The Grade 2 listed Shaftesbury Theatre, the largest of the independent theatres in the West End, has revealed the next phase of its £10 million refurbishment, including more toilets and the new 1911 Stalls bar.
The theatre first opened in 1911 as the Princes Theatre and was the last theatre to be built on Shaftesbury Avenue, it is one of the few West End theatres not to be owned by a chain. Don Taffner Jr became chairman in 2011, succeeding his father, Don Taffner Sr. Jointly, they have been the custodians of the Theatre for almost 40 years.
In 2016 Camden Council published early detail of their West End Project, which included the restoration of Princes Circus, pedestrianizing Bloomsbury Street to the Theatre’s west and enlarging the pavement on the south. This planted the seed for expanding the Shaftesbury Theatre, including the development of the land under the road.
The redesignated Princes Circus will be landscaped by Camden, which will include a daytime delivery bay and an evening taxi rank. This places the Theatre in a secure and safe environment where, subject to the Borough’s consent, the Theatre will create an outdoor food counter with a designated seating area.
Being an independent theatre, the Shaftesbury has had to undertake its renovation programmes with the shortest possible periods of “dark,” to prevent unmanageable losses during extended periods of closure. Much of the work has been completed while the theatre was still operating creating many logistical challenges for the team.
The architects, Bennetts Associates, who have previously worked on prestigious projects like the re-development of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Old Vic, have already delivered an award-winning flytower and new offices, which have been in use since 2016.
The original flytower could only support 12 tonnes, which was insufficient for modern scenery. The new flytower can support over 35 tonnes.
Bennetts Associates were briefed to develop the new spaces, creating bars and workspaces whilst also addressing accessibility and comfort in the auditorium, most of which is now in use by the theatre.
The auditorium has been refashioned to provide a better flow for customers, and to provide separation between the Stalls and the new spaces, such as the new 1911 Stalls bar, celebrating the Theatre’s opening year. This new bar is approximately 26 metres long and 7 metres wide and 3.5 metres below street level. Patrons can enjoy drinks and a reasonably priced charcuterie board before taking their seats for the performance.
As well as new stores, offices and a kitchen, the theatre now includes The Taffner Suite for private hospitality, and brand new toilets; 29 ladies, 23 gents and 2 accessible. The new toilet facilities have reduced water use by over 8 million litres per annum by using water free systems in the urinals and high performance WCs.
The theatre has further improved its environmental credentials with re-roofing to include energy efficient insulation and a new state-of-the-art air conditioning system using heat capture to reduce energy costs.
The Shaftesbury has also improved accessibility for patrons, installing a lift that allows people with mobility difficulties to access the Stalls and creating 13 spaces for wheelchairs; with new removable seats that will eventually replace all seats throughout the auditorium. Importantly, these wheelchair spaces are located at various points around the auditorium, giving customers more choice.
In the immediate future, a further £500,000 will be spent on replacing the Stalls ladies’ toilets and refurbishing and enlarging the Circle bar, to be renamed after Bertie Crewe, the Theatre’s original architect. The Grand bar will become the Melville, named after the brothers who built the New Princes Theatre in 1911, and in the Royal Circle a new hospitality area named after the playwright and actor, Ray Cooney, who created the company that owns the Theatre.
There are two further phases of major work planned in the years ahead, including redecoration, carpeting and reseating in the auditorium, and external repairs and improvements, including a new main entrance opening onto Princes Circus and the installation of digital signage both above and below the canopy.
As the award-winning musical & Juliet continues its hugely successful run at the Shaftesbury Theatre, the viability of the venue has never been stronger. The Theatre now attracts highly regarded productions, is home to many one-off events on Sundays, has the new 1911 space that will be used for daytime event and conference work and, in time, hopes to be able to populate the new Princes Circus. Internally, it is more accessible, has increased bar capacity which, together with the new hospitality spaces, will be able to provide a food offer alongside its bar function.