The show must go on –
at Stantonbury Theatre

MPMC Stantonbury Theatre
MPMC Stantonbury Theatre

Milton Keynes is fortunate to be awash with arts and entertainment opportunities.

But there aren’t many places that have the longevity of Stantonbury Theatre – celebrating its 40th birthday this weekend with a ruby anniversary party.

The theatre was officially opened with a concert by Cleo Laine, the John Dankworth Quartet and Jake Thackray, setting a standard from the first ever curtain call.

Although times have changed and people have come and gone over the years, that pedigree factor has always been adhered to.

The boards have been trod by a rich array of names – from jazz star George Melly, stage and screen favourite Tommy Trinder, and singer Helen Shapiro to stargazer Patrick Moore.

Variety is the spice of Stantonbury Theatre, which was run by the borough of MK, Bucks Education Authority and MK Development Corporation from its opening, through to 1993.

Then Stantonbury Campus took over the ownership, with Roy Nevitt– who would later be a driving force behind the MK Theatre Consortium for the building of MK Theatre – as artistic director.

Speaking at the time, he said: “Stantonbury Campus Theatre exists for us and belongs to us. We are the ‘community’ in the phrase ‘Community Theatre’... anyone who lives near enough to the theatre to call it their own can count on it...”

Those words were not hollow either, and MK groups flocked to make use of the facilities, alongside the touring packages including the National Theatre and Royal Ballet.

Company MK, Wolverton Light Orchestra, Bradwell Silver Band and the Music Makers of MK were among those who utilised the facilities.

Roy retired in 2000, and Hilary Rhodes took over as arts development manager.

“At the time it was the sense of being part of something really special as the Arts College status meant that as part of the campus the theatre could really reach out into the community,” said Hilary.

“And it was a new start for the theatre which was ready to take its place alongside the new Milton Keynes Theatre. My role was to find and develop that place.”

The theatre also prides itself on being completely adaptable: “We were created as, and have always continued to be a professional theatre – and offer services that no-one else has, from technical support to marketing,” added Hilary.

“We can help the absolute beginner take the first steps of producing a show and hold their hand, or we can turn over the place to the old hands and let them take us over for a while.”

Last year, Stantonbury Arts & Leisure was formed, combining the theatre and leisure centre, resulting in a name change – from campus back to Stantonbury Theatre.

Fourteen years into the role, and Hilary is as passionate about the stage with its colourful history as she ever was.

“I’m a drama queen and no day is ever the same. The thing about theatre is that it’s live – there is a deadline and whatever else happens, the show has to go on.

“And where else can you make people laugh, cry, and think beyond their wildest dreams?”