A THEATRE company that has performed on an island for 60 years has announced it will be leaving.

Brownsea Open Air Theatre (BOAT) said it was ‘saddened’ the National Trust had ‘placed us in a situation whereby removing ourselves from the Island is the only practicable outcome made available to us’.

In a statement on its website, the company said it had been in consultation with the National Trust since 2019 to develop a natural amphitheatre on the island.

But in November of last year, the trust told the company ‘unexpectedly’ that from the summer of 2024, a ‘more minimal style’ of production should be undertaken.

This would involve audience members bringing their own seating, with less elaborate sets and staging.

Dorset Echo:

It said: “A number of reasons were cited for this: the use of the temporarily constructed auditorium and its impact on the local environment both physically and aesthetically; staffing issues; the time taken to build the set, and the late transfer of patrons back to Poole Quay after performances.”

The trust suggested the company forego the use of a temporary auditorium and pay the sum saved towards the cost of the amphitheatre.

But BOAT realised that chartering a ferry for not just the 4,000 audience members bust also their seating, would make the proposed productions ‘financially unviable’.

“We proposed that if we could be allowed to perform Macbeth in 2024 in our usual format with the Auditorium, we would commit to a shorter set build term thereafter and also ensure an earlier start and finish,” BOAT’s statement said.

“In addition, to assist funding, we offered to donate to the Amphitheatre project a sum equivalent to the cost of the Auditorium, in other words, pay for it twice.

“This was not taken up.”

The Island Trust did agree that this year’s production of Macbeth could go ahead as planned.

A final meeting was held in January, with BOAT given three ways for it to continue beyond 2024.

These were the reduced proposal as described and another that was deemed ‘not feasible due to health and safety considerations and impractical time constraint’.

The third was to leave the island and have a fallow year to consider the amphitheatre project.

The statement said: “Our preferred option -- to continue making the full-scale productions that our audiences have come to expect and thereby assist with future funding for the Amphitheatre – was not included in recent meetings, and our request to have it considered was rejected.

“The Trustees of BOAT felt that they had been placed in a position that offered no choice other than to move off the Island after this summer’s production.”

The company added that the decision was ‘not easily made’ as it wants to continue its commitment to the arts while supporting the National Trust.

It added: “Those of us at BOAT who are aware of the details of this process are saddened that the National Trust has placed us in a situation whereby removing ourselves from the Island is the only practicable outcome made available to us.

“We still support the Island’s Amphitheatre Project, and hope that if it comes to fruition, we will still be in a position to be part of its success.”

BOAT thanked the National Trust for its support and the years it has enjoyed on the island and thanked its supporters and patrons.

It said it is committed to finding an alternative home on the mainland so BOAT can ‘continue to flourish and nurture the local theatre scene’.

The company has raised more than £300,000 for the National Trust, as well as supporting Dorset Wildlife Trust. 

It has received national recognition, including being recognised in the Guardian's Top Ten Open Air Theatres in the UK, and forging links with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  

A National Trust spokesperson said: “We have a long history of partnering BOAT (Brownsea Open Air Theatre) to deliver Shakespeare performances on the island over the summer months.

“The performances will continue in July/August 2024.

“However, we will be having a fallow year in 2025 whilst we consider a number of options for the future of performances on Brownsea Island.

“These options will take into account the impact of the productions on Brownsea Island’s resources, visitors and on its nature and wildlife and status as a National Nature Reserve and site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

“We hope to continue our long history with BOAT on future plans for a Natural Amphitheatre on the Island.”