By 1998 both Fred and Val were becoming quite weary – this amazing couple were now in their eighties and, after all, the theatre with its ups and downs had been running for over 25 years with increasing demands on their time – so with the house needing urgent attention it was decided to close it down. Devastating news for all of us, but quite understandable.
At the time, some unknowing people opined that after a quarter-century of taking ticket money, Fred could well afford to repair the house. Nothing was further from the truth: on every production, after small expenses were taken, the profit always went to charities. The cost of repairs to the building was borne entirely by Fred and Val themselves, with labour often willingly given by friends.
So, with theatrical pressure off, Fred could devote his time to repairing the ravages of time especially on the 1860s roofs, most of which were clad in Stonesfield slate replacements for which were by then in very short supply and staggeringly expensive. Those areas dating from the 1890s and which used more modern tiles were, ironically, in worse condition.
In almost every case the house needed scaffolding or – at the very least – a network of ladders precariously roped up to handy chimney stacks. Fred’s ever-faithful stonemason Terry Eden toiled away with him, patching and replacing rotten battens (the slender horizontal timbers upon which the slates and tiles were pegged) and so with the place resembling a building site it was anyway too untidy for the theatre patrons to see.
No wonder he decided to close the theatre! Meanwhile though, with Fred aloft most of the time, downstairs in mission control (the kitchen) Val was having strong withdrawal symptoms and apart from her duties of supplying us with endless cups of tea, during 1999 she began quietly to adapt Dylan Thomas’s masterpiece Under Milk Wood for the stage.
To everybody’s relief and joy the closure was revoked, business returned to usual and our 97th production opened to high acclaim the following year.
In this photo album (below) are some more pictures of that time; currently some are replicated in the text above but in time we’ll sort the errors out!
And then, oh joy, the decision was taken to re-open. It had absolutely nothing to do with the seemingly constant barrage of questions from members of past audiences as to what the next production would be. Eventually the pair of them called “truce” and below are personal copies of the letters sent to those patrons on the mailing list.