The Mansfield Palace Theatre finds itself in interesting times, along with all theatres across the country, as it remains closed due to the coronavirus epidemic. Whilst Theatres vow to leave a light on and look forward to welcoming customers back in the future, one man is ready to turn his alarm clock off.
Andrew Tucker, Cultural Services Manager of the Palace Theatre, is retiring in July after 26 years of service and whilst the prospect of every day lie-ins, reading the newspaper, and generally sourcing decent red wine is just around the corner for him, retiring during a global pandemic can’t be easy.
Andrew recalls how the Covid-19 crisis has totally turned his life around, saying, “Here I was at the end of March with a wonderful financial year coming to a close and a potentially very successful theatre programme about to be launched to take me through to July and the long-awaited prospect of retirement! The next thing I know is the Theatre is shut down immediately and when I was set up to work from home, I faced the dismal task of having to contact all of the theatre companies, agents, etc., to try and rearrange dates for shows affected”.
He adds, “Personally, it has also been a total change for my wife and me as we are both working from home, something that has never happened before. However, just as much as it is nice to spend some additional time with my other half, I am particularly sad not to be spending the last working days of my career with colleagues”.
Looking back on Andrew’s career, after leaving the Army and embarking in studies to become a doctor, he later decided that he was more of a ‘lovie’ and studied Drama. 1994 proved to be quite a momentous year in Andrew’s family life - not only did he and his wife Carla welcome baby Claire into the world, but they also upped sticks and emigrated from a very hot and humid sub-tropical Durban in South Africa to a cold, grey and foggy England.
He immediately set about looking for work in the theatre industry to continue in his chosen field having previously obtained a degree in drama and having worked in South Africa as a Stage Manager, Theatre Manager, Theatre Director, General Manager of a five theatre complex and lastly as Deputy General Director of a Performing Arts Council.
His initial thoughts were to try and find employment within the M25, but found that particularly challenging, to say the least! So he started casting his net further afield and when he did that, he found a lot more interest in what he had to offer. And so he ended up in Mansfield at the Palace Theatre and saw the potential that the lovely old venue had to offer.
He was invited to interview for the post of General Manager of the Civic Theatre, as the Palace was then known, and immediately saw the potential that the lovely old venue had to offer and was delighted to accept when he was offered the post.
Fortune smiled down on the Theatre in the form of the National Lottery when Andrew, along with Iain Hook, then Mansfield District Council’s Head of Leisure and Arthur Jepson from Finance, set about submitting a bid to Arts Council England for Lottery Funding. To cut a very long story short, they were successful and Mansfield District Council was awarded £1.63million. Work commenced in 1997 to transform the Theatre into the lovely facility that it is today.
This transformation has been the salvation of the building as a theatre. It’s hard to believe what Andrew’s predecessor, Colin Carter, managed to achieve with the limited and outdated technology at his disposal. When Andrew took office, the most sophisticated bit of IT was a Golf Ball typewriter! Any spreadsheet work had to be done on his modern home PC!
The Lottery funds changed all of this providing offices for staff, computers, an up to date Box Office facility, improved stage space and equipment as well as scope to widen the programming. And as the saying goes, the rest is history! Attendance has grown dramatically over the years with the Theatre recently celebrating the one millionth person through the doors since the major refurbishment.
The secret of this success is based on various factors. Firstly, there is an extraordinary team spirit that exists with everyone being recruited for their specific skills and abilities and then being allowed to get on with their job and taking a great personal pride in their work and assisting each other as required.
Secondly, many of the members of these teams are related, either as families or as couples, so there is a special closeness amongst each other because of this.
Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, there is a very strong ethos of knowing that we work for the public and that their enjoyment whilst in this Theatre, is our mission in life. The staff who engage directly with the public get to know the regular customers by name, but even those who arrive for the first time and are wondering where the facilities are, are made to feel welcome and as if they have always been a part of the furniture.
Andrew was promoted to Cultural Services Manager which gave him responsibility for the Mansfield Museum as well. He recalls how it was a huge pleasure to work with Liz Weston MBE, the now retired Curator and her excellent team of this multi-award-winning Museum over the years. This is a facility that punches way above its weight and is a beacon for other similar museums around the country.
As with the Theatre, the Museum boasts an exceptionally gifted team that is able to work magic with a relatively small budget and is the reason that it is so popular with visitors, both local and from further afield and that they have won so many awards both regionally and nationally.
So whilst Andrew is really looking forward to retiring and enjoying the freedom that it brings, leaving the Palace Theatre is more than tinged with a hint of sadness of having to make that transition from taking reasonably meaningful decisions on a daily basis to wondering what to have for lunch!
Andrew says, “It will be extremely sad having to say goodbye to colleagues, many of whom I have worked with for many, many years, not only in the Theatre and Museum, but across the whole council. It would be divisive to single out individuals from the team for their contribution over the years, so I would like to thank them all most sincerely for their specific contributions that have made my term of office so successful and enjoyable”.
In addition, Andrew has built up extensive networks of other theatre managers, theatre companies, artists and agents around the country. He adds, “I will miss the discussions, the advice sharing and the friendly banter with this group of theatre professionals and I wish them all great success for the future”. Andrew feels it would be remiss not to single out Martin Dodd from UK Productions who stages the annual professional panto that has become such an important and beloved fixture of the Palace’s diary.
But there is an additional level of sadness brought about by the Covid-19 crisis which will of course have a terrible impact on theatres around the world and the Palace is not exempt from that. Andrew worries tremendously about the immediate future of live theatre and hopes that Mansfield District Council, which has been so incredibly supportive of Cultural Services over the years and which recognises the value of these facilities to the community, will be able to continue to support the cultural jewels in their crown.
Hayley Barsby, Chief Executive Officer of Mansfield District Council said, “A big thank you to Andrew for leading the Cultural offer for the District and in creating a destination for many to attend the gem that is the Palace Theatre. During these years this little known theatre has been created into a destination for people to attend, whether to visit Ken Dodd (who would never go home) or to a more refined offer of a Ballet. We now have a venue that artists love to visit and who return season after season, but also a place for people to experience a friendly and engaging venue for young and old to create memories”.
Andrew concludes, “I wish my successor, Sian Booth, all of the very best in facing the immediate challenges that Covid-19 presents. I’m confident that she is a very competent and dynamic person who will move the Mansfield Palace Theatre forward into the next phase of its life and I know that the staff will give her a very hearty welcome and will support her all the way, as they have supported me over these last 26 years”.
And so the Palace enters into the next chapter of its 110 year history. The public will return and continue to love and support this little gem in Mansfield’s history. The artistes and companies will continue to perform with utmost passion. The staff will come back and prepare the venue to give everyone the best experience they can. The spotlights will again be focused centre stage. The curtain will rise, and the shows will go on.
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement 23.03.20, Mansfield District Council has closed the Palace Theatre’s doors with immediate effect.
This now means that there are NO STAFF working on Box Office matters, as they are deemed a non essential service. The team will not be able to contact customers for refunds or transfers until we are able to return to work inside the Theatre.
Whilst we apologise for any inconvenience caused, we also thank you for your patience and continued support. Your kind words are keeping us going through this difficult time.
To our valued customers,
Firstly, we hope this message finds you healthy and well.
We are aware of the Prime Minister’s announcement today (16.03.20) regarding avoiding unnecessary social contact, including Theatres.
Following on from this, Mansfield District Council will be closing the Palace Theatre's doors with immediate effect. This is in line with other venues across the country.
You do not need to do anything. The Box Office staff will be in touch via email, telephone or in writing, dealing with shows in a chronological order. Please consider if you would like a refund or a credit note.
We thank you for your understanding and patience and ask you to please bear with us at this difficult and demanding time.
Thank you for your continued support and we hope to see you for 'curtain up' soon.
Mansfield Palace Theatre