As Cleopatra breathed her last dramatic breath and Octavius gave his stirring final speech on 29 September, the audience applauded enthusiastically as they had done all season. However, tonight the show was not quite over. Instead Michael Pennington strode to the front of the stage and in stentorian tones, celebrated the audience, the last fifty years, and all the years to come. This time when the applause rose up it was not for the production – it was for the Theatre.
Since that day the Festival Theatre has been a hive of activity. Out have moved the creative wisps, and in have come the heavy movers and shakers and shifters. The Theatre is being stripped and emptied from top to bottom – fifty years of old cables, creaking deck-chairs, bronze ash-trays, faded photographs, incomprehensible props, rat-eaten materials, redundant signage, bicycle wheels and all other types of theatrical flotsam and jetsam, have all been lifted and sorted (and a fair amount of it gratefully moved on).
The hoardings have been going up in stages for several weeks, but are now taking the appearance of a siege army – creeping round to meet somewhere in front of the main doors. Their inexorable progress has allowed us all just enough time to steal in to salvage any treasures. Thankfully these green boards are only a temporary menace. When they recede again they will unveil a Theatre reborn.
Despite all best efforts it became clear that the disruption to site would be too chaotic to allow for a Winter 2012 season. The hope had always been to retain the Minerva even when the demolition reached its most aggressive in November, but it became awfully clear that the mud, noise and chaos would be too much and too close to the Minerva (try and imagine Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward up to their knees in a bog). Thank goodness then for Private Lives, which has given all of us a reason to smile in the rain (for a little longer) and queue up for returns night after night. Surely the winter will disappear like a bad dream with the anticipation of the Pavilion in the Park, and the wonderful madness of Priority Booking to look forward to in early spring.
By the New Year the landscape will have changed beyond recognition – there are no wrecking balls, but it will be speedy work none-the-less. To maintain a tight grip upon our history (and the creation of new history) we have brought in a photographer to fully document every aspect of this process, from every angle, in all its gory detail.
The demolition part of RENEW is starting to warm itself up- Demolition Contractors have arrived on site with limitless amounts of ‘no entry’ signs and face masks. Simultaneously the first unromantic but vital part of the RENEW build is on course – the brick structure being built between the Minerva and the car park will house the electric substation and is well on its way to completion.
We are drawing towards the end of our RENEW phone campaign which has been remarkably successful. To anybody who donated or accepted a call, a huge thank you. We have learnt a great deal about our audience from this process, and with still just under £2 million to raise, the money that has been donated is vital to the success of this project.
The view is long, but we are moving forwards with this extraordinary project. The last night of Antony and Cleopatra reminded us all that this building is special and more importantly, this building is much-loved.