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Drury Lane to reduce capacity and add a restaurant in ‘spectacular’ £35m redevelopment

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane auditorium from the royal box. Photo: Peter Dazeley Theatre Royal, Drury Lane auditorium from the royal box. Photo: Peter Dazeley
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  • Design in public areas of theatre to be restored to its 1812 glory
  • Seating capacity to be reduced from 2,200 to 2,000
  • New restaurant
  • Ramps and lifts to be added to every level of auditorium to improve disabled access
  • New offices

London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane has requested planning permission for a “spectacular” multimillion-pound redevelopment.

If fully approved, the plans will restore public areas of the theatre to their former glory, reduce the number of seats in the auditorium and create a new restaurant.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company Really Useful Theatres, which owns and manages the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, will fund the redevelopment. If plans are approved, the building work would start in 2019 at the earliest, and is estimated to take 18 months, during which time the theatre would be dark.

RUG declined to say how much the project will cost in total, however it has previously been reported it to be around £35 million.

The West End theatre, currently home to 42nd Street, was built by Benjamin Dean Wyatt in 1812. However, the site has been in continuous use as a theatre since the 1660s, making it one of the oldest surviving theatre locations in the city.

Plans for the redevelopment include reducing the number of seats in the auditorium from around 2,200 to 2,000, allowing for wider seats and more legroom.

Disabled access to the building would be improved by installing ramps and lifts to every level of the auditorium.

Architect's drawing of the proposed redevelopment of Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Photo: Haworth Tompkins Architects
Architect’s drawing of the proposed redevelopment of Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Photo: Haworth Tompkins Architects

The proposals also aim to bring the public areas of the theatre back as closely as possible to Wyatt’s original designs. This follows a restoration of the theatre’s Grand Saloon in 2013.

Additionally, the theatre has acquired a building next door that was once the vegetarian Gardenia restaurant, famously frequented by members of the Suffragettes movement.

Plans submitted to Westminster City Council propose that this space be turned back into a restaurant as well as offices.

Chairman of the Really Useful Theatres Group Mark Wordsworth told The Stage: “Every century, someone has to bring the building up to scratch. The auditorium was completely changed in 1922, so approximately 100 years after that it is time to make the theatre fit for the future.

“A certain part of the spend is that, because it is a grade I-listed theatre, we want to make sure its heritage is secured.”

He added: “An owner who was only looking to a commercial return would not do some of those things, but Andrew is incredibly passionate about those things. It is a spectacular project. When it is finished it will be an absolutely incredible building and people will see what it was like in 1812.”

The project has been in the pipeline for two years already, with the theatre having consulted various bodies including the Theatres Trust and Historic England on the plans.

In an introduction to the proposals, Lloyd Webber writes: “My love of architecture and art comes a close second to my love of musical theatre.”

He added: “These proposals are the result of a long and painstaking design and consultation process which has involved the interested heritage and theatre groups. A theatre today needs to provide an environment where producers and creative artists can thrive and that welcomes everyone.

“This project is intended to improve the facilities at ‘Old Drury’ so once again it will become one of the greatest musical houses in the world.”

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