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A Smirke on the face of The Grange As the tents were struck and the performers, orchestra and audience made their final exits at the end of the last year’s opera festival, so Martin Smith and his builders moved in. Within days, the stage had been demolished, the inside of the theatre stripped and the site sealed off. Now the serious work began. The plans for the new building required turning the whole audience at right angles, creating a huge opening in the north wall (the right-hand wall of the old theatre facing the stage) and burying the orchestra pit and stage up to eight metres below the existing ground level. At Glyndebourne, the Christies had the luxury of being able to go both up and down, letting their new fly tower rise high into the air. At the Grange, that was impossible. The buildings and landscape are strictly listed and it was clear from the start that permission would only be obtained by preserving what was already there, and disturbing September 2001 The north wall of the theatre has been knocked out and a giant crane moves into place a piece of the “goalpost”


the existing idyllic scene as little as possible. That essentially meant putting much of the new building underground, while ensuring that essential new structures should be concealed behind walls which were to be an exact replica of Smirke’s 19th century facades demolished in the 1970s. The most delicate part of the work was knocking out the north wall, built of late 19th (with patches of 20th) century brick, without toppling the whole fragile edifice of the theatre. The plan for doing this was complicated, requiring the installation of a reinforced concrete beam and columns to support the roof and new opening. It was programmed to take a minimum of 16 weeks. Martin, experienced as he was in working on delicate listed structures, came up with a simpler concept: he would create a temporary steel system within the theatre to support the roof through the parts of the ceiling that were missing (mainly where the old ceiling glass panels used to be), thus taking the load off the north wall, which could then be safely removed. A “goalpost system” of steel columns and a beam would be inserted into the new north wall opening, and the old theatre roof and walls connected to it. With the roof now properly supported on the new beam, the temporary steel structure could then be taken away. It was an ingenious proposal, the first of many innovative suggestions and plans which Martin came up with. First however it required beginning the great underground hole which would occupy Gerald and his giant excavator for weeks. Once the foundations of the old building had been exposed, concrete footings to support the steel were constructed. The original theatre floor, an old concrete slab thrown over the under croft, had to be propped up from below in order to support the props for the roof, and the wall then taken down brick by careful brick. The whole job took just four weeks, and not one piece of the old plaster ceiling was dislodged. It cut three months off the building schedule and suddenly raised the prospect that the 2002 festival might actually be staged in the new theatre, a year ahead of schedule. It was also the beginning of an excellent relation-

Grange Park Opera 2002 Programme  

Grange Park Opera 2002 Programme