by Jez Bond

[A blog from our architect Dave Hughes]

I’ve never designed a theatre before The Park and I wasn’t a big theatre goer either, so as part of my continuing education and broadening of my horizons I, along with Jez and various other people I know, am going to as wide a variety of theatre ‘types’ as possible – we were at the Bush a couple of weeks ago, then ‘Passion’ at The Donmar (fantastic), ENB next month and last night a West End Musical.

‘Sister Act’. It’s the Harvester Restaurant of the theatrical experience – not too taxing, pleasant, comfortable, ‘nice’. It’s the place to take your Mum for a ‘show’, it’s the office girls’ night out, it’s easy to understand and easy to enjoy.

Unfortunately for me (as a ‘proper’ theatre architect) and Jez and Melli – and I would guess anyone who works in theatre – it is more than just entertainment we seek, it is research. The London Palladium is a fantastic Matcham designed 1910 theatre absolutely beautiful (I studied the ceiling during one of Shank’s less memorable verses). I was fascinated, and impressed, by the revolve and the flying sets, this was my first experience of a ‘big’ west end production with lots of moving trucks and stage pieces – and I enjoyed watching the drummer in the orchestra pit playing Angry Birds on his iPhone in-between hitting the triangle.

And so at the interval the house lights came up and we starting chatting about the poor quality of the sound mixing, the lack of a hook at the end of the first act, the ‘blocking’ etc blah blah blah blah. I noticed the family in the row behind us (my guess was it was the daughter’s 21st birthday) looking as if to say – ‘you London Ponces, it’s entertainment, it’s fun, I don’t know much about theatre but I know what I like’ etc.

We mulled over this issue in the interval bar, do we (really I mean Jez and Melli, I’m still too stage-struck) actually rate theatre differently to most people, do we need more from a show, are we like the trainspotting nerds of the theatre world only interested in the technicality of the show? Recalling the ITEAC Conference we went to I remember all of the ‘old hands’ and ‘real proper’ theatre architects all seemed to talk about process and technicality and practicality, no-one seemed to talk about the magic. Have we forgotten the purity of escapism and drama and joy?

Come the second act though we were reminded why we work in theatre – why we want the magic, the escapism – no matter how nerdy or technical or practical or how much you are there for research you cannot fail to love the singing nuns. It doesn’t get better than the old nun, a huge bling gold cross around her neck, rapping Grand Master Flash, whilst a 15 ft high shiny silver Virgin Mary statue rotates in the background. The lights are flashing, the music is pumping, the other nuns are dancing – even the grumpy guy with his mum sitting next to me starts whooping – and then Mother Superior comes on and saves Deloris, “Come on mother!” I involuntarily shout!

London Theatre Ponces? Probably, but we kind of need to be so we can make sure that The Park will be the best theatre in London. We need to have that constant critical analysis of what makes a good building, show and – most importantly – a great experience. But as we stood up the Dad sitting behind us smiled at me as if to say, “there you go son, even a ponce like you can’t resist a good West End sing song!”

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