It is April 1988, and legendary stage and on screen actress Kate O’Mara is on hand to officially open Basildon’s Towngate Theatre.

Fast forward 30 years, and the theatre is still a vital foundation of bringing arts, entertainment and culture to Essex.

This April 23 will see the theatre officially turn 30 as the ‘Towngate Theatre’ but its history stretches back even further to the Sixties.

Originally called the Arts Centre in Towngate, Basildon, the old Towngate was officially opened by Lord Goodman, chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1968.

Built as a temporary theatre at a cost of £100,000, and seating 500, it was renamed the Towngate Theatre and Arts Centre in January 1976 and ended up lasting a further 12 years before the new building replaced it, as part of the Basildon Centre, in April 1988.

The new theatre was bigger, offering a main auditorium and a second studio theatre, offering the chance to put on smaller-scale shows.

The first production, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, starred television and stage actress Kate O’Mara, who also unveiled a plaque commemorating the opening. Built at a cost of around £8million, the main auditorium design was based on a classic Georgian playhouse with seating for 550. The smaller Mirren Studio, named after actor Helen Mirren who has strong ties with Essex, has seating for 188.

A spokesman for the theatre said: “We are thrilled that this year, the Towngate Theatre will be celebrating the milestone of turning 30 years young.

“Whilst still delivering a varied and diverse genre of one night events throughout the year, recently we have been proud to present week-long productions of touring West End shows.

“We will also be displaying a fascinating art exhibition, which showcases the Towngate as it has evolved over the years, plus some iconic show posters which highlight how the productions have progressed in time.

“On behalf of all of the Towngate team, we would like to thank you all for continuing to support your local theatre and here’s to the next 30 years.”

It hasn’t always been plain sailing at the theatre though, in 1992, the theatre was threatened with closure, sparking a colourful protest rally. Beset by financial difficulties, the theatre did eventually close, only fully reopening in 2006.

However, since then it has gone from strength to strength, serving as a venue for everything from panto to live music – and of course, the Echo’s annual Basildon Business Awards ceremony.

The theatre has also seen its fair share of real-life drama, as it is the venue for public meetings on contentious issues when a large turnout is expected – and the place when politicians’ fortunes have been made and un-made.