I can again thy former light restore
'Like acting to Calais from the cliffs of Dover,' said Sir Christopher Bland, Chairman of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), quoting Shakespearean actor Baliol Hollway, and aptly describing the original Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Enter Mace stage left, fuelled with a construction management contract, a team of specialist contractors and the backing of the entire community. The result was a transformed theatrical environment that revolutionises the way audiences experience theatre, by reducing the average distance of the audience to the actors, with all seats now less than 15 metres of the stage – all delivered on time and within budget.
The new auditorium, with its innovative thrust stage design, is one that Shakespeare himself would recognise, with the intimacy of the space driving the intensity of the theatre experience. Add to this the aim of uniting the building’s two theatre spaces via the new public spaces, and the result is a theatre which has been successfully brought right back to the heart of the community, where it belongs.
“As someone who has played all the RSC’s theatres, it seems to me that what the Company has found is a brilliant way of retaining the best of the original building while constructing a new theatre which will work wonderfully for actors and audiences alike. We are creating a theatre in Stratford that Shakespeare could walk into and recognise as a playhouse for his work. It’s a spectacular idea”
Good counsellors lack no clients
The strength of this project lay in the collaborative spirit of the team and their ability to overcome challenges whether physical, artistic or financial, thanks to the detailed early programme, cost planning and change management processes which were put in place. Just like the theatre itself, the works merged the modern with the traditional and resulted in a project where the team would be just as likely to find themselves demolishing areas by hand to retain the original features as dealing with prefabrication and modern methods of construction.
In the public haunt of men
Renovating a theatre named after the world’s most famous playwright in the town of his birth did attract some attention to say the least. Royal visits were planned, national press were alerted and construction milestones were greeted with an unprecedented amount of public interest. This project sparked the imagination of everyone who came into contact with it and none less so than the project team who worked on it - definitely one for the scrapbook.
“A cultural project on the scale of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre transformation places extraordinary demands on any design and construction team, requiring not only high levels of originality and problem solving but also patient interaction with a multitude of stakeholders and accountability to funders, public and private. The RSC was fortunate to find a team that was capable of meeting all of those demands and doing so with the added complications of taking account of a complex listed building within one of the highest profile tourist destinations in Britain. That in itself is a significant testimonial but we also expected the team to rise to the challenge of working with an exactingly creative and technically skilled client for whom compromise has not been an option. The making of a new building that is itself as creative and technically accomplished within all those constraints has been what the RSC dared to hope for and what it has been overjoyed to have received. To have got it when we asked for it - and for what we could afford - and of having had so much fun doing it despite the challenges, has been a remarkable bonus”