West End theatre told to keep quiet

by Robin Stringer
Arts Correspondent

One of the West End's most prominent theatres, the Shaftesbury, has been
refused an entertainments licence - for making too much noise.

Too noisy: The Shaftesbury Theatre

Currently home to the American rock musical Rent, the theatre routinely
submitted its request for the annual renewal of its licence to Camden

But this time the licensing and control sub-committee rejected it after
complaints from residents in neighbouring flats that noise from the
theatre was a nuisance.

Fortunately for members of the public who have booked to see Rent, if
not for the complaining neighbours, the rejection does not put the
theatre under immediate threat of closure.

"The Shaftesbury has 21 days to appeal," explained a council spokesman,
"and can continue operating until the appeal is heard, which usually
takes around six months."

The Shaftesbury intends to appeal against the decision, the progress of
which will be watched with some concern by the Society of London

"The case has serious implications for other West End theatres," said a
society representative. "The Coliseum is just one example where
residents are living close to a working theatre."

The complaints about the Shaftesbury date back to 1995, long before the
arrival of Rent last May, and just before the opening of another rock musical,
Pete Townshend's Tommy.

"The problem has still not been resolved," said the council spokesman.
"Neighbours have had to turn up their televisions to hear them after 8pm
and songs from the shows have clearly been heard through the walls."

Some kind of screening or soundproofing needed to be introduced to
protect neighbours' flats from the noise, he added.

Meanwhile, residents were today celebrating their initial victory
against the Shaftesbury.

Geoffrey Goulding, a social worker, has lived with his partner Ivy
Hancock in a flat next to the theatre stage for 10 years. He said: "We
share our living room wall with the theatre, so basically we have to
listen to the show six nights a week with two matinees as well. It's

been going on since 1995 when the Return To The Forbidden Planet was on.
After that, they did a bit of sound-proofing for the show Tommy, but
this new show is loud, with amplified music.

"When the theatre was built it was not made for such noisy productions.
We have to turn the television up extra loud and there's no chance of
just sitting quietly and reading.

"We are very pleased with the judgment. Obviously, we don't want to see
the theatre closed, it's just they have to stop dragging their feet over

Another long-term resident, who did not wish to be named, said: "We have
dreadful problems with the noise. For some people it has been a
nightmare. It is very good news that something has to be done."

A spokesman for Camden council said: "Councillors on the licensing committee
felt that the theatre had known about this problem for long
enough - more than four years - and had opportunities to rectify it but
did nothing about it.

"They have boasted that Rent is perhaps the loudest musical ever.
Although we clearly want to support the theatres in Camden, something
has to be done."

Another resident added: "We will be very glad when it happens. Our walls
have been vibrating - having a bath was like having a Jacuzzi."

Nobody at the theatre was available for comment.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 23 March 1999

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