Berkshire

Oscar Wilde's Reading Prison gets funding for theatre

Oscar Wilde (1881) and his cell at Reading Prison Image copyright Getty Images/Morley von Sternberg
Image caption The prison was immortalised by Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol written during his two-year sentence for gross indecency

Plans to turn the prison where playwright Oscar Wilde was an inmate into a theatre have received financial backing by Arts Council England (ACE).

ACE has provided £20,000 so architects can begin a feasibility study into the project at Grade II listed Reading Prison, which closed in 2013.

The grant matches funding pledged for the project by Trafalgar Entertainment Group and Festival Republic.

Reading Borough Council said the theatre idea has "obvious potential".

The prison was immortalised by Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol which he wrote during his two-year sentence for gross indecency, a crime he was convicted of when homosexual acts were illegal.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Empty Reading Prison is costing the Ministry of Justice more than £250,000-a-year to maintain

In 2016 it hosted arts exhibitions, including a feature celebrating the Importance of Being Earnest writer's life, but has otherwise been disused and the government said it costs more than £250,000-a-year to maintain.

Deputy council leader Tony Page said the authority welcomed the study, which has been commissioned by Theatre and Arts Reading.

He said: "It builds on the obvious potential seen first-hand by thousands of people last year when the prison was open for theatrical performances, historic displays and wider cultural appreciation."

Melvin Benn, chairman of Theatre and Arts Reading, said he was delighted and grateful his organisation had secured the funding for the work.

"The gaol would be a wonderful place to have a new theatre and possibly other arts facilities," he added.

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