Colchester’s Mercury Theatre rises to meet the challenge of 21st century rebuild
- Credit: Archant
Staff and directors at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre have launched a £1.7million public fundraising campaign to enable them to complete their visionary £8.7m rebuild of the Essex theatre which will ensure the building’s future for the next half century.
The £1.7m Mercury Rising appeal was launched at the House of Commons last night at a reception hosted by Colchester MP Will Quince, alongside culture minister and Newmarket MP Matt Hancock and chief executive of the Arts Council Darren Henley OBE.
Artistic director Daniel Buckroyd said this was the final element of their ambitious plans to future proof the building and make it even more part of the community than it is now.
“In January we announced an £8.7m plan to redevelop the theatre, today we can provide details of what exactly this will involve. We are bursting at the seams. The Mercury was built in 1972 and, apart from some reconstruction work to the auditorium and backstage areas following a fire 20 years ago and our work last summer on improving the studio theatre, very little has been changed or upgraded over the years. The fabric of the building has really not had an awful lot done to it.
“In the meantime the world has moved on, we have got busier, more ambitious and we need more room. We are making the public and production spaces in the theatre fit for purpose in the 21st Century. It’s all about visibility. We are positioned on a very busy public thoroughfare, next to a Roman wall and gateway. We are the gateway to Colchester town centre, but I am sure many people don’t really know what goes on here.
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“What we want to do as part of this £8.7m rebuild is to make us much more visible. I want the people of Colchester to see great theatre being made and rehearsed. I want them to glimpse a theatre at work. I want them to see a theatre which is alive and thriving, a theatre which forms an integral part of the community.”
He said the stage, auditorium and studio theatre will remain untouched along with the backstage set construction workshop. The rebuilding scheme will provide a new glass-fronted foyer with cafe-bar. Folding doors will allow customers to sit outside in fine weather on plaza-style paving.
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The box office will move from its current home round to where the restaurant is now and there will be a new entrance. Rehearsal and community facilities for local amateur companies and education work will be housed above the new public front of house facilities.
“It is important that we offer a home here for local companies and for our education work.”
The production offices at the theatre are housed in an unconverted, unheated former vicarage. This will be demolished and replaced with purpose-built offices and rehearsal space for in-house productions. The set construction workshop behind the stage will gain an access way to the auditorium allowing visiting companies to set up scenery and lighting without disrupting set constriction work. The workshop will also gain new windows to boost the visibility of the theatre’s work.
Mr Buckroyd said: “Our set workshop is one of the shining jewels in the Mercury’s crown and the only one in East Anglia. We not only build our own sets here, but we build and paint scenery for touring productions and for other theatres. This is a centre of excellence and we should allow people to see this wonderful work take shape. It’s important that we make all aspects of our work at the Mercury more visible. It will allow us to take on a great role within the community and encourage the community to come in and be a part of our world.
“Audiences are the key component of this entire venture. Last year we saw a rise in audiences of 19%. We welcomed 123,838 people through our doors. Alongside that we have our learning and participation programme – workshops, youth theatres, work with older adults, this accounted for a further 22,300 people having contact with the Mercury Theatre. Our audience comes from right across the Eastern region with half our audience coming from Colchester itself. We really are bursting at the seams.”
He said in addition to the bigger, lighter front of house there will be a new roof terrace, more toilets, two new lifts, improved access for disabled people, an all-day café, and fully accessible and flexible spaces for community activities. The new facilities will open in 2020.
Executive director Steve Mannix said although they plan to keep disruption to a minimum, there will be a period when the theatre has to close in approximately 18 month’s time. “Although we don’t have the exact details of what will happen yet. I can assure you that performances will continue in and around Colchester. Rather like when the theatres closed in Shakespeare’s time they went out on the road. Perhaps we will tour different venues around Colchester. Watch this space.”
With support from Arts Council England, Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council, the Mercury has already raised £7m. Mercury Rising hopes to inspire trusts and foundations, businesses and business leaders, and the local community to help raise the final £1.7m.
For more information on Mercury Rising and how you can get involved, visit www.mercurytheatre.co.uk