The Grade I-listed 1780s Georgian theatre has been sensitively refurbished (photo: Philip Vile)
UK - Bristol's historic Theatre Royal has reopened its newly refurbished auditorium to rapturous applause following a £12m redevelopment, which drew on the expertise of design consultancy Charcoalblue LLP.

The Grade I-listed 1780s Georgian theatre, which is home to Bristol Old Vic, has been sensitively refurbished to upgrade and install modern technology into the original auditorium.

A major element of the brief for the works was to provide up-to-date technology, comfort and improved sightlines whilst working around the original timber structure and delicate plasterwork.

Charcoalblue's work on the theatre involved designing new technical systems, significant refurbishment of the scenery flying system, replacement of the stage grid, new architecturally-integrated lighting positions in the auditorium, completely new lighting and sound installations and new technical control positions, all in close collaboration with the theatre's expert technicians.

"The country's oldest working theatre - and before Tom Morris became artistic director in 2009, one of the most troubled in the land - has flung open its doors to reveal a plush auditorium that restores the intimacy and the vibrancy of the original Georgian template." - Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph.

Further enhancements designed by Charcoalblue include the introduction of a flexible forestage zone, allowing the recreation of the original Georgian apron stage and enabling the creation of a variable-size orchestra pit as well as the potential for a large standing audience area in front of the stage for promenade-style events.

Charcoalblue also advised ABA Architects on sightlines and functional planning issues, and on the sensitive incorporation of 21st century technical installations into an 18th century auditorium.

"The construction programme on site has been challenging as the building holds a myriad of different snippets of information from the different eras it has been through," says Jon Woodley, senior consultant at Charcoalblue. "Every day little details of its history have been revealed, from stage hands' graffiti from 1869 to four skeletons discovered in the ground outside stage door, as the theatre was originally just outside the city walls where they threw their dead over!

"But Bristol Old Vic has been a complete labour of love for Charcoalblue - it is a world renowned building with a rich tapestry of theatre history. Charcoalblue has had to use innovation at the heart of this project to ensure that 21st century technology equipment can be utilised to ensure that the next chapter of theatre performance in this building can be as exciting as its history."

Emma Stenning, executive director, Bristol Old Vic, concludes, "In the midst of a complex listed building project, which sought to maximise flexibility across a range of formal and informal performance spaces, Charcoalblue was quick to understand our ethos as a producing company and advise our fit out accordingly."

(Jim Evans)

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