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Jason Fretter on what to expect from our 2020 Redevelopment

Posted on 31 July 2019

With our Main Stage auditorium set to reopen in September, the clock is ticking to get our refurbishment complete in time for the start of the new season. Behind the scenes, a team from Arden Construction have been working hard to get the project finished – but what exactly is going on inside the theatre?

To find out more, we spoke to Project Director Jason Fretter of Tandem Projects, who is overseeing the work on our auditorium and foyers this summer, as well as the transformation of our café bar in 2020.

“The redevelopment project is very much split into 2 different phases. Phase 1 which is currently on site is all about the sympathetic refurbishment of the main B1 auditorium and associated public spaces. It is about retaining and enhancing the historic nature of this space, whilst refurbishing many of the tired and worn finishes and fittings to completely refresh the space,” he explains.

“At the moment we are completely refurbishing the main auditorium. We are replacing all the flooring, reupholstering and repainting the seating, completely rewiring the electrical system, cleaning and redecorating all woodwork including refurbishing all of the doors around the auditorium.

“There are also some technical changes being implemented, like a rebuilding of the orchestra pit to make it more flexible and adaptable and replacing the entire stage sound and lighting system so this meets the needs of modern theatre. We will also be redecorating and replacing carpets throughout the foyer spaces leading to the auditorium.”

2020 Redevelopment

Over time, the adaptations to our lighting and electrical systems will help to reduce our energy consumption, improving our financial and environmental sustainability. But while steps are being taken to modernise the building, much of the work has been focused on maintaining the theatre’s original 1950s design. As a Grade II listed site, this is an essential condition of the work – so what you can expect to see is not so much a radical redesign as long overdue improvements to what is already there.

“If we’ve done our job well, people will at first glance notice nothing, it should look on the whole, exactly like it did when it closed. Then people will notice there are no tears in the seat fabric, and the padded seats are more comfy, then they might notice the cork floor is very clean and neat and there are no wires trailed across the walls. They’ll notice the brass work is all very clean and shiny, and if they’re really eagle-eyed, they’ll notice all the door handles and push plates match, and there are no holes and scratches on the walls.

“Essentially, the theatre should look much as it did on opening night in the late 1950’s only better!”

You might think that “freshening up” the existing furnishings would be straightforward, but in practice, there are many unique challenges to working on a listed building, as the construction team can attest.

2020 Redevelopment

“We have worked very closely with an experienced contractor and with the local conservation officer, to ensure those elements of the fabric of the building that have to be replaced are done so in a manner that reflects the heritage of the building. The seating fabric, whilst new perfectly matches the colour and texture of the original. The cast iron frames to the seats have been retained and repainted. The carpet to the auditorium is a bespoke manufacture to match the previous carpet, and the cork flooring beneath the seats is an exact match to the original worn flooring.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge is in repairing and replacing the damaged wall cladding panels. The mahogany veneer used is no longer available since it’s export was banned many years ago due to shortages of the native timber. The team have therefore worked very hard to identify an alternative timber that matches the grain and patterning of the original, and then to identify a woodstain (mixture) that would closely replicate the colour of the original.

“But whilst there are some technical challenges with working on listed buildings, it is also an opportunity for the team to replace a number of more contemporary replacements that have been included in the theatre over the years, such as plastic fittings on doors, which will be replaced with brass to match original fittings. We are also taking the opportunity to move electrical cables and conduits behind wall panels before they are replaced to remove the added “clutter” from walls, whilst allowing the theatre to function in the 21st century.”

2020 Redevelopment

The Main Stage should be back in action by early September, so that we’re back to normal in plenty of time before the start of phase two of the project in summer 2020.

“The second phase is all about creating an exciting, vibrant and new cafe bar which will replace both the existing cafe on the ground floor, together with the former restaurant space above. This will be much extended and refurbished with a new identity to create a space welcoming for all theatre and non-theatre guests. The new cafe bar will be completely self-contained with toilets and a new staircase, plus use of the existing lift, to allow the cafe bar to operate independently outside of the normal opening hours of the theatre.”

As a registered charity (number 219163), the Belgrade is reliant on funding from Members, donors, trusts and corporate supporters to continue its work with the diverse communities it serves. For more information about our 2020 Redevelopment Project and how you can get involved, please visit our Play Your Part page.