Performers share memories of Falkirk Town Hall has the curtain finally falls

The ghost light shines down on a empty stage at Falkirk Town HallThe ghost light shines down on a empty stage at Falkirk Town Hall
The ghost light shines down on a empty stage at Falkirk Town Hall
A photograph of an empty stage and a ‘ghost light’ has sparked bitter-sweet memories for many, as Falkirk Town Hall closed its doors for the last time.

For Jamie O’Rourke, director of Project Theatre, the powerful image said it all. “As the stage went quiet, the team upheld the theatre tradition of keeping a single light, known as the ghost light, turned on so the stage never goes fully dark. It’s said the light is for the ghost, that every theatre has, to perform at night,” he said.

“This time it was lit for all those who have tread the boards over the years. So many memories.”

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For opera singer Cheryl Forbes, the image also stirred wonderful memories of the stage she credits with starting her on the road to her professional career.

Cheryl Forbes.Cheryl Forbes.
Cheryl Forbes.

Looking at the photograph, she said: “I can almost hear the sounds of excited children backstage getting their make-up on and waiting on ‘beginners please’. It’s so eerie and so lovely.”

After years of arguments and debates over what would take the place of the town hall, councillors agreed last year that the £6 million cost of separating the building from the municipal buildings was simply too much.

The promise that the town hall would remain in place until a new one would be built could not be kept – and while they have pledged to build a replacement, there has been no decision yet on where or what it will be.

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It’s closure was agreed with the proviso that it wouldn’t happen until the Big Bad Wolf Theatre Company’s show had taken place.

Cheryl Forbes as a child appearing at Falkirk Town HallCheryl Forbes as a child appearing at Falkirk Town Hall
Cheryl Forbes as a child appearing at Falkirk Town Hall

But a plea from McKechnie School of Dance and Performing Arts meant that its annual show, on Monday, February 6, became the swan-song for the theatre.

The group were led by principle Nadine McKenzie Judge, a former Scottish Ballet and Tap champion, Scottish, British and World Juvenile Highland dancing Champion, who got her start at the town hall.

And for Cheryl, the sold-out show was a fitting end, for a venue where she and Nadine had met as children as members of Falkirk Children’s Theatre.

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“Nadine and I jumped about that stage as children and it’s where we both caught ‘the bug’,” Cheryl remembers.

Her association with the town hall actually began in the 1970s when Laurieston Primary entered the choir category of Central Region Music Festival. She also represented Graeme High School on its stage and played double bass in many fiddlers’ rallies.

But it was being part of Falkirk Children’s Theatre that literally changed her life. The young company was hugely successful and for years the high quality performances were recorded and shown on STV.

“We were so lucky to learn from the best and I know I speak for many when I say we are all immensely thankful for those halcyon years,” she said.

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Aged just 17, in 1992, Cheryl left Falkirk to study at the Guildhall School of Music with a full scholarship. Her career has taken her all over the world – but she always returned to the town hall stage, whether as a professional soloist in touring opera productions or with her pianist husband Gordon Cree as guest artistes for many local choirs.

Her last performance there was as guest soloist with Falkirk Caledonia Choir.

“I didn’t realise then that it would be the last time I sang on that stage, got changed in those dressing rooms, walked the long corridor, looked in the long mirror, opened the heavy sliding doors and stood in those wings.”

This week she’s been remembering the people she’s worked with, the friends she has made and the fun she’s had.

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“The nicest and most special part about Falkirk Town Hall was the community feeling it created in the town. It was a place that belonged to everyone and yet, it was a professional theatre attracting all manner of stars to the town and a place we all aspired to be the star of. It gave countless opportunities to many bairns over the generations.

“So many of us went on to have careers in the performing arts and, I’m certain, none of that would have been possible without the town hall. It taught us about theatre craft and the art of theatre making. For most of us, we saw how a professional theatre worked and all that was involved in putting on a show.”

As the stage goes dark, Cheryl would very much like to see confirmation of a new town hall and site location.

“That would be a start – and give people hope,” she said. “I worry about what will happen to the community in the interim period – I’ve seen it in other areas where local groups end up breaking up because there’s no place to put on shows.”

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Her plea to the council is to make sure that the new theatre is ‘fit for purpose’.

“Many of the new multi-purpose arts centres aren’t really fit for purpose as they use the spaces to double up as games halls and the like. The town hall had a proper theatre that was designed for the purpose it was intended for.”

Jamie and some of the Project Theatre team did have the chance to take one last walk around FTH before Big Bad Wolf’s show on Saturday. It also gave him a chance to say thank you to the ‘tech team’ of professionals behind every performance at FTH.

He too worries about how long it will take to replace the theatre but Project Theatre will now use Grangemouth Town Hall to put on their shows, using equipment taken from FTH.

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And, he says, the uncertainty has to end as quickly as possible. “There has been so much back and forth over ten years now and ‘will they, won’t they?’ The trust and faith that people have in their councillors to make good decisions for their constituents is wearing very thin.”

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