Lights, action sound ... live theatre is making a return to an historic Lancashire cinema.
Lara Hewitt, the owner and manager of Longridge’s Palace cinema, is determined that the landmark building, which was home to theatre performances more than a century ago, will once again become a hub for live performance, as well as a renowned venue for cinema.
To achieve this ambition she has penned a new version of Charles Dickens’ famous seasonal story A Christmas Carol.
Lara said: “I have put together a community cast of 16 local adults and 14 children and have written an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, especially for them and for Longridge.
“Longridge hasn’t had a community panto of any sort as far as I know for years, so this is quite exciting for us.
“I am hoping that this is the start of The Palace having a new lease of life as a live performance and community arts venue as well as a cinema.”
For Lara it’s the latest project in her bid to attract more customers to the independent cinema and theatre space and provide new opportunities in the town.
But it has, to say the least, been a testing year.
She said: “I took over the cinema on January 2 of this year, when it was purchased by my dad’s company, Parkwood Holdings, based in Bamber Bridge.”
Her father Tony died suddenly and what was to have been a joint dad and daughter project had to be rethought.
Lara, who has a background in drama and community theatre, as well as a degree in French and German from Cambridge University, was determined to get the cinema back in business.
“The cinema was riddled with leaks and dry rot and while fixing up the leaks over the stage we pulled up some rotten panels to reveal wooden floorboards on the stage. These we sanded and varnished, so we figured we best use them!
"The Palace was a theatre over a hundred years and now we are treading her boards again!“
Scrooge is portrayed as a schoolboy in the 1950s and 60s and Lara plans to project some of the stage backdrops, including photographs of old Longridge.
She said: “Scrooge is about 70 and his childhood was in the 1960s.”
The character Mr Fizziwig has been transformed into Mrs Fizziwig.
When Mrs Fizziwig holds a party it will be portrayed as located in Longridge’s Co-op hall.
Lara reports with delight: “I’ve even managed to get a scene that is set outside the Palace cinema.”
In this scene young Scrooge is taking his girlfriend to the cinema in the 1970s.
Since re-opening the Market Place venue in May, Lara has extended the range and number of films which can be seen each week.
A small cafe has also been created which is open all day for visitors, whether or not they are seeing a film.
Open auditions for the Carol production were held in August and the talented cast includes some with special needs.
As for the revival of the cinema, which had had to close for refurbishment, Lara said: “We’ve had very positive feedback from people and that’s been nice.”
Visitors are attracted not just from Longridge and Ribble Valley, but from a wider area, with patrons revelling in the historic cinema which also offers the chance to take a mug of tea or hot chocolate in with you while you watch the film.
It also has a license to sell alcoholic drinks.
Lara said: “There are two kids’ films a week and we probably have about five different films per week. We do mid-week matinees, parent and baby screenings. We bring hot chocolate and cheese toasties to their seats - it’s definitely the personal touch!”
But she acknowledges word still has to spread about this gem on Preston’s doorstep and with day time and evening screening now offering more opportunities to see films, there is a need to increase footfall.
Her ambitions for the new year, apart from increasing that footfall, are clear.
She said: “I want to do some live music, concerts and other live events as well.
“My background is I’ve done a lot of drama and community arts so I like doing those things.”
Lara has also made a film entitled Datsche, which she says is “doing the round of film festivals” which was made in her garden allotment when she lived in Germany.
“It’s about a refugee and an American who spent a summer together on a garden allotment,” she explains.
She has previously penned productions of the Snow Queen, Grimms’ Fairy Talers and a jazz musical and worked as a teacher.
The former pupil of Westholme School in Blackburn, who has a Masters degree in drama from Leeds University, was brought up near Longridge and got an early taste of drama working with a drama group at Knowle Green, near Longridge.
She credits this experience as a launch pad for her career in drama.
She went to Germany to study disability arts in Europe and was also involved in touring Shakespeare productions around Europe and later directed plays in Germany and pursued an interest in dance too.
She chose to do her Masters at Leeds because she said: “They had a strong tradition of doing theatre for development, theatre for social change.”
Lara has also worked in Sri Lanka and Cambodia and as a youth leader at Bolton’s Octagon theatre.
Rehearsals are continuing and new lighting will be installed at the cinema for her new production. The performances, entitled Longridge Does A Christmas Carol, will take place on December 19, 20, 21 and 22 at 7pm.
Tickets will be £9 for adults, £8 for pensioners,teenagers and students and £7 for children.The cinema will be closed for films from December 16 prior to the performances and anyone who wishes to then help paint and prepare scenery then is asked to contact Lara at the Palace