After a number of false starts, there’s a new drive to breathe a fresh lease of life into Swanage’s much loved but architecturally controversial theatre, as the curtain rises at the start of a new year.
While the new board of trustees has big plans for the future, including a major fundraising drive, aiming to offer something to everyone, connecting better with the local community and branching out into art exhibitions, the pandemic brought the venue to its knees and there’s still a long road to recovery.
Seaside Brutalism – architecturally hard to ignore
Underfunding, lack of maintenance and a leaky roof
Many of The Mowlem’s problems of underfunding, lack of maintenance and a leaky roof, date back to before Covid struck but the closure of the venue and loss of income due to the pandemic made everything worse.
The first issue that the new chair of the trustees, Paul Angel is prepared to address head on is the ‘love it or loathe it’ appearance of The Mowlem. Speaking to Swanage.News, he said:
“It’s an iconic building in its own way – seaside Brutalism! There’s very few theatres that have a panoramic seaview and can be seen from all four sides. Most have a frontage along a street and you head through to an auditorium that’s hidden from view. What we have in Swanage is brave and pretty unique!”
The exterior has been given a professional clean
Inside the auditorium has been refurbished
Refurbished from top to bottom
A positive aspect of The Mowlem’s closure during 2020 and 2021 was the opportunity to refurbish the theatre from top to bottom, including the loos.
Led by the previous chair of the trustees Matthew Haysom, a new ventilation system was installed, everything was repainted and there were new carpets.
Perhaps the most obvious change was the very well received new coloured light system that illuminates the building at night.
The Mowelm transformed at night with clever lighting
New chair of The Mowlem trustees, Paul Angel (right) with fellow trustee Andrea Etherington (left)
“Welcoming and not alienating”
Now top of the list is improving what goes on in the venue. Paul, who was previously best known in the local community for being one of the original founders of The Swanage School, continued:
“We want The Mowlem to feel like there’s something on every month for everyone to see, whether that’s a film, a show, an exhibition or an event in the Showbar – a centre for entertainment that’s welcoming and not alienating.
“We need to overcome outdated attitudes about The Mowlem. The summer tribute bands have been very successful and we want to do more of that. We can remove the seats and have a sprung dance floor and get everyone dancing.
“We’ve found that if we put the right things on, people will come out to see them. We are really keen to appeal to people who don’t think The Mowlem is for them.
“That also means we need to connect better with the community. People are still talking about the SW!M production by the local sea swimming group, which was a performance on the stage and then dancing and swimming in the sea outside. We’d love to put on more stuff like that – helping community groups to put on shows.
“The good thing about Swanage is there’s always something going on, with so many festivals. For The Mowlem not to be involved with the festivals in the past was ridiculous.”
In June 2022, the Swanage sea swimmers put on an impressive show in the theatre and then on the beach and in the sea
Business plan, grant funding and a major fundraising effort
In 2023, it will be 160 years since the original Mowlem theatre was built, funded by the Victorian Swanage businessman John Mowlem. The current theatre was built on the old seafront site in 1967.
There’s no avoiding the fact that capital funding will be needed to secure the long term future of The Mowlem for another 10 years, let alone another 160.
To that end, the trustees have put together a business plan and will be seeking grant funding for major improvements. Paul added:
“Access to the building has to be improved. The main entrance is too small and while we do have a lift, it’s not ideal for people with mobility issues. We also need to make better use of the whole building and capital funding to achieve this will be essential.”
Swanage Carnival committee chose The Mowlem for its awards night in 2022
Queues for popular performances
Encouraging more people to get involved
Discussions have already begun with Swanage Town Council to support grant applications and a major fundraising campaign later this year. Other plans include launching a Friends group and inviting local school children in to see more films and productions.
To help achieve all that it wishes to do, the trustees would like to encourage more people to come and help out and get involved at The Mowlem.
Not only does it want to grow its volunteer base, it would also like to contribute more to the local economy by employing more people. To fulfill this, it would like to recruit three new trustees, in particular, anyone with a background in HR or health and safety.
Local artist and former senior lecturer at Arts University Bournemouth Tim Edgar (left), who has curated the series of exhibvitions with artist Carrie Mason (right)
Being In Time by Carrie Mason opened in September 2022 and was the first art exhibition in a series to be held at The Mowlem
“So much talent from such a small town”
There’s clearly an ambition to create a vibrant arts centre in the centre of Swanage to serve the community across Purbeck. Paul said:
“What Swanage does really well are all the local musical drama performances, plays and the panto – which are often as good as the professionals.
“There’s also The Swanage School musicals and not to forget that June Ranger School of Dance should be back with a show this year. It’s amazing all the talent that comes through and many have gone onto greater things. So much talent from such a small town – it’s quite remarkable!”
Robin Hood and The Babes in The Wood cast are all ready to perform from Friday 13th January 2023
What’s on January 2023
Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood by Swanage Drama Company. Friday 13th, Sat 14th, Friday 20th and Sat 21st at 7.30 pm and Saturday 14th and 21st at 2 pm
A Bunch of Amateurs (12A) – one of the oldest amateur film clubs in the world is teetering on the brink of survival. Clinging to dreams and each other, this moving portrait of artistic folly speaks to the delusional escapist dreamer in us all. Tuesday 3rd through to Friday 6th January at 7.30 pm
Official Competition (15) – Penélope Cruz & Antonio Banderas star as two egomaniacs commissioned by a millionaire to make a movie together in this sharp comedy skewering wealth, art, and pride. Monday 9th January and Tuesday 10th January at 7.30 pm
Triangle of Sadness (15) – social hierarchy is turned upside down, revealing the tawdry relationship between power and beauty. An epic satire set against the world of fashion and the uber-rich with Hollywood star Woody Harrelson. Monday 23rd through to Thursday 26th January at 7.30 pm and on Monday 23rd January at 2.30 pm
On Stage by Tony Kerins – open to the public until Tuesday 25th January 2023
Tony Kerins and his exhibition at The Mowlem