THURROCK’S Thameside Theatre is at risk of closure...but it could lead to the borough getting a “bigger and better” civic theatre.

Serious questions have been posed over whether the current 325 all-seater auditorium in Orsett Road, Grays is financially viable.

The council claims the theatre, housed within the Thameside Complex, built in the 1970s, needs £442,000 spent on it just to bring into a “reasonable state”.

John Kent, the Labour leader of the council, has also questioned its £345,000 per year running costs and is asking whether the current offering can be replaced by something “bigger and better”.

He said: “There are a lot of services and voluntary groups based at the complex, but the key is the future of the theatre.

“We have to ask: Do we want a civic theatre in Thurrock?

“To me the answer is obvious – yes we do.

“The arts industry is becoming increasingly important to Thurrock and it would be counter to everything we’ve done so far if there wasn’t a thriving theatre in the borough.

“We all love the Thameside; we all have memories invested in the theatre, but what if we create something bigger and better?

“That’s my dream for the arts in Thurrock and I’m calling on all those involved in the local arts scene to join with me, the council as a whole, and those investing in the arts here to make this dream a reality.”

Officers at the council have come up with various options for the cabinet to consider at a meeting next Wednesday [August 13].

They include remodelling the site for wider use, building a theatre elsewhere in Thurrock - with partners - or ploughing in almost £500,000 to freshen it up.

Local societies such as the Thurrock Courts Players and the Thurrock Gang Show are regular users of the theatre, while touring groups, such as popular tribute artists, often attract sell out audiences and every year, residents flock to the Christmas panto.

The complex is also home to Thurrock Museum and Grays library.

Figures obtained by the Gazette reveal that between April 2012 and April 2013, the theatre was closed for more than a third of the year.

Rob Gledhill, leader of the Conservative group in Thurrock, said: “This is a small, outdated theatre and a significant amount of money has been spent on it yet is still doesn't break even. Indeed in 2012-13 the theatre was closed for 136 days of the year and a large number of performances made a loss, which shows that suitable businesses should be running theatres, not councils.

“We do have other sites in Thurrock which may help accommodate most productions and help out other organisations that the council spends taxpayers money supporting.

“Grays needs to rebuild its night time economy and this site could be pivotal in doing so.”