York Theatre Royal
York, Great Britain
- De Matos Ryan
- St Leonards Place, YO1 7HD York, Great Britain
- 2016 Gross internal area
3213 sq m
£4.1 million (not including external / re-roofing works)
York Citizens Theatres Trust / York Conservation Trust
De Matos Ryan
Director in Charge
Charcoalblue Structural Engineer
Price & Myers
David Bonnett Associates
William Birch & Sons
York Theatre Royal has re-opened following a significant redevelopment by De Matos Ryan, dramatically transforming the theatre’s spaces and visitor experience.
The theatre has occupied the site since 1744 and has since undergone several alterations over the years, including the construction of a new foyer, a vaulted concrete pavilion built alongside the original building by Patrick Gwynne in 1967. The redevelopment of the Grade II* listed building unlocks the full potential of a complex site that had developed incrementally over 270 years. It has created additional space the theatre urgently needed in order to appeal to and engage a wider community, bring more people into the building and create the opportunity to increase revenue, enabling it to be more financially resilient in the future.
Consulting with key stakeholders, including staff members, the Youth Theatre, audience and general public determined the changes needed to improve the visitor experience, create a context for a sustainable business and improve the theatre’s scope for high quality creative output. Temporarily closing their doors for the first time in the theatre’s history has enabled a comprehensive redesign that gives the building back its spatial coherence.
The radical redesign is immediately apparent from the street with the introduction of two new lobbied entrances, one of which allows entry from the south for the first time. The creation of new foyer space below the Dress Circle at the back of the Stalls by opening up where previously there had been broom cupboards, and the glazing in of the Victorian colonnade are the most demonstrable changes to Front of House. They provide a greater freedom of circulation, connecting the Patrick Gwynne extension (House Left) to the Georgian staircase and Keregan Room (House Right) for the first time.
This newly found space provides for an improved welcome, gathering and orientation. It also reveals the heritage of the theatre and the site, making compelling connections between the past and present. A new terrazzo floor incorporating a patterned inlay reveals the geometry of the medieval vaults that once crossed where the new foyer is, while the original doorway is now exposed from within the layering of the colonnade wall linings. Lengths of backlit Corian counters arranged along the rear of the foyer accommodate the café and box office. The ability to colour change the Corian allows for the existing tradition of theming the Front of House experience in correlation with the theatrical programme to continue with flexibility and imagination. Housing a welcoming street-facing café clearly visible from the outside in order to draw people in, the Victorian colonnade has been glazed to give an animated face to the street akin to a storefront. The red carpet lining the colonnade floor may be seen as a humorous tongue-in-cheek reference that also reveals the ethos of the theatre that all visitors are VIPs.
Helping to enhance the visitor and audience experience, the installation of new and increased WCs on both sides of the house on all levels reduce waiting times during peak times in the intervals. New sound lobbies and insulation create spaces on all levels for informal performances including music and poetry. Sound insulation allows the café, restaurant and bars to operate during performances, increasing the opportunities for income generation. Access has been improved with the introduction of assisted and lobbied front doors and a range of counter levels accommodating a variety of users; step-free access from the street to the auditorium; and the installation of a lift to make the Dress Circle and first floor theatre bar accessible for the first time.
Patrick Gwynne’s 1967 extension has been carefully refurbished to de-clutter and reinstate the original design intent by improving floor coverings and furniture, upgrading the lighting and replacing the rooflights to give this listed building back its design coherence.
Re-locating the café, bar and box office to the new space created under the Dress Circle has brought to life Gwynne’s original vision for the extension to house a bistro restaurant on the ground floor and a dedicated theatre bar on the first floor. One of the most radical alterations to the extension was to demolish, reorganise and expand the WCs behind the centrepiece slate wall at the back, on new half levels around a new access lift. This was achieved by removing the original first floor bar previously integrated within the slate wall to form a new link through to the WCs and lift, making the Dress Circle and bar accessible to all users.
On the ground floor, a back wall lined in yellow mosaic tiles and a white Formica countertop original to the extension, excavated during the works have been retained and restored to give an authentic pop of colour. The first floor theatre bar features a faceted backlit Corian counter following the research of archive drawings, which suggested a freestanding servery had originally been a part of Gwynne’s design. The inspiration for the backlit and colour changeable Corian was the discovery of evidence of Gwynne’s attempts at backlighting through Bakelite, long since covered over.
The original roof featured cast glass-domed rooflights subsequently removed as a result of technical failure caused by either thermal movement or because too much load was imposed on the then radical, lightweight fibreglass roof, and replaced with pyramidal plastic rooflights which obscured natural daylight. These have now been replaced with individual rooflights that once again reinstate natural daylight and at night are enhanced by colour changeable LED halos.
The internal lighting scheme had become unsightly and inefficient over the years and was in need of an upgrade. It has been replaced with the installation of a bespoke designed compact black aluminium ‘high hat’ to conceal fire detection, AV and lighting cabling between the concrete vaults, leaving them clear of any interruption and enhanced by both direct and halo effect lighting.
Terrazzo flooring has been introduced on the ground floor to ensure continuity between the new and old foyers. The upper ground floor has had its non-original laminate flooring removed and replaced with cork, commensurate with the period. The first floor theatre bar features a bespoke designed hexagonal print carpet that is dynamic in its fade from the perimeter to the interior.
Another of the redevelopment’s small-scale but necessary interventions is exemplified in the revival of the 1967 extension entrance. Researching archive photographs revealed that the elliptical entrance canopy had lost its original signage and had since been re- clad in stainless steel. This presented the opportunity to re-instate the original design intent of a vertically cantilevered steel post with a three-sided display and two linear rectangular signage bars in a contemporary digital format to promote upcoming events and shows. Recreated in glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), a material Gwynne was known to have been innovating with on the extension’s roof and fascias, the new canopy forms a hermetic backlit cover with a high quality finish and virtually seamless appearance.
Much needed upgrades to the main auditorium benefit both the audience and performers. New seating has been installed throughout the Stalls, Dress and Gallery alongside efficient air handling and insulation to enhance comfort as well as minimise energy use. The rake of the Stalls has been increased to enable the audience to connect with the Dress Circle and make the house feel unified. The Gallery has been re- raked to improve sightlines, increase ticket yield and offer greater price options across the house, encouraging access to a more diverse audience on all levels. These changes help create the optimum arts venue with a full range of ticket prices across the Dress and Stalls as well as the ability to easily expand upwards for shows attracting larger audiences. The venue’s previously raked stage meant many theatre companies put York at the end of their tours due to the limitations of a sloping surface that required scenery to be adapted to the site. Alterations to the stage and orchestra pit have widened the scope of cultural possibilities and improved health and safety by creating level access, a flat stage and a better cross over underneath the stage with increased headroom. The new flat modular stage enables a wider artistic programme including dance and also encourages greater innovation.
“The redevelopment of York Theatre Royal has brought a sense of cohesion to the overall site. The works make good on the previous limitations imposed by its historic but incremental development. We have been able to introduce a new contemporary language that binds all these periods together without stifling them. It is a fine balance of careful detailing and appropriate juxtaposition. We have been able to clear out the clutter that had accumulated over the past decades, make new connections and open up new spaces, which allow all of the periods to breathe more easily in their own right.” Angus Morrogh-Ryan, Director, De Matos Ryan