“ Box Office 023 9247 2700 / East Street / Havant / Hampshire PO9 1BS „
When I moved to the outskirts of Havant in south-east Hampshire a few years ago, I wasn't expecting it to be the kind of place where I would find everything I needed. I imagined that I would often be making trips to Portsmouth or Chichester for shopping, eating out and cultural activities.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised to come across Havant Arts Centre on East Street, about a hundred yards from the town centre. You can just stroll in and have a look at the art on display in the gallery, stop for a coffee in the restaurant, and then pick up a brochure to see details of their shows, workshops, special events and forthcoming exhibitions.
It is easy to spot the Arts Centre, as a few months ago the sculptor Ben Barrell was commissioned to create a piece for the courtyard. It is a brilliant white, curvaceous sculpture that stands out clearly against the red brick building, surrounded by curved seating also designed by the sculptor. In fine weather you can sit out here and enjoy your refreshments from the restaurant.
The theatre itself is small and lacks air-conditioning, although a few weeks ago two members of staff took part in the Great South Run to try to raise funds. Even so, I attended a wonderful Harold Pinter double bill there last year. The highlight of this season is a two-part performance by the excellent Bench non-professional theatre group of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials in mid December. Tickets are priced at £8.95 (£7.15 concessions) or £14 for both performances. As well as theatrical performances, there are frequent comedy nights on Saturdays.
Music on offer includes unsigned gig nights on Thursdays giving welcome exposure to local bands, and the Tuesday evening Jazz Cafe. This season's musical highlights have been Dennis Rollins, the acclaimed jazz trombonist and composer, and Julie Felix, who in the past has filled the Albert Hall. This was certainly a magical performance that will hopefully be repeated next year. BBC Jazz Awards Instrumentalist of the Year Alan Barnes is scheduled to appear on Tuesday 12th June 2007 book well in advance, as this is a special star night.
Children's theatre shows usually take place on Saturdays: coming up on 18th November at 1.30pm is Ollie Oddsocks performed by SCAT Theatre Company with loads of puppets. Sometimes there are shows in school holidays too: The King of Cabbage Castle on 27th December features a wicked Baron, a thieving Magpie and strange goings-on in Ricketty Wood.
Films are usually shown on Wednesdays at 10.30am, 2.15pm and 8pm. Matinee tickets are £3.95, and this includes tea and cake in the interval, making for a good social occasion. Evening film show tickets are £3.50. I went to see 'A Very Long Engagement' there, having missed it at the cinema, and I'm looking forward to seeing 'The Queen' and 'Notes on a Scandal' next season.
The licensed cafe/restaurant is open Monday to Saturday from 9.30am until 4pm, and then again from 6 until 11pm. The November pre-show evening menu is winter vegetable crumble served with salad, or vegetarian quiche and salad, both of which are £5.95 A dessert costs £2. The December Christmas evening menu is traditional roast turkey with stuffing, roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables and gravy, or brie and cranberry filo parcels with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Both of these main dishes are £8.95, and you can also indulge in Christmas pudding for £2.50. Unfortunately, as from January, the evening menu will consist only of a range of paninis with salad and homemade cakes. Throughout the day breakfast, lunch, cakes, speciality teas and coffee are served, as well as children's lunchboxes containing a sandwich or roll, crisps, cake and a carton of juice, priced at £3.50. I once had lunch there with an old schoolfriend and found the food to be very healthy and served in generous portions. The place suddenly became very crowded at midday, but by one o'clock it was almost empty. After our main course we lingered over coffee, and no-one seemed to mind that we spent about two hours there altogether.
Workshops are run on a weekly basis and cover subjects as diverse as life drawing, recorders and yoga. Costs vary from £20 for five weeks for salsa to £40 for six weeks for life drawing. There are also workshops for children, including Rock School for 9-12 or 13-16 year-olds, Hip Hop for 9 years and up, or 'Little Explorers' which introduces drama, art and craft to children aged 4-7. These are all £22 per six week term.
Havant Arts Centre is within easy reach of Portsmouth, Chichester, Petersfield, Emsworth and Waterlooville. It is only about five minutes' walk from Havant's busy railway station. The 700 bus (limited stop) from either Portsmouth or Brighton stops right outside, but this service runs only until about 8.30pm.
The Arts Centre has an excellent website at http://www.havantartscentre.co.uk/ . As well as booking tickets online, you can download the seasonal brochure, join the mailing list, make a donation or get information on gift vouchers. There are music clips to listen to, and these are to be expanded in the future.
You might even be able to do some Christmas shopping at the Arts Centre, as the gallery has two or three showcases of jewellery, and sometimes accessories and ceramics - certainly all highly original. Even if you live in Portsmouth, I would recommend a visit to this haven of cultural activities in the rather ordinary little town of Havant.