly would include a production of Romeo and Juliet by graduates from a London drama school.

The Stars refurbishment appeal to replace seat fobs, the lighting board, and upgrading the computer system to enable on-line booking, had so far raised �15,000.

A National Lottery �25,000 grant had also funded a youth project to study seaside entertainment around the region's coast involving 160 young people.

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Company secretary Jeremy Shaw said a long-running attempt to recover overpaid VAT from 1990-97 had resulted in a refund of �45,000 - without which the theatre would have made a �27,000 loss. The previous year it lost �23,000, but after staff restructuring was now better-placed to meet the challenging times ahead with grants 'proving difficult to renew.'

Panto income was hit by about �8000 during last winter's spell of bad weather, he added, but offset by a successful late repertory season.

President Lord Walpole thanked the volunteers who were vital to the operation of the theatre, but said more were always needed.

The meeting appointed a new chairman, Richard Ellis, who runs Norfolk Country Cottages and chairs the soon-to-be-scrapped East of England Development Agency. He is also a board member at Norwich Theatre Royal, the Forum Trust, regional Prince's Trust.

Other new trustees appointed were businessman and chairman of the North Norfolk business forum Ian Doughty, and Richard Batson, local chief reporter for the EDP and North Norfolk News.