by Jez Bond

I’ve written before that prior to starting work on The Park I was not a regular theatre goer, so as part of my continuing education and broadening of my horizons I am going to as wide a variety of theatre ‘types’ as possible – both for venue tours and to see productions.

It’s been great that so many people, both friends and acquaintances of Jez’s and friends of friends, have taken some time out to show us around various theatres and spaces and answer our questions. Over the last year we have visited and been shown around: The National (particularly lots of time in the Cottesloe), Barbican Pit, Orange Tree, Rose Theatre Kingston, Unicorn, Donmar, Trafalgar Studios, Waterloo East Theatre, Finborough, RST and Swan, RSC Courtyard, RADA, Jerwood Space, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Jermyn Street Theatre and Westminster College Theatre. We also have a number of upcoming visits including the Southwark Playhouse.

For a complete experience I’ve also been to a number of shows, including: Beauty Queen of Leenane – Young Vic, Passion – Donmar, Sherlock Holmes (Understudy performance) – Duchess Theatre, Aliens – The Bush, Sister Act – London Palladium, Birdsong (Understudy performance) – Comedy Theatre, We Will Rock You – Dominion, Matilda – RSC Courtyard and The Nutcracker – London Coliseum.

All of these venues and shows have been extremely useful visits – some great, some dreadful. Some are fantastic due to the design and architecture, some due to the people and their enthusiasm, some because of the history and some because of the technology. The reason why I’m writing this blog now though is that the last two weeks for a ‘theatre spotter’, which i have become, have been just fantastic.

A couple of weeks ago Jez and I went up to Stratford and had a look around the new RST – many many thanks to Flip Tanner again. The new RST building, by Bennetts Associates has been, I think unfairly, quite heavily criticised. The auditorium though is simply stunning, it is the first auditorium I have walked in to where it has genuinely taken my breath away – it is just fantastic. It helps that the first time we went I entered onto the stage (doing my ‘RSC bow’) looking out towards the seating but this time, due to a dress rehearsal, we came in at circle level – absolutely brilliant, so intimate but still grand, friendly but still breathtaking – beautiful. It was therefore a great pleasure to have a drink with Andy Hales of the RST theatre consultants Charcoal Blue and hear his stories and thoughts on how the auditorium developed.

This week I went to see my first ballet, The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum – the Frank Matcham ‘tour de force’ that is just breathtaking. The Coliseum was opened in 1904 and is Grade II* listed and was gently and sympathetically (although still at a cost of £30m) refurbished in 2004 by RHWL Arts Team which is great, although the architectural lighting in the foyer, bars and circulation is incredibly bad, a real shame. Anyway, the auditorium is just stunning, beautiful and amazingly decorated – I have a resurrected belief in the use of gilt, statutes and cherubs. Why can’t new theatres have such wonderful ceilings – a real case of the lighting grid and technical requirements being more important than the architectural experience.

What’s been so interesting is that Jez’s brief is to create a fantastic, memorable, amazing theatre so to see a couple of the best auditorium spaces in the last two weeks has really focussed my mind and made me realise once again what a challenge and how scary it is to be designing The Park. I’m conscious of the depth of thought and analysis that we have to undertake for everything we design – everything is linked to everything else, everything has an effect on the overall visitor, actor and user experience. My education has not, and never really will be, finished but I think I now understand just how much thought and detail a theatre architect has to undertake to stand any chance of creating a truly memorable experience.

[Written by Dave Hughes, Director - Hughes Jones Farrell]

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