It could have been a night of tears and melodrama. After nearly a century, the Priestley Centre for the Arts bowed out for what may have been its last ever performance on Saturday night.

The drama was confined to the stage. For the 200 people, most of them members, who turned out for the performance of Quartet the mood was "the show will go on".

They held back the tears and were largely defiant that the Little Germany theatre would continue.

The Priestley was to cease trading today, after the board decided it should go into voluntary liquidation. It owes creditors £50,000 and although rescue plans have been unveiled a decision has yet to be made on its future.

As people shuffled into the bar for pre-performance drinks the mood was a little downcast but there was an overall feeling of optimism.

Instead of lamenting the past and arguing over what went wrong, most seemed to be chatting about the way forward. There was no drowning of sorrows, just a drink to the future.

Chairman of the board Glenn Boldy described it as "more of a passing than a death".

He said: "It's a new phase in the Priestley's life.

"Seventy years is coming to an end in some form tonight but I'm optimistic that we can go forward.

"We've had offers of help with administration and business skills and there are rescue packages.

"Any decision would have to be made by February 4 so the clock's ticking, but there's still time to look at the proposals."

In the Priestley bar hangs a watercolour of a young actress called Jean Oldfield, dressed as Titania from A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was painted at the Priestley by Percy Monkman, a friend of JB Priestley, in 1951.

More than half a century later, Jean was back at the Priestley.

"This is my 66th year as a member. The Priestley has been my life," she said.

"My husband was a committee member and my daughter Jan now takes the roles I used to play. Tonight is so sad, I feel awful about it."

Jean joined the theatre aged 15 and has appeared in a huge range of productions.

Recalling the watercolour sitting, she said: "I hadn't got a costume for the dress rehearsal. I was sitting in a swimming costume having leaves sewn on to it when I was painted."

Sound technician Richard Symes has been involved with the Priestley for a decade.

He said: "I'm disappointed it has come to this but hopeful it can be saved. I don't think rescue plans would have been put forward if they weren't viable.

"The way forward is widening the appeal and making the Priestley more accessible to other amateur theatre groups.

"The future of amateur societies lies here because many other venues are too expensive.

"Closing the Priestley would be just as big a blow to amateur societies as closure of the Library Theatre."

"I can't believe it's come to this," said Kathleen Hutchinson, a member for 20 years,

"It's very sad, but we have to be optimistic. People are coming up with ideas and I'd be surprised if it folded completely. It's difficult to imagine Bradford without the Priestley. It's part of our diverse city, home to many different groups.

"We've survived on volunteers but a full-time administration worker would make a big difference."

Board member Irene Lofthouse joined the Priestley as a teenager.

She said: "I left for a while and was a carer for my mother. When she died I returned to the Priestley and it helped me cope. Drama helped me deal with some of the issues I'd faced as a carer.

"The Priestley is important for all sorts of reasons. It's not just a theatre, it's an educational and social resource, with a pool of talent.

"For Bradford to lose this venue is very short-sighted. The way forward is developing partnerships, enabling the Priestley to grow as a community venue."

Stage director Matt Blackmore said: "I want a bigger variety of groups using it. It's an important part of theatre provision in Bradford."

Hope rests on a public meeting to discuss Bradford Council's approach to funding the Priestley.

Until then there will be no symbolic dismantling of the set, no packing up of costumes and props. The set of Quartet will remain intact on stage and members of the Council's scrutiny committee for Arts, Heritage and Leisure will visit the theatre.

The meeting will be at the Priestley on Tuesday January 28 at 6pm.