Text description provided by the architects. An amphitheatre of performance has existed on the Roe Street site since 1826. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1933 but the playhouse was rebuilt in 1938 as a beautiful Art Deco theatre in red brick. Surviving World War II and the Blitz, it was a rock concert venue until the late 20th century and the building was awarded a Grade II listing in 1990, highlighting the fact that it is a major part of Liverpool’s heritage. Its current guardian, the Royal Court Theatre Trust, has rebuilt its audience attendance, first as a comedy club and then developing home-grown community driven theatre by Liverpool writers and actors. The building is a model of survival through reinvention - this project builds on the good work of the Royal Court Trust to continue that tradition for the next generation.
Acts I and II have enhanced the experience of the audience by regenerating the existing auditorium and inefficient front of house areas. The auditorium has had new seating installed to all three tiers together with new toilets and a more modest colour scheme. The front of house areas from basement to second floors have been rationalised to provide generous circulation that is now centred around the existing listed marble stair linking the new extension and kiosk at ground floor to the circle bar, toilets and terrace at first.
Within a modest budget the central approach was for the whole design team to work closely with the theatre, its staff and the existing building to create modest interventions that gave the theatre a new lease of life and the audience a memorable experience.
The design for the welcome centre extension drew inspiration from the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper and sought to add another level or ‘stage’ on which the public can perform and add to the building’s character. Within this grand lobby the theatre was provided with a new box office, expanded ground floor kiosk and a separate stage door and waiting area for the actors. The servicing and maintenance strategies needed to be robust but flexible and were handled by the use of a polished concrete with underfloor heating and minimal ventilation and lighting contained within the ceiling. The interior and exterior materials were selected to highlight what is new yet complement the existing red brick and walnut panelling. The large, façade-fixed banner advertising was replaced with a digital display incorporated within the envelope of weathered steel, low level mosaic tiles and curved glazing.
As extensive asbestos removal and demolition started to open up the interior spaces of the theatre we needed to be in constant communication with the contractor, design team and client. As work progressed the team realised that the building should be allowed to speak for itself and that a ‘less is more’, sympathetic approach to interventions was necessary.
The theatre remained open throughout construction providing numerous difficulties - not just maintaining the safety of the public. What enabled this to happen within a traditional form of procurement was the unique situation of the client and end user being located on site throughout the construction. This led to challenging discussions and meetings but the overall will of the client, design and construction teams to go a step further and see the work finished to a high standard exemplified by the existing building won through. The value of a collaborative team able to approach the project and its challenges in a transparent and honest manner has undoubtedly ensured the success of the theatre in perpetuity and forged relationships that will continue until all five phases are complete.