New landmark theatre in Canterbury: explore the Marlowe Theatre with Kent Life
PUBLISHED: 01:16 28 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:03 20 February 2013
This month the curtain rises on a spectacular new landmark theatre for Canterbury and the south east. Step inside the new Marlowe Theatre with Kent Life and take a seat...
This month the curtain rises on a spectacular new landmark theatre for Canterbury and the south east. Step inside the new Marlowe Theatre with Kent Life and take a seat
Four weeks before the official opening of the new Marlowe Theatre, Kent Life was privileged to take a behind-the-scenes look at the stuuning building that has been emerging from its wraps over the last two years in the heart of this great heritage city.
Work was still underway, but nothing could detract from the impact of award-winning architect Keith Williams bold design, which Janice McGuinness, Head of Culture and Enterprise at Canterbury City Council says was quite simply the runaway winner from the outset.
She adds: The challenge wasnt easy we wanted a striking, modern, vibrant new theatre and a dramatic destination that would be a modern icon but also relate to the nearby Cathedral.
Keith was head and shoulders above the rest and it was the one design that not only acknowledged the Cathedral, but actually embraced its existence.
But this is not just the story of an extraordinary new piece of architecture, its also one of bravery, vision and an exemplary public-private partnership
In 2009 the district council committed around 17m to the project, which Janice says was a leap of faith because there was a sizeable funding gap. Enter The New Marlowe Theatre Development Trust, which has raised 4.25m during one of the most difficult economic climates to help build Canterburys new theatre. KCC put in 2m and SEEDA a further 1.95m.
So what of the theatre itself? Well, its already hard to believe that there used to be a second-hand car lot and an oldtea room next door, which not only denied views of its close neighbour the Cathedral but also blocked access to the River Stour. Now a new Victoria Walkway runs by the river and goes past the ancient Dominican Priory and into Sollys Orchard, so the project has helped reinstate the public realm, too.
The 4,850sqm building is a complex pavilion and your first view is the dramatic colonnaded loggia in white-cast Dolomite stone, which forms the entrance to the multi-level glazed foyer which in turn connects all the major internal spaces to the riverside terraces and pathways. New views of the city rooftops and its Cathedral open up from the main stairs and upper levels and one particularly stunning new view has already been immortalised in watercolour by the artist John Doyle.
The flytower of the old theatre was the second tallest structure in the city after Bell Harry, the Cathedrals principal tower. The new version is 9m taller than its predecessor, allowing it to be sculpted to create a pinnacle form facing toward the Cathedral, adding accent and silhouette to the citys skyline.
Its clad in a stainless steel mesh skin held 600mm off a weathering skin of silver anodised aluminium panels, causing its surfaces to shimmer and sheen and reflect the changing skies. Internally, the double-height foyer and feature staircase lead to a stunningmain auditorium set over three levels with seating for an audience of 1,200, a 26 per cent increase in seat numbers over the old theatre. No seat will be further than 25m from stage, a great improvement over the 35m distance in the former, cinema-style auditorium.
I tell Keith that Ive never seen such a beautiful theatre, and it literally does take your breath away from the Italian-made leather seats in a bespoke red-orange that Keith describes as introducing some joy among the quite muted colours elsewhere in the building, to the dramatic timber battens in American Black Walnut on the walls.
A second smaller performance space, The Marlowe Studio (seating 150) will be able to accommodate alternative, community and educational projects and produce and present new work.
Well let Keith Williams have the final word: The Marlowe is that very rare thing a major new contemporary theatre building within a magnificent historic cathedral city. Its architecture is clearly contemporary yet it has been conceived to fit comfortably within its historic surroundings. I am confident that it will have a transformative effect on arts and culture in the south east.