Colchester Mercury Theatre announces major refurbisment programme

Tricia Kelly stars in Man to Man in the Mercury Studio Theatre, Autumn 2013

Tricia Kelly stars in Man to Man in the Mercury Studio Theatre, Autumn 2013 - Credit: Archant

One of the region’s leading theatres has announced an extensive refurbishment programme that will see improved disabled access, more seating and state-of-the-art heating and air conditioning facilities installed.

Hare and Tortoise in the Studio Theatre, Autumn 2014.

Hare and Tortoise in the Studio Theatre, Autumn 2014. - Credit: Archant

Colchester’s Mercury Theatre has announced that a £580,000 refurbishment programme will be starting almost immediately but it will not be interrupting scheduled performances in the main auditorium.

The majority of the work will be focussed on the studio theatre and will be scheduled so as not to disturb performances on the main stage.

Robin Fenwick, spokesperson for the Mercury, said that Hospital Food by the Mercury Youth Theatre was the last scheduled performance in the studio until the autumn. He said that the refurbishment work will involve increasing the seating capacity in the studio from the current 65 seats up to a new maximum of 103, in a fully retractable unit of tiered rows. Sound-proofing will be installed so that sound from the main stage no longer bleeds into the studio, which will allow both spaces to operate side-by-side for the first time.

Air conditioning will also be installed in the studio, which will also be equipped with digital filming equipment, and technical equipment will be upgraded, making the performance space more flexible.

Access for disabled people will also be improved in the studio. An infrared hearing system will be installed and audience members in wheelchairs will no longer have to sit on the same level as the performance space.

In the main theatre, a new heating and cooling system will be installed to make the environment more comfortable. A new platform will be built in the auditorium, providing more flexible accessible seating for customers with access needs including wheelchair users and people of limited mobility.

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As part of the work, the Mercury will also be improving its impact on the environment. New low power LED lighting will be installed in the main theatre and studio, powered by a major installation of solar panels funded by Colchester Borough Council which promises to power 25% of the theatre’s electricity needs.

Mr Fenwick said that audiences should not notice any disturbance as all the noisy, dusty works will be performed during two two week breaks which have been scheduled into the season.

The works have been funded by a grant of £400,000 from Arts Council England, Colchester Borough Council are backing the refurbishment with a grant of £80,000 and a donation of solar panels, the J Paul Getty Jnr Trust and the Fowler Smith and Jones Trust have each committed £25,000, and the Mercury has contributed £50,000 from its reserves to make the work possible.

The Mercury’s artistic director Daniel Buckroyd said: “This work will transform our ability to create new smaller-scale theatre ourselves, and support new writers and emerging theatre companies across Essex and further afield. Our vision is to share untold stories, and the new studio will increase the choice we offer to audiences, boosting our efforts to attract more people to theatre for the first time.

“Temperature in both of our spaces has been the most persistent audience complaint for some years now. We are very hopeful that the installation of new heating and cooling equipment will make visiting the Mercury a more comfortable experience for all of our audiences. No-one should feel they have to keep their coat on when coming to the theatre.”

He said that this project was the largest investment in the theatre since it opened in 1972. The work is expected to be complete by mid-October.

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