Grove Theatre “Pipped to the post” at prestigeous STC 2010 Awards

21 June 2010

The Society of Theatre Consultants chose the International Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference in London as the occasion to present their 2010 awards for ‘Design Excellence’, and Theatreplan was just ‘pipped to the post’ with its design for the Grove Theatre at Dunstable. In the words of one of the judges, Francis Reid, “The word excellence is wholly appropriate to the overall design of the Grove and lots of its detailing.”

Francis Reid introduced the winners by asking, “So, of the four examples of design excellence that we visited, were any particularly excellent? Yes, there were two – and the runner-up was very, very close on the heels of the winner”.

Opened in 2007, the Grove Theatre is a brand new, 777-seat, £13m venue, designed for drama, musicals and community events and its versatility extends to live music events, for which it provides a capacity of 1000 standing and seated.

Theatreplan’s consultants on the project included Neil Morton and John Whitaker who accepted the award on behalf of the whole team at Theatreplan, which not only provided the scheme for the stage and auditorium – developed with Glenn Howells Architects – but also took on the role of the theatrical user. The brief specified a versatile auditorium for either seated or standing audience, which Neil Morton achieved by using retractable seating in conjunction with an innovative seating-wagon system and a downstage lift which converts into either a forestage extension or orchestra pit or additional rows of seats, allowing the auditorium to be changed from seated to standing format in under two hours.

In his address, Francis Reid explained, “The pallets of retractable stalls in the warmly receptive auditorium are removable without any significant compromise to the primary function as a proscenium house. The box seats are slightly but significantly angled towards the stage – a feature [in other theatres] that marked the beginning of our rediscovery of the importance of hanging audience on the side walls… but a feature subsequently lost in the adoption of the parallel side balconies of the Georgian footprint as the dominant format of the final decade of the twentieth century.

“The stage, appropriately for a receiving house, is an unencumbered space with single purchase counterweights and a straight get-in through a scene dock with workshop potential. No necessity has arisen to add extra FOH lighting bars during the three years since opening. That’s how a new theatre should be but, alas, it is not always so. The green room and dressing rooms, like the audience foyers, have an abundance of natural light and a pastoral outlook.”