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Image by Helene Binet


EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury is modern, stylish and architecturally exciting. In fact it’s a surprisingly brave design in the context of such a traditional and historic city. White colonnades tower over a wrap around glass facia while striking angular, carefully worked out proportions, complement the adjacent softer historic redbrick buildings. There are few provincial receiving venues, outside of the major cities, that are places of purpose for the wider population, however the Marlowe displays the potential to be exactly that. The combination of

the building design itself, Theatre Director Mark Everett’s ambitious artistic programme and the surrounding historic hostelries, pubs and eateries surely ensure its destination status. In fact it’s easy to imagine that theatre goers from far and wide, faced with the choice of travelling to London to see a West End show or waiting until it toured to the Marlowe, would quite happily wait for the tour. Designed by two multi-award winning companies - Keith Williams Architects and theatre consultants Charcoalblue, the new Marlowe Theatre’s successful delivery has as much to do with the determination and vision of its owner, Canterbury City Council, as it has to do with the visionaries who created it. Why? Because when it became clear that the old Marlowe Theatre - a converted 1930s cinema - was no longer fit for its purpose, Canterbury city Council was faced with the daunting task of managing


Image by Helene Binet

IF FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BOLD, THEN MARLOWE THEATRE HAS A BRIGHT FUTURE. FACED WITH THE CHOICE OF UPGRADING OR RE-BUILDING, THE LATTER WAS THE BRAVE AND SELECTED OPTION. SARAH RUSHTON-READ DETAILS A TALE OF THEATRICAL ASPIRATION FROM CANTERBURY. the expectations of the venues 10,000 faithful friends. Not only that they had to encourage public acceptance of a very modern building in a particularly historic part of Canterbury town centre. Gavin Green, Design Director for Charcoalbue explains some of the issues that drove the decision to demolish the old theatre and build the new. “Although many locals adored the old theatre, few from outside the area saw it as a desirable place to spend an evening. Sightlines were shocking, seating uncomfortable and in poor condition and technically it was in desperate need of an upgrade. This was a venue that did not have the capacity to accept many of the exciting new tours that were coming out of the West End. Even if it could have, it did not present companies with an economic argument to tour there. Primarily because of the small audience volume it offered.” The evolution of the Marlowe was therefore, on occasions, a little

turbulent. This wasn’t helped by a somewhat unpredictable economic climate. However as Janice McGuinness, Head of Culture and Enterprise for Canterbury City Council says: “We conservatively believe that the Marlowe will deliver over £23 million to the local economy each year.” A sum not to be sniffed at and one that perhaps made it easier for the community to accept the £17 million investment Canterbury City Council made to the project. Today the Marlowe Theatre can happily welcome the kind of tours the old theatre could only dream of organising a coach trip to see. Not only that it has an additional, 150-seat, protean studio space created for the local community to use for a plethora of artistic pursuits. For the client and the creative team the transformation of the Marlowe has proved an exciting and challenging journey. The project team


“Our primary objective was to deliver an economically viable, 1,200 capacity auditorium, with an updated and future-proofed infrastructure, as it has to easily accommodate the anticipated diverse programme of touring shows now and in the future. So far, future scheduling already includes internationally renowned opera companies, West End musicals, international ballet, ice shows and a circus.” Image by Helene Binet

has clearly worked very hard to address objections and today there must surely be few that would see the new theatre gone. Funding came from a mix of public and private contributions with Canterbury City Council’s £17 million leading the fund. Kent County Council and SEEDA also supported the project. However what is most notable, and a testament to the client’s management of the project, is the success of a major fundraising campaign, set up by The New Marlowe Theatre Development Trust, which raised an impressive £4.5 million. The campaign attracted Royal Patron HRH The Earl of Wessex together with a number of other high profile names including Orlando Bloom, Joanna Lumley, Jools Holland, Timothy West and Prunella Scales. The Marlowe is sited slap bang in the centre of the old town. There’s a strong sense of civic pride - its public-facing façade opens onto a large sloping apron that extends out toward the high street. Behind this is a colonnaded, two-storey, glass-fronted foyer area whose

height, according to architect Keith Williams, directly correlates to the height of the surrounding historic buildings. Somehow this detail avoids that uncomfortable feeling of overwhelming scale one sometimes gets when modern buildings are unceremoniously plonked into historic architectural environments. And that’s not the only nod Williams has made to the adjacent built environment. Acknowledging the proximity of Canterbury’s famous Cathedral, he’s also fashioned a modern day spire from what could have remained an ugly yet essential fly tower. Mesh faced, it reflects the changing colour of the sky and the changing time of the day. Under a blue sky and a good sunset it sparkles. Inside the double-height foyer, a generous square staircase leads up to some spectacular views across the town and Kent countryside. The clean lines and finishes of the walls, bars and balconies of the mezzanine walkways belie a richly detailed and clever architectural concept, both in terms of the experience it offers its audience and


...the clever auditorium design and planning alongside the exciting technical facilities has delivered a theatre that any cosmopolitan city would be proud of. visiting performers, and in the facilities it has managed to carefully pack into the two performance venues on the relatively small footprint the building occupies. The auditorium is cantilevered to avoid the necessity for columns in the foyer, and the copper-walled studio theatre sits six metres above the foyer café, affording more public space at ground floor level. The main auditorium design is a considered and uncluttered response to a brief that demanded a definite and clear sense of identity. Intimate and focused it incorporates a traditional lyric form proscenium stage into a vibrant, fresh and dramatically modern environment. It’s this palpable contrast between the bright simplicity of FOH and the rich modern splendour of the auditorium that reaps an involuntary gasp of pleasure from visitors. Deep orange leather seats glow warmly under the twinkling house lighting, while dark painted plaster walls, lined with American Black Walnut planks arrayed in strips on the side walls, are both decorative and - according to Keith Williams - help prevent confused lateral sound reflection. Beautifully curved balcony fronts, featuring ingeniously fashioned recessed cable trays to carry lighting and sound cabling, form a horseshoe shape that joins the proscenium either side of the stage. Above, a sculpted ceiling not only pushes audience focus directly onto the stage but also provides acoustic treatment to the room. But that isn’t all. The main house can now accommodate a 1,200strong audience, a whopping 26% increase in capacity on its predecessor. The fact that the venue is built on the same footprint as the old theatre and that Williams has also managed to add a 150-seat studio theatre makes this all the more remarkable. Charcoalblue’s Gavin Green explains his company’s remit: “The Charcoalblue team worked hand in hand with Keith Williams’ team, forging a strong collaborative relationship. Under our care was the design, planning and technical specification of the auditorium and backstage areas for both the main auditorium and the new multi-configurable Marlowe Studio. It was essential to provide a flexible mainspace that can as easily host opera as amplified music and dance. Technical infrastructure had to accommodate shows touring with their own equipment but also the venue needed to stock enough loose equipment to host one nighters and in-house productions.” Working alongside Keith Williams Architects on site throughout the build was Senior Project Manager for Charcoalblue, Paul Crosbie. “Particular emphasis has been on the very complex, building-wide functional planning, auditorium planning and specialist theatre systems design, including the stage lighting, audiovisual, and stage engineering installations,” reveals Green. “Our primary objective was to deliver an economically viable, 1,200 capacity auditorium, with an updated and future-proofed infrastructure, as it has to easily accommodate the anticipated diverse programme of touring shows now and in the future. So far, future scheduling already includes internationally renowned opera companies, West End musicals, international ballet, ice shows and a circus.” From the outset of the project the objective was to design a minimal

yet adequate infrastructure for delivery as part of the capital project, which could be extended with relative ease as part of a longer-term revenue-funded programme of works. Crosbie explains: “This objective led to the selection of ETC Sensor modular dimming equipment. This meant a lower number of dimming modules could be procured under the main contract to be supplemented by the end-user at a later date.” Originally, the design of the stage lighting control system did not include a control desk - the original theatre had recently purchased a Strand 520i and intended to retain it for use in the new building. However, things change and, jumping forwards four years, a redistribution of funds in the technical component of the capital budget allowed for the full population of the dimming racks to be installed. It also presented the opportunity to meet with the newly appointed Technical Manager - Ben Ranner - to discuss his control desk preferences: this resulted in the Strand 520i becoming the back-up and a new ETC Ion being selected. In terms of the audiovisual system, the head of sound from the original theatre heavily informed its design, Crosbie explains: “Over a number of years a substantial stock of d&b [audiotechnik] speakers had been procured and it was intended that a number of these would be re-used in the new building. The decision to go with a d&b

Image by Matthew Green


Image by Helene Binet

sound system was made.” As a receiving venue it was anticipated that productions of a particular scale would tour their own mixing desks, which meant that the in-house desk would be required for smaller scale shows. In light of that, a 32-channel Yamaha LS9-32 was selected because, in much the same way as the ETC Sensor racks are expandable, the Yamaha can very easily be expanded to 64 channels just by adding external preamps and Mini-YGDAI interface cards. This is very much in keeping with the overarching design strategy for the infrastructure. The scale of the desk was also an important factor in making this choice as the footprint of the sound mixing position directly impacts upon the


8 x d&b audiotechnik Q7 speaker; 21 x d&b audiotechnik E0 speaker; 2 x d&b audiotechnik Q-SUB sub bass unit; 2 x d&b audiotechnik MAX12 monitor speaker; d&b audiotechnik D6 and D12 amplifiers; 1 x Yamaha LS9-32 mixing console; GDS stage management desk; RTS technical intercom system; Ampetronics induction loop; Sennheiser infra-red system; Shure, Beyerdynamic and AKG mics


3 x ETC Sensor 96-way dimmer rack comprising 224 x 3kW dimmers; 22 x 5kW dimmers; 36 x 3kW non-dims; 6 x 5kW nondims; plus houselights and worklights dimmers and contactors; 1 x ETC Ion control desk; ETC Source Four profiles, Philips Selecon profiles, fresnels and cyclorama floods, James Thomas Par Cans and Robert Juliat Vedette followspots


4 x d&b audiotechnik Ci90 speaker; 2 x d&b audiotechnik Ci-SUB bass unit; d&b audiotechnik D6 and D12 amplifiers; Yamaha LS9-16 mixing console; GDS stage management desk; RTS technical intercom system; Ampetronics induction loop


1 x ETC Sensor 96-way dimmer rack; ETC SmartFade 12/48 lighting control desk; ETC Source Four profiles; Philips Selecon fresnels and PCs; James Thomas Par Cans and cyclorama floods

capacity of the auditorium. The stage machinery design was relatively complex in that the majority of the new systems had to be housed in existing structure. The overstage systems were all designed to be installed within the steelwork of the retained flytower - this was one of the key considerations, alongside cost, that resulted in the selection of a manually-operated counterweight flying system as opposed to a powered system. The sub-stage systems had to be located on top of the existing basement slab - this also proved challenging when developing the orchestra pit elevator, as the distance between the top of the slab and the floor of the orchestra pit was only 650mm at the highest point. A number of lifting systems were investigated and a Serapid rigid chain lift was finally selected in specific response to the minimal operating depth. The installation of both the stage lighting and audio-visual systems was undertaken by technical theatre specialists Northern Light, with whom Charcoalblue has worked successfully on a number of projects - including the £61million Curve Theatre in Leicester. While the stage engineering works were undertaken by CentreStage, who recently completed similar works at the Cube Theatre in Corby, again to a Charcoalblue design. The much-needed increase in seat capacity has been achieved by replacing the original theatres single-level seating rake with a threetiered, traditional horseshoe style auditorium comprising stalls, circle and balcony. The circle and balcony wrap around the auditorium engaging the proscenium on each side. This serves the purpose of concentrating the focus of the audience. It also makes for a very social environment and helps to create that all-important intimacy between audience and performers. Crosbie continues: “The old auditorium had less than 1,000 seats with the furthest being a quite considerable 35 metres from stage. We worked in collaboration with Keith Williams Architecture and a strong client team not only to increase seat count to 1200, but also to bring the audience much closer to the action. The furthest seat is now just 25 metres from stage.” Mark Everett, Director of the theatre, is delighted: “The sense of grandeur in this wonderful new auditorium is coupled with a feeling of intimacy. Everything’s so much closer to the stage than the old theatre could ever be. It’s a great sense of shared experience and that’s what live theatre is all about.” At the front of the stalls, there is a series of three elevators installed by CentreStage, equipped with seating wagons. These allow for the creation of various orchestra pit formats, the largest of which can accommodate a respectable 80 musicians. The Studio has capacity for up to 300 people in flat-floor mode, or 150 people when seated on the retractable seating system. The seating can also be deployed progressively to allow for variation in the size of the performers’ playing area as required, while side walls that create entrance corridors either side of the seating can be rolled back to open the space out completely. In October, the new Marlowe Theatre hit the ground running, opening on time and on budget, with its first raft of productions. Following a weekend of one-off launch events, the technically complex Cirque Éloize’s show - iD - opened to sold-out audiences and rave reviews. This is a show that could not have been considered in the old building. There is a long history of support for live theatre and story-telling in Canterbury. The Marlowe will continue that for many years to come. The brave modern architecture, the clever auditorium design and planning alongside the exciting technical facilities has delivered a theatre that any cosmopolitan city would be proud of.

Marlowe-Mondo DR Revised  

VENUE062 EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA Image by Helene Binet Image by Helene Binet Image by Hele...

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