Bankrupt Woking Council under fire over LGBTQ+ Edward Scissorhands show

The 1990 film starring Johnny Depp has become a cult classic
The 1990 film starring Johnny Depp has become a cult classic - AJ PICS/ALAMY/ALAMY

A council which has declared effective bankruptcy with a deficit of £1.2bn is providing resources for an LGBTQ+ theatre piece based on Edward Scissorhands.

Liberal-Democrat-run Woking Borough Council has been helping dance company New Adventures on the new show.

It is a companion piece to the company’s dance production based on Tim Burton’s film and will be “based on not just the themes of Edward Scissorhands but also how they relate to LGBTQ+ people and their lived experiences”. The piece is being created in association with Farnham Maltings and Surrey Libraries.

Several rehearsals and performances will take place later this month at Buzz Theatre, a studio space managed by the council, to be followed by more performances there next month.

Woking borough council has invited locals to audition for the show on its social media feed. The deadline for applications was December 21, but it was extended to January 4, and then extended again. Organisers said that performers did not need dance experience, but they were “actively looking to work with LGBTQ+ people who were born in Surrey or have made it their home”.

Woking Borough Council has invited locals to audition for the new show
Woking Borough Council has invited locals to audition for the new show - PICTORAL PRESS/ALAMY/ALAMY

The Lib Dems took over control of the council in May 2023 after the Conservatives suffered a wipeout at the last election. The following month Woking issued a Section 114 notice, effectively declaring itself bankrupt with a deficit of £1.2bn, and council leader Ann-Marie Barker said: “Difficult decisions will lie ahead as we seek to balance the council’s budget.”

Woking was allowed to increase its council tax share by 10 percent to cope with its debt burden and suspended all spending for non-essential services in 2023.

The previous administration was criticised for overspending on regeneration projects, which saw council bosses borrowing money to build skyscrapers and replace hundreds of homes on one estate. Buzz Theatre was opened by the council in 2021.

Cut costs

Buzz Theatre was the subject of a recent council-led consultation into how to cut costs. According to Woking borough council’s own analysis, just one percent of people across all age groups use the space more than once a month, despite it being part of the council’s arts development budget which costs hundreds of thousands per year.

Jonathan Lord, the Conservative MP for Woking, told The Telegraph: “I am very supportive of drama, music and the arts across the borough of Woking and there is a thriving and impressive arts scene here, both amateur and professional. However, it’s clear that Woking Council will not be in a position to subsidise the arts in the way it once did, so I urge the Council to husband its resources and the use of its buildings very carefully indeed to support only excellence and to respect hard-pressed taxpayers.”

John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Woking residents will be dumbfounded by their cash-strapped council blatantly wasting time and resources. After declaring bankruptcy and hiking council tax, the local authority continues to retain commercial properties that are hardly used. Woking Borough Council must urgently address their real financial drama by cutting waste and focusing on essential services.”

A spokesman for Woking borough council said it “has had no involvement” in the production of Edward Scissorhands, adding: “We have purely provided a community performance space for a short period of time and supported by sharing a small number of social media posts through our channels, as we do for many activities taking place in the borough.”