Pictured Above: Jez Bond, left, and Dave Hughes
Pictured Below: the proposed Park Theatre
Published: 20 December, 2012
by AMY SMITH
WHEN architect Dave Hughes first started working on London’s newest performance space he didn’t expect to fall in love with theatre. He also didn’t expect to make a new friend in Park Theatre artistic director Jez Bond.
Dave first met Jez in August 2009 to discuss the large-scale project of bringing a world-class theatre to Finsbury Park. He had worked previously on commercial and residential projects and the conversion of a 1960s office building is his first theatre. A fact, he believes, actually appealed to his new friend: “I really felt he didn’t want someone who had designed loads of theatre, who would say ‘this isn’t the way it’s done’, he says. “Jez took a leap of faith with me.”
The building works are to finish on schedule at the end of December, with the theatre opening in the spring.
Park Theatre has already received a lot of attention, mostly due to the stellar names associated with fundraising: Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Daldry, Stephen Poliakoff, Tom Stoppard, Maureen Lipman and Patrick Stewart have all been vocal in their support for the new theatre. The project has been entirely funded by private donations with a recent fundraising event held at Shakespeare’s Globe raising over £100,000.
Park Theatre will include two performance spaces, Park200 and the smaller Park90, an education floor plus two bars, office space and accommodation – the sale of the three flats integral to the overall budget – all contained within a space only one unit wide.
Dave describes the design and build as a joint effort. The pair embarked on a tour of theatres and a crash course in all things theatrical.
“We visited maybe 40 theatres, talked about what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “I experienced different spaces and different types of theatre. I was no longer just an impassive observer. I’ve learnt all this stuff about how they move people around the stage, about blocking. I’ve absolutely had a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.”
From his new vantage point, Dave began to understand that some theatres had a magical quality that wasn’t achieved by simply throwing money into a project. “There are a few theatres that are really quite brilliant and no one knows why.” He wouldn’t reveal those theatres that failed to impress, but has admitted being inspired by the Donmar, The Orange Tree and the New Bush, and the smaller space in the Young Vic. He also describes The Coliseum as “a proper take-your-breath-away theatre” and the new RSC as “phenomenal”.
For Dave, this project has been a learning curve, not least because of the “inch-thick book” on specific health and safety guidelines for theatre. But it was also responding to the unique foibles of the existing building and trying to fit a successful performance space within such a long and narrow plot. The answer was to construct the main stage side-on. “It’s time-consuming but we’re really squeezing every possible space, if the builders put a door two inches out, for us, that’s a real problem.” The smaller space, Park90, has been outlined for more experimental work and therefore designed to be as flexible as possible with 10 potential seating configurations.
The land on Clifton Terrace was originally occupied by two separate buildings: a 19th-century coach house with separate stables at the back that served the nearby coal yard, where John Jones Framers now stands. It was overcoming the gap between the two buildings that Dave found most architecturally satisfying – the glass-roofed atrium will be flooded with natural daylight, something rarely seen in theatres.
The end is now in sight, the temporary floor between the circle and stalls of the main theatre has now been removed but the most obvious sign of progress to passers-by will be the large illuminated sign hanging and easily visible from the busy Finsbury Park station and bus interchange.
After a period investigating the width of radiators and other essential particulars, Dave is extremely excited to now see the results of his working relationship with Jez. “I’ve been so lucky to have Jez as my client, having a single person that you are working in partnership with. From day one, we wanted to be the best theatre in London, we always had this vision that it wasn’t going to be a fringe theatre or an off-West End theatre.”
• Park Theatre will be hosting A Dickens Christmas Carol at The Crypt, Ely Place, EC1, on December 21. For tickets and more information visit www.parktheatre.co.uk
• Look out for a changing programme of installations from theatre designers, local schools and youth groups starting from January 19 in “the Window Box Theatre”, the large bay window of Park Theatre facing out onto the street.parktheatre.co.uk