New £3.8m theatre stage opens at Letchworth's Broadway
PUBLISHED: 09:27 06 February 2017 | UPDATED: 17:35 06 February 2017
After much anticipation and a year's building work, a new regional theatre for Herts opens its doors this month. It's curtain up at Letchworth's innovative Broadway
Last year, the iconic Art Deco Broadway in Letchworth – one of the last independent cinemas in the county – celebrated its 80th birthday. But unlike most 80-year-olds, it has been reinvented – becoming a theatre as well as a cinema space.
The versatile auditorium, which will be known as Broadway One, can now be transformed into a theatre stage and back to a cinema overnight after a major year-long project. The work to transform the building has required input from architects, engineers and theatre specialists, focusing on everything from acoustics to considering the 400-strong audience’s sightlines. The aim of the project was to provide a stage for mid-scale touring productions while continuing to function as an independent cinema and it will accommodate work ranging from one-man shows to large scale dance productions.
Julia Hallawell, marketing manager for arts and culture at Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, which owns and operates the venue, said the biggest challenge was keeping the cinema open while building works were carried out – although it was necessary to close it for two months last summer.
A new theatre stage has been constructed with a rolled screen that can be lowered for films and raised for theatre productions. Flexible ‘masking’ has been added to hide backstage activity and moveable rigging installed for sound and lighting. A new control room for audio-visual operations has been created at the back of the auditorium, carved out from the cinema’s projection room. Other changes to the auditorium are the installation of an extra row of seating at the front and, at the back, two gallery areas from where spotlights and other equipment can be controlled. New dressing rooms, technical areas and a green room for performers have been created in a new extension to the rear of the building. Work was also carried out to refurbish the Art Deco foyer, fit new toilets and create a spacious bar on the first floor.
The £3.8m cost of the project forms part of a wider investment by Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation to meet a growing appetite for the arts in the town. ‘Audiences have consistently proved their appetite for a wider selection of arts as demonstrated by the enormous popularity of screenings of live ballet, opera and theatre.’ Julia said. ‘Audiences for The Nutcracker, which was screened live just before Christmas, ranked the Broadway as second in the country out of 336 other cinemas behind the Curzon Chelsea, and placed it as the number one independent cinema.’
Olivier Award-winning theatre producer and Letchworth resident Sue Scott Davison has been appointed creative programmer of the theatre. She has drawn together a varied opening season which will run from February to May. Featuring theatre, comedy, poetry, live music, dance and family entertainment, it’s scheduled to dovetail with the cinema’s screenings and national film releases.
‘I am thrilled with the programme and we look forward to welcoming Hertfordshire audiences, and those from further afield, to come and experience live theatre,’ Sue said. ‘The success of the live screenings at the Broadway has proven that there is a desire for good, quality performance on which to build. This will be the first fully-programmed, professional theatre space in the area, and to be able to offer a new space to touring companies, performers and musicians, and so close to London, will help in securing the best.’
Highlights of the season include the national première of a UK tour of Waiting for God, a stage adaptation of the hit BBC TV series, and evenings with poet Roger McGough, raconteur Gyles Brandreth and leading illusionist and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Jamie Raven. Family entertainment includes adaptations of David Walliams’ The First Hippo on the Moon and Julia Donaldson’s The Scarecrows’ Wedding. Sue is particularly pleased to have secured Horrible Histories Live on Stage based on the popular books by Terry Deary, while children’s author Michael Morpurgo makes his Letchworth debut to narrate from his book The Mozart Question.
For older children, there’s the acclaimed production of The Machine Stops, an adaptation of the short science fiction story by Stevenage’s E.M. Forster, the Reduced Shakespeare Company with William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged), and an imaginative restaging of the drug controversy Tour de France race between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani.
Hitchin comedy duo Doggett and Ephgrave have organised a stand-up programme including BBC regular Arthur Smith, while local artist James Mayhew will be painting live, inspired by an orchestra playing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. An original mix of juggling, ballet and music arrives with Gandini Juggling, Pop-Up Opera makes a welcome return following its sell-out run last year, and Cassidy Janson, currently starring as Carole King in West End musical Beautiful will appear with The Jive Aces.
Tickets for opening season shows are on sale via broadway-letchworth.com or 01462 681088.