Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre. crack
The Everyman shut-up shop and ‘went dark’, as we say, on 30th April. For the next five months it will undergo one of the most significant restoration projects in its long and illustrious history.
The life and soul of any old building lies not only in its history but in the rich layers of patina that have built up over the years. However, patina is often a polite way of describing dirt and grime and consequently there can be a very fine line between charming and tatty; one that Chief Executive Geoffrey Rowe is very aware of. ‘I think there is a sentimental reaction by everyone who is interested in the theatre to prevent lovely old buildings like this from disintegrating.’
‘But apart from the slightly sentimental indulgence which prompted us to press on and raise money and make plans, there was a serious commercial aspect involved in the restoration as well. No matter how affectionate people feel towards their local theatre, a lack of comfort, a lack of style and the inevitable shabbiness will eventually start alienating people. I think eventually that lack of comfort would have started a cycle of decline which could have brought this theatre down. It was therefore important, from a commercial standpoint, to sustain the theatre as a viable public building and to ensure that it continued to thrive physically as well as intellectually.’
Although the front of house will receive a make over, it is the auditorium where most of the work will take place. Although, over the years the theatre has gone through many changes it is probably the auditorium that has received the least attention and the current restoration will aim to restore it to its former glory.
Geoffrey explained what that entails. ‘A lot of the plasterwork has got chipped or damaged over the years and many of the cherubs have arms and legs missing. The house lights are very harsh and don’t really show off the décor to its best advantage so all that will be dealt with. Additionally, all the old and rather makeshift scaffolding rigs which support the lights and speakers in a haphazard way will be replaced and made much more discreet or concealed altogether. Ugly cables that snake around the walls and pillars will be hidden.
‘There are to be brand new, much more comfortable seats in the stalls and dress circle which we will keep in the original style. Many of the current seats are old cinema seats and are set at a completely different angle to theatre seats. The wrought-iron end-panels of the rows are being specially designed for us and, of course, the new upholstery and carpets will all be colour co-ordinated to match the overall scheme. We are making great efforts to be sympathetic to what is already here. We received listed building consent only on the condition that we met certain standards. There were lots of preliminary drawings and sketches and colour samples and all that sort of thing, but there are always compromises, you can never go back to exactly as it was.’
The company engaged to undertake the restoration is Foster Wilson Architects of London who specialise in all sorts of theatre work including new build. In fact they were responsible for the new Parabola Theatre at the Ladies’ College. Tim Foster explained his involvement with the Everyman. ‘My practice was selected in February 2008 to design and manage the project. Arriving at a final package of works was the subject of much discussion in which the design team, together with The Everyman and the conservation authorities, sought to find the right balance between historical accuracy, modern operational and commercial needs and a constrained budget.’
After more than ten years of planning, meetings, submissions, fund raising and a Conservation Plan put together by the specialist company TheatreSearch in 2005, work is finally getting under way this month. Tim Foster explained the sequence of events, ‘The first thing that will happen is the replacement of the floor in the stalls. The last time it was replaced it was done on the cheap with chipboard and that’s now beginning to fail. We will also change the stalls seating layout to eliminate the centre gangway and improve the row spacing. This will cause some complaints from patrons who like to have aisle seats in the centre but I think the general improvement in comfort levels and the elimination of the gap up the centre of the stalls, which actors dislike, will justify the change.
With the new floor in place the entire auditorium will be filled with scaffolding and not one nook, cranny or cherub will be left unprodded, uncleaned or unpainted. Unsightly water damage that had remained on the ceiling from the backstage roof fire in the eighties will be repaired and repainted.
The only actual structural work in the auditorium involves the two stage boxes. When the pillars supporting the dress circle were removed in the 1930s they also removed the pillars supporting the boxes. This caused problems, as Tim Foster explained. ‘This was quite unnecessary as the columns were not obstructing sight-lines and consequently boxes started to sag and had to be propped up with girders and unsightly diagonal tie-bars which made them unusable. We are replacing the columns which will give them all the support they need so all the other paraphernalia can be removed and the boxes will be re-commissioned. The stage boxes in theatres of this period play a crucial role in visually linking the auditorium galleries to the proscenium and they should properly be populated by members of the audience.’
The proscenium will be restored to its former glory after layers of paint that had built up over the decades are removed. The original faux marble proscenium has provided guidance that determined the colour scheme. Tim Foster again, ‘From the outset our approach was to seek to interpret the 1891 colours rather than to stick too rigidly to the findings of our scientific reports. The paint analysis provided us with exact shades but we made these colours several tones darker than the originals. We felt this was an important adjustment, as the original colours would have been viewed under gaslight or low levels of electric light, rather than the higher brightness levels of modern lighting.
‘There was no clear evidence to suggest what colour the side and rear walls were so we sought an interpretation to contrast with the cream and tan decorative plaster and the deep red fabrics. We decided to use a blue/grey decorative wallpaper, complementing the restored proscenium and the sky blue panels in the dome. This also reinforces the new house-lighting scheme which highlights the balcony fronts, side boxes and dome while recessing the side and rear walls. The wallpaper, which is being specially made, is based on a pattern taken from The Gaiety Theatre in The Isle of Man, also a Matcham theatre.’
Luckily specialist craftsmen are still available to work on the fibrous plasterwork and all the other original features but Foster considers the preparatory work was the most important. ‘The most challenging part of the work was done beforehand, all the research– getting the colour schemes right, getting the fittings right. We are having some new seating made and restoring others and we have new carpets based on Matcham originals. The main curtain and other drapes are also being replaced. Matcham considered this ‘soft architecture’ as important as any other part of the décor.
‘One particular challenge in this sort of restoration is managing the technical installations. Of course, in the original building there were no provisions made for modern lighting and sound systems so finding ways of solving those problems in a way which is sympathetic to the building but also functions on a technical level can be difficult.’ The main building contractor for the restoration was Speller Metcalfe of Gloucester. Andy Metcalfe is well aware of the challenges. ‘It involves a great deal of specialist works, including fibrous plaster work, specialist decoration and art restoration and specialist finishes as well as complex technical issues. It is an amazing project and one we are delighted to be involved in.’
Although the main and most important work was done in the auditorium, substantial changes and improvements will also be made in the front-of-house areas.
The newly refurbished Everyman Theatre will re-open on 26th September 2011 with a production of Alan Bennett’s The Madness of King George. The following Sunday, 2nd October, there will a Victorian-themed day of festivities to celebrate, not only the re-opening, but also
What You've Seen And What You've Missed
English Touring Opera was at the Everyman for the first week of April presenting three programmes. As with Propeller, who were here a few weeks ago, I have yet to see a performance from ETO that was anything less than excellent. Opera is difficult and expensive to stage but ETO overcome these limitations and stage productions that are not only beautifully designed and lit but musically outstanding as well.
La Clemenza di Tito was stunning, the only criticism that I could find is that the singer playing Titus did not really have the physical status to really carry it. The double bill of Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi contain between them some of Puccini’s best music and certainly a couple of his best songs. I loved them both.
Schicchi is a comic opera but ETO played it as broad farce which worked well and was genuinely funny. The strange thing about this opera is that although it is designed for laughs, the music is haunting and contains a least two themes that you’ll find running around your head for weeks.