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29 October 2014

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Artists impression of the Royal & Derngate
An artists impression looking up Swan St

Dramatic changes at the Royal and Derngate

For well over a year, the curtains at Northampton's theatre complex will remain firmly down as £14 million is spent on renovations.

For 14 months, the cultural heart of Northampton will stop beating. Every year, the Royal and Derngate get 350,000 visitors but between April 4th 2005 and the summer of 2006, they'll have to go elsewhere for their drama, musicals, comedy, dance, music and opera.

Donna Munday
Donna Munday, chief executive

The renovation of the 1880s Royal Theatre and the 1980s Derngate has been years in the planning.  But why is it necessary and what will the new-look theatre complex be like?

The woman in charge of the Royal & Derngate, Donna Munday, says the theatres are in desperate need of improvements: "The Derngate is 21-years-old and has really never had anything done to it.  The Royal is around 120-years-old and is in desperate need of restoration and some TLC."

State of the art

Most of the money will be spent on making the theatres more comfortable for the audiences. There will be new seats and air conditioning.  The 1980s orange décor of the Derngate will be replaced by what Donna describes as "state of the art lighting techniques which allow us to change the colour of the interior."

The Royal will be returned to its original Victorian splendour (with concessions to 21st Century comfort). The existing seating in the Royal came from a 1960s cinema but the new seats "will be vastly more comfortable but they will look of the era" promises Donna.

Other improvements include:

  • A joint foyer with an entrance on Swan Street.
  • A 'creativity centre' - home to the theatre's education and community work, including  an atrium-style performance space.
  • A new rehearsal room which might be available to amateur groups to use as a studio theatre.
  • Better changing rooms and green room for the actors.

Over the last few months, managers have been stung by criticisms from some local people about the renovations.  There were fears, for example, that the Royal's decorative fire curtain would be scrapped (it won't be). "The Royal is a much loved theatre in a town where we are the dominant cultural provider," says Donna. "You'd anticipate that a theatre with a history of the Royal would inspire great local devotion."

The show must go on

Angel Street
Artist's impression along Angel St

During the 14 months' closure, a handful of productions will be mounted elsewhere.  The comedy club will probably move to the Roadmender, as will the youth theatre and education work. The classical music season will go to Spinney Hill Hall at Northampton School for Girls. Dance will move to The Castle in Wellingborough.

Home produced drama is proving more of a problem: "We need space for a two or three week run," explains Donna.  That rules out school and church-based spaces which won't be available for that length of time.  But why not put on plays at The Castle in Wellingborough, the McKinlay Theatre in Kettering or the Willows in Corby?

Donna says they want to find a home for their drama in Northampton and not elsewhere in the county. "If we took our drama to Corby, for example, there's no guarantee that our drama audience would follow us to Corby.  And while we have some people from Corby coming to the theatres in Northampton, there's no evidence that the audience will actually follow the work to Corby."


Royal & Derngate from Guildhall Road
The view from Guildhall Road

So what about the future when the sparkling new Royal and Derngate re-open?  Rupert Goold, the Royal & Derngate's artistic director, says he's "euphoric" about the opportunities the renovations will provide. That includes more 'home grown' shows in the Derngate.  Rupert explains: "Quite clearly you'd have to do popular shows because there are a lot of seats to sell but I'd love to do West Side Story in the Derngate."

Donna Munday is excited by the whole transformation: "People will be coming into a building that will be vibrant from morning 'til night," she eulogises. " People will be able to see and experience the artistic and creative activity we do all day.  The whole transformation is what excites me."

Listen to the full interview with Donna Munday by clicking on the link on the top right.

last updated: 30/03/05
Have Your Say
What do you think of the changes? Send us your comments.
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Catherine BW
I think that the new improvements are nice, but not worth the amount of money that was spent on the place. Also, I prefered how the theatre used to look. I suppose it is a matter of opinion but when I think of a theatre, I do not envision an ultra-modern interior with a twist of minimalism. Perhaps I am to old-fashioned.

Sue Edwards
I went to the Royal last night and have also been to Derngate recently. I thought the Royal has been decorated well. The seats were a great improvement but I did feel as if I was slipping off. Are they level? The entrance into the Royal off Guildhall Road was very disappointing and unwelcoming - much more could have been made of that.A great deal of money has been sent on this theatre complex - I am not sure whether I like it or not but I definitely do not like the use of plastic glasses and paper cups etcWhat a shame to let the public down by not spending money on details. Surely not too much money would have been involved in glasses and china cups etcThe outside of the main theatre on Guildhall Road looks tatty and unfinished and really spoils the overall impression.

Georgie Calle
The New modern interior is fantastic within the derngate and in the auditorium it is fantastic they are able to change the colour of the brick work in it is fantastic. and the studio is amazing. and the way the royal and derngate are connected is brilliant although it was a shame to lose all of the features in the entrance hall of the royal. the once entrances for both theatres are now boarded up and the entrace is now not on the main street anymore.

gillian parry
We had a wonderful evening during the For 1 Night Only Elvis Presly. It was excelant. Access is a little disappointing for the disabled, I am in a wheelchair. The disabled seats are fantastic. Gill.

David Floyd
I've not been inside yet, but think the outside looks very slabby and unexciting (certainly in daylight anyway). What dissapoints me a lot more is the programme. It's just the usual very safe middle of the road family artists and tribute bands - when are they going to take a chance and put something on that's a bit challenging - and might appeal to anybody under 50?

Keith Clayson
I am unable to comment on the refurbishment of the Royal, having get to attend a production at this site. However, as a very regular attender, particularly of concerts and musical events at the Derngate Theatre, I can only express my total disappointment of the outcome. The concert hall is drab, characterless and uninviting and the spacious foyer which used to greet those attending is now cluttered and cramped. The brown linoleum flooring brings back memories of the Victorian era. The auditorium, with its battleship grey colour scheme and dull upholstery leaves a very depressing impression. I understood, prior to the scheme starting, that the finish would be a light and neutral colour scheme which would be illuminated with various mood lighting effects, depending upon the type of production curently in house. However the only lighting that has been in evidence on my visits is a mauve effect at the rear of the boxes. The only relief is that the changes have not affected the acoustics of the hall as far as musical events are concerned. It is such a shame that this once in a lifetime chance, at great expense and much work, has produced such a disappointing final result.

Richard Howarth
I think that for the total outlay spent on the two theatres - somebody ought to be seroiusly seeking a refund from the designer. The Derngate may be viewed by many as improved though at the cost of degrading the Royal. Seems sad that the designer can be praised for the innovative 're-style' on one hand while the more prized treaure in terms of Northampton's 'heritage' - ie the Royal is now relegated to a less than average visual experience. If progress be the food of the designer then expect nothing - just move on.

the entrance is a big let down for the royal and its cold and univiting going in to the usual in northampton money being overspent and spoiling the royal in the process.

Nicholas Evans
The charming and delightful atmosphere of the old Royal theatre is lost. It is not the same experience going to the Rep. A great loss. The old entrance, where the audience gathered to have their drinks is now an empty, dark corridor. What a tragedy to destroy something that was a unique treasure. The Derngate theatre is vastly improved, on the other hand and is a credit to the designers.

geoff pettitt
Went to see follies very good the old royal inside was good plenty of leg room.But outside the decor and new design needs a lot to be looked at not very welcoming

paula taylor
Gone are the old happy ,smiling and helpful boxoffice staff only to be replaced by misriable people who dont know how to use a computer.i bet you dont use this as your very pro derngate!!

Like almost everything else in this sorry town it is too little and too late.

Dave Butlin
I can't wait to see it. My late Aunt Hilda Smith worked in the booking office for years I first went there in 1958 to the panto, with Lionel Hamilton playing the dame Happy memories

Patrick George, Nurmo, Finland
I worked at the "Rep" in the 1950s. Those were the days when we did a new production every week. Nigel Hawthorn was our juvenile lead. Great days. Is the chandelier returning? I used to have to clean it. 1300 separate droplets and 152 turns of the handle to raise and lower it! Took half a day

peter bowles, West Hollywood, California
Good luck with the new look! Hope they retain the old 'dusty' look in the 'Rep' I loved!! (I used to work there in the eighties,) All this reminds me that it was such a crime that the then Northampton town council agreed to the demolition of the New Theatre, what a gem that would be now for the town!

matt lenton
why wait for the royal and derngate to open?when the Deco Theatre on Abington Sq is already offering the best of stand up comedy and music.

David Stevens
We can't wait for the new theatre and concert hall to arrive. We may see more really top productions and acts coming to Northampton as a result.

Des, Northampton
So when The Royal reopens we are to be treated to a diet of musicals. Thought they would be more suitable for Derngate?Rupert Gould we miss you already.

I can't wait to start going back to the theatre. It is a great idea but when will you open?

Carol Stanton, Daventry
Me and my partner can not wait for the new theatres to open as we miss going there very much. We are avid theatre go'ers and enjoy our live entertainment very much. Looking forward to the new style theatres very much.

john baker, christchurch, new zealand
from the information in the items on the northampton theatres, is the 'Royal', the theatre i knew as 'the rep'- i've been in this country for over 40 years so am out of touch with the town. if it is, very many more years of strength to the 'royal' and the pantomimes i remember from my childhood. LONG LIVE THE 'REP.

John Stamp
Too late. waste of money in an authority that is underperforming on its finances.

i think the changes are great and its going to be spectacular and i will go more often

Graham Follett
There is no need for people to get out of the 'live theatre' habit while our main theatres are closed. They should support their local Amateur Dramatic society. They may be surprised at the quality of performance - often the 'amateur' aspect being the participants not being paid. alone has well over 30 Northamptonshire societies listed - and there are many nore than that in Northamptonshire.

It's a bit sad because the youth theatre are homeless now for the next year. Also, the McKinley theatre in Kettering is closing down too, so it will be harder to see plays for a bit, unless we go to milton keynes, which is much more expensive than R&D. I don't think the Royal was too expensive, but the Derngate was.

steve j
I agree a refurbment programme was needed, however there must be some concern for local theatrical groups during the enforced closure. It will take a lot of marketing effort to get people back in vast numbers - they will just get out of the habit of going to live theatre.

The Royal isn't expensive. There are or were the cheap seats in row H. Less than the price of a cinema ticket and with more legroom. With the added bonus that you are the closest to the bar/exit.

David S
Royal&Derngate are too expensive. Culture has not to be. Local government should pay a little bit from its pocket

Sue Edwards
As a theatre supporter, I look forward to the refurbishment but worry that audiuences will get used to going elsewhere. Please do not charge a booking fee when things start again. It is extremely annoying and it would be preferable to add the cost onto the seat price.

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