Stage set for swansong at Sunbeam Theatre

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am

It is only a matter of time before the curtain falls on the city's only permanent Chinese Opera venue, the historic Sunbeam Theatre, the chairman of the Cantonese Opera Advisory Committee Charles Chow Chan-lum said.

A plan to redevelop the North Point building into a residential-commercial complex stirred much debate last year. However, the landlord agreed to hold off and granted the theatre a lifeline with a new three-year lease, but it came at a price - the monthly rent jumping from HK$208,000 to HK$698,000.

But now, only about halfway through the lease, the theatre's operations may have to be halted because too few opera troupes use it. Chow said the agreement was not legally binding and the theatre owner's decision would be respected.

An executive with knowledge of the theatre's plight said it might close as early as next year.

'The theatre has been in trouble for a long time and it is only a matter of time before it closes for ever. It would have been closed several years ago if the government hadn't subsidised it. But no matter when it's going to be, it will have accomplished its historic mission by then.'

Fewer opera troupes have used the theatre as newer and cheaper governmental performance venues have come into existence, he said.

'The government has done its best to help it, but in the end it's a private property and they can't just take it over.'

The government provided HK$15,000, through the Arts Development Council, to subsidise each show performed in the theatre but the numbers of applications have been falling.

The executive said Chinese opera buffs should not be too worried because there were enough venues in the city to cater for the art form. 'And the theatre is not irreplaceable,' he added. 'Several other old venues, for example the Lee Theatre, have been closed down before and the opera has survived. The key is to ensure there are enough venues for troupes to perform in. And there are plenty.'

The Home Affairs Bureau said it had tried its best to subsidise the theatre. A spokesman said venues under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, like Sha Tin Town Hall, were becoming more popular.

Hard numbers

The monthly rent for Sunbeam Theatre for the current three-year lease is: $698,000