West End Playhouse rises from ashes of former Morecambe theatre

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Morecambe’s only shop-front theatre and comedy club has survived near-eviction and a cash crisis to bounce back under a new name – the West End Playhouse.

The former Alt-Space in the West End of the town will celebrate rising from the ashes of almost certain closure with a relaunch and cabaret night on Saturday February 1.

All are welcome to come along to the converted shop unit on Yorkshire Street which has been revamped into a cosy performance space for the community – complete with its own stage.

Backed by a much-needed cash injection from local supporters, the West End Playhouse has an exciting programme of shows planned for 2020.

They include the return of the Morecambe Fringe Festival, a series of open mic and performance poetry events, comedy nights, plays and workshops, a new homegrown theatre group The West End Players, art exhibitions and Morecambe’s very own ‘Play in the Park’ – Romeo and Juliet at Regent Park this summer.

Budding performers are welcome to get involved in the West End Playhouse and director Matt Panesh is enthusiastic about the future.

“Alt Space has died and the phoenix is rising from the ashes!” said Matt.

“If anybody wants to write and perform, we are there to support them so they can eventually turn it into a wage and career.

“The West End Playhouse is basically a blank canvas. We want to be all things to all people when it comes to performance and art.”

Alt-Space opened in September 2018 and became the home of last year’s first ever Morecambe Fringe Festival, based on the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe arts festival where Matt – also known as ‘Monkey Poet’ - has performed annually for over a decade.

But due to lack of cash, the venue closed in December 2019.

“We got into a bit of a financial pickle with Alt-Space,” said Matt.

“I was running it out of my own pocket and we failed in application after application for funding.

“Our first West End Players show was our Christmas pantomime ‘A Fringe-mas Carol’ where life imitated art because one of the main storylines was that Scrooge was evicting everyone at Christmas – and we got served our eviction notice in reality at Christmas too!

“But this what really got the West End Playhouse ball rolling. The community rallied round and raised £2,500 for us which said to me that people do want entertainment on their doorstep and they value it.

“Any communities that have come under pressure reach out and mutually support each other far more easily than anybody else does. The same is absolutely true of the West End of Morecambe.”

This amazing fundraising effort has also given Matt and his team the chance for a fresh start.

“The name change means that people will now actually have an idea of what we’re doing!” he said.

“When you say ‘Alt-Space’ to people they kind of look a little bit vacant, but with the West End Playhouse people will know that it’s a place where plays and entertainment happen, and that it’s a stage for performers.

“We reside in Yorkshire Street which used to be the thriving heart of the West End back in the day. I think it will be again. It’s a beautiful little Victorian street. As soon as I saw the place I knew it was perfect for a ‘store-front theatre’ as they call it in America, or a ‘black box’ theatre as they call it in the UK. More Music and the Alhambra/Carleton are just around the corner so we are perfectly situated.

“If you can get up on stage and think you can entertain people then please come along and have a go.”

The West End Playhouse will be open every day during the week with an ‘open door policy’ for anyone who wants to pop in for a brew and a chat, or to register for an audition.

The Morecambe Fringe will return this July when the West End Playhouse will host up to 80 shows combining local talent with performers who will be heading to the Edinburgh Fringe the following month.

Workshops to develop new shows for Morecambe Fringe 2020 will be held every Wednesday starting in February.

The West End Playhouse will also host regular art exhibitions and artists are invited to get in touch.

A programme of live shows will begin on February 3 and a monthly West Enders Cabaret and Open Mic Night will get under way on February 27.

Coun David Whitaker, mayor of Lancaster, will attend the grand reopening on February 1.

A Town Crier will announce the death of Alt-Space and its transformation into the West End Playhouse, and guests will be entertained by a special West Enders Cabaret.

All are welcome to come along from 7.30pm for an 8pm start. Admission is free.

For West End Playhouse enquiries email Matt Panesh at mpanesh@gmail.com