Ambitious plans for a £23 million redevelopment of the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury have been approved by the city council, as it promises a more diverse programme of shows and an entirely new studio space for smaller productions.
The local authority considered a number of options for the venue, ranging from a small-scale refurbishment to a complete change of site. After a series of feasibility studies, it decided on a substantial redevelopment programme that will see the capacity increased from around 950 to 1,134 seats, as well as the addition of a secondary performance space, which is to seat up to 150 and will house physical theatre and dance performances, as well as small-scale theatre.
Canterbury City Council head of culture Janice McGuinness said: “We’ve been working on these plans for around 18 months. The option chosen was certainly the best. The plans will help broaden the theatre’s programme. While it will remain mainly a presenting theatre, it will also start to develop and produce its own work. It will also mean we will be able to take bigger shows, as we will be over the 1,000-seat mark and will have much-improved facilities.
“Theatre director Mark Everett will be looking after the governance and management of the venue but I imagine we will also look to create some new posts as well. Also, I don’t think the link with Christopher Marlowe [after whom the theatre is named] has been creatively explored – perhaps that can be grown into the programming policy. He is one of the world’s major playwrights and he doesn’t have his own theatre. This could be it.”
As well as an increased capacity, work will feature improved access to the venue and new bars and cafe facilities. The council has vowed to commit £8 million to the project and will apply to public bodies such as Arts Council England for further funding.
Depending on the success of the fundraising, it is hoped that work will begin onsite in 2008, with a reopening scheduled for the autumn of 2009 in time for its annual pantomime.
Everett added: “Put simply, the Marlowe operation has outgrown the theatre – we have been very successful over the past few years. We could sell more seats if we had them, especially for big shows. The demand is certainly there. There is also a hunger to be able to host even bigger shows, like Miss Saigon, which we can’t at the moment. The studio theatre will give us a space in which we will be able to create our own small-scale productions.”