Shock as the Byre Theatre faces liquidation

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Image: byretheatre.com

St Andrews’ Byre Theatre faces liquidation due to serious insolvency and debt problems, with the venue likely to close within the week unless a solution can be found in the near future.

The BBC’s Pauline McLean tweeted that: “Fife Council now saying Byre “very likely to go into liquidation next week”.” A statement is expected from the Byre later today.

Financial troubles

Image: byretheatre.com
Image: byretheatre.com

The news has come as something as a shock to most St Andrews residents and members of the Scottish arts community, as the Byre is Scotland’s sole five-star arts theatre. However, it appears that the Byre has in fact been beset by long-running financial troubles, in a climate of reduced funding for arts in Scotland and the UK – cuts which saw the Byre unable to produce its own shows.

In addition to the cost of running a five-star theatre, the Byre has suffered a high turnover of senior managers and technical staff in recent months and the bar and restaurant (until recently run as ‘the Kingarroch at the Byre’) have faced their own separate financial issues and have been running reduced services. The combination of these problems has meant that the theatre, while retaining its popularity, has required heavy subsidisation from Fife Council.

On Friday night, a sign was displayed informing the public that the building was closed “Due to unforeseen circumstances”. However, a charity dance and drama show scheduled for next week is still set to go ahead.

Students and the Byre

This is a development of relevance to St Andrews townspeople and students alike. The Byre Writers, a group of East of Scotland writers (both established and up-and-coming) based at the theatre, tweeted: “The Byre writers will continue but meet elsewhere.” Concerts for the forthcoming Fife Jazz Festival, meanwhile, will be held in St Andrews town hall, according to the BBC.

On the student side of things, the University Performing Arts Fund, Mermaids, has an average of two to three shows in the Byre each semester, while the venue has also been used by popular student organisations like DanceSoc, the St Andrews Revue and a capella groups.

Image: Richard Browne
Image: Richard Browne

The Saint spoke to Mermaids Tech Officer and On The Rocks Venues and Technical Director, Daniel Palmer, about the consequences of the Byre’s potential closure. On The Rocks (OTR) has made use of the Byre for the past four years, he said, and the news puts more pressure on the student arts festival which has already had to adapt to the reduced space resulting from Union redevelopment.

The Barron Theatre remains open and operational, and it would be possible to hold more OTR performances there. However, Palmer said, the Barron’s capacity stands at 54, compared to 216 in the Byre main stage venue.

Clearly the closure of the Byre would come as a blow to OTR and student arts in general, but Palmer said that a contingency plan was in place. Arts festivals would need to scale down (in terms of capacities and possibly technical quality), but the shows on the current OTR schedule should be able to go ahead.

Does the Byre have a future?

Administration does not automatically mean that the Byre will close. There is the possibility of Fife Council stepping in to prevent this, as Ian Munro, Director of Creative Scotland, was reported as saying: “It’s disappointing that the theatre is likely to go into administration. We will want to work with Fife Council and others as appropriate to see the theatre re-open as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, a Twitter campaign (#savethebyre) began yesterday evening as soon as the news was announced. The Students’ Assocation Director of Representation, Amanda Litherland, tweeted: “Ok, time to mobilise the troops @StADoSDA [Meg Platt] let’s get on it!! #savethebyre.”

It remains to be seen what can be done about the situation, and whether administration means closure or the potential for continuing as a trust. The Saint will bring you news of today’s expected statement from the Byre itself, as well as developments over the coming week.

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