Theatre set to become bigger and better

THE New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich will be getting a long awaited facelift during its summer break, including new building work which will extend the foyer.

By Andrew Clarke

THE New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich will be getting a long awaited facelift during its summer break, including new building work which will extend the foyer.

The work will also include the installation of a new air cooling system, state-of-the-art seating and a new lift to take audiences from the ground floor into an improved bar. There will also be new kitchen facilities and an extended eating area on the ground floor.

Expected to cost £725,000, the work is being funded by grants from The Arts Council, Suffolk County and Ipswich Borough Council as well as fund-raising by the theatre itself.

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New Wolsey chief executive Sarah Holmes said: “I'm very excited by the project. I love this building, the auditorium is a wonderful space for audiences and performers and I'm sure audiences will appreciate our efforts to make it more user-friendly, more accessible and more comfortable.

“Since the Wolsey was first opened in 1979 the world of theatre going has changed a great deal. The expectations of the audience in terms of comfort is now totally different and as a theatre working in the 21st Century we have to evolve to meet the expectations of our audience.”

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The biggest visible change to passers by will be the introduction of a raised decking area in front of the theatre which will extend the New Wolsey's foyer area right out to the perimeter of the spiral car park off Civic Drive. This area will be covered to protect audiences from the elements and heated to keep the winter chill at bay.

“It'll be a great area to meet, have a drink, a bite to eat and just meet friends before a show,” Sarah said.

In addition to the air cooling and new seats in the auditorium - the bar, coffee shop and exterior of the theatre are also to be given a make-over.

An existing stairway currently dedicated to the wheelchair lift will become a public stairway which will allow easier access between the downstairs toilets and upstairs bar. A lift is to be installed so audience members will have easier access around the building.

“The foyer and bar tend to get congested making it difficult for people to move around. By opening the stairway at the end of the bar the flow will be significantly improved,” Sarah explained.

But, early exploratory drilling for the lift shaft has unearthed the Wolsey's own mystery - two giant chasms beneath the theatre.

“We haven't gone down there yet because it hasn't been opened up properly but it would appear that when the Wolsey was originally built the architects created two large basement areas and then didn't do anything with them. They weren't even included on any of the plans that we can find - so it's very exciting. I am thinking of all sorts of things we can use them for but I am having to rein myself in at the moment because we simply don't have the money to do anything with them. We honestly had no idea they were there.”

She said that the theatre has launched a name a seat campaign to help raise their share of cost of the improvements. She said that a donation of £250 was enough to name a seat in the auditorium.

“We want the building to reflect the quality of the work we present on stage. There is an element of fundraising required to complete the work and we are asking the public to contribute by naming a seat in the auditorium. Your seat will be fitted with a plaque engraved with words of your choice to recognise your contribution.”

Sarah said that she was determined that the work should not affect the running of the theatre. “All the noisy, dirty work will be carried out during the summer but there is no way that the theatre will close once the autumn season gets underway. Personally I can't wait for the first night of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum on September 14 when we see the results in action.”

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