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The Stage Awards shortlist: Theatre Building of the Year

Bridge Theatre, Bush Theatre, Storyhouse. Photos: Philip Vile, Peter Cook Bridge Theatre, Bush Theatre, Storyhouse. Photos: Philip Vile, Peter Cook

Theatre venues or any physical structure or space hosting theatrical performance are eligible for this award. The building or space must have launched (or relaunched) within the past 12 months. Judged on criteria including (but not limited to) innovation, design and facilities

Bridge Theatre, London

London’s first new commercial theatre of scale for four decades opened this year – not in the West End, but nestled between City Hall and Tower Bridge.

Former National Theatre supremos Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr quickly decided against opening in Theatreland. They hope the move east may be a catalyst for further theatre development, just as Tate Modern was for the art world.

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr: ‘It must be time to look beyond the commercial West End’

Built on the old Potters Field coach park, the 6,873 sq metre cultural facility they pitched for was required by Southwark Council to approve a development that includes 400 homes.

Architects Haworth Tompkins had already designed a ‘utopian’ theatre auditorium: serendipitously, the space was almost exactly the right dimensions for them to realise it.

Working with Tait Stage Technologies, they built a large yet intimate theatre of about 900 seats. The auditorium is configurable, moving from conventional end-on stage for its opening production of Young Marx, to promenade in its second with Julius Caesar and thrust in its third, Nightfall.

This has all been possible thanks to Tait’s rock-gig technology used to create the seating structure and staging, which were configured and tested in an aircraft hangar in Norfolk. The auditorium comes in 57 pieces, split into towers and seating galleries, which are built in a factory. They are carried into the theatre on a monorail and a ‘Tonka truck’ fits them in place.

The theatre’s spacious foyer, with elegant ambient lighting, has been praised, as has its disabled access and plethora of ladies loos. Then there are the madeleines, hailed by critics and punters alike as a leap forward for the humble interval snack.

Bush Theatre, London

Seven years after gaining approval to move to the old Shepherd’s Bush library, the Bush Theatre is showing a brave new face to London’s Uxbridge Road.

Under the direction of Haworth Tompkins, the first phase of works to convert the Victorian library into a theatre space was completed in 2011.

For the second phase, the theatre, led by artistic director Madani Younis, wanted to transform itself into an “accessible and sustainable modern theatre for the future”. Following the largest capital project in its history, and after reopening in March, it has achieved just that.

Madani Younis: ‘I fear that theatres will be only for the chosen few’

Last year, it shut its doors temporarily for the £4.3 million overhaul. The result is a new studio and enlarged foyer, increased capacity of the main auditorium and improved dressing room and rehearsal facilities.

The Bush says the enlarged spaces mean it can now work with 200 more artists each year, and will increase produced, co-produced and commissioned productions by 50%. It has also improved heating – a perennial problem for a large building from 1895.

The most visible change to the shell is the new terrace, making it the only public building with outdoor space on the road. It also offers a different, accessible entrance and a more distinct public identity to passers by.

While it was shut, the Bush took its work around the area to engage with the community and bring in new audiences for the newly revitalised building once it opened.

The theatre worked with Hawarth Tompkins to create Younis’ vision of an “open, porous and plural” theatre that reflects the world around it.

Storyhouse, Chester

Without a cinema, theatre or decent working library, cultural provision in Chester was in dire straits – especially after the closure of the Gateway Theatre in 2007. So Cheshire West and Chester Council moved to address the urgent need with a £37 million capital project that brought all three together under one roof.

Designed by Bennetts Associates, working with Charcoalblue, the theatre, cinema and library were brought together in the grade-II listed art deco Odeon cinema building, which was built in 1936.

The 7,500 sq metre space features a new proscenium arch theatre that seats 800 with audiences spread over three levels. The auditorium is also reconfigurable and converts into a 500-seat thrust configuration.

Inside Chester’s new £37m Storyhouse theatre

Added on top of the existing building is a copper-clad, 150-seat, black-box studio, designed for the work of local companies, individuals and organisations. Designers expect it to be the hardest-working room in the building.

The idea behind bringing everything together was to make cultural activities seamless, from borrowing a book to seeing a play. The designers wanted to respect the Odeon’s history but make it fit for another 100 years with the installation of amenities such as under-floor heating.

The Storyhouse overhaul was the biggest capital development in Chester for half a century. It is an exciting new cultural space that retains the grandeur of its art deco roots, with restoration of its hexagonal clock, ceiling coves and windows, and adds the copper-clad studio sitting on top.

Building work started in January 2015 and was completed this year, with 10,000 visitors flocking through the doors on its opening weekend.


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