A HAMPSHIRE theatre has almost doubled its audience numbers in its first two years.

The Berry Theatre, in Hedge End, opened in 2011 and audience figures have gone from strength to strength since.

A total of 6,965 people came to the theatre in the spring, summer and autumn to watch one of its professional shows or film screenings in the year it opened.

This compares to 13,495 for the spring, summer and autumn of 2012.

And the venue, which was five years in the making and cost £5m, is on course to increase its numbers again this year.

Already it has had to increase the number of performances of its Christmas production of Pinocchio to meet demand for tickets.

The 206-seat theatre was opened in April 2011 by actor Sam West and got its name from Hedge End’s fruit picking heritage.

About £3.2m of the funding for the project was supplied by Eastleigh Borough Council and various other funding bodies combined to provide the extra £1.5m.

The idea was that the Berry Theatre would provide an accessible alternat ive theatre for residents, who have previously had to to travel to the Mayflower in Southampton and The Point in Eastleigh for professional touring productions.

Upcoming productions include Dracula by Blackeyed Theatre in November, Pocket Merchant – Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice pocket size by Propeller in October, as well as comedian Lucy Porter, and screenings of performances at The Globe Theatre.

Owen Calvert-Lyons, artistic director at The Berry Theatre, said: “This is only the third year for The Berry Theatre and we are delighted that the people of Hedge End and beyond have really taken the venue into their hearts.

“This is a very new venue, so it takes time for audiences to discover that there is a theatre right in the heart of their community, which is staging worldclass theatre, film and comedy.

“For all of our audiences, we will continue to bring the very best productions to Hedge End so that families can enjoy coming to The Berry again and again.”

He believes that there are still many residents yet to be introduced to the theatre, in Wildern Lane.