New Marlowe Theatre

After 10 years of planning, and two and a half years of building work, Canterbury's new £25.6m Marlowe Theatre has hosted a gala concert to celebrate its opening.

Prince Edward, who was Royal Patron of the fundraising committee, was at the theatre with his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex to mark the occasion and unveil a special plaque.

The new theatre, described as a "third millennium building for a first millennium city" sits on the same site as its predecessor, on the banks of the river Stour. But the two Marlowes could not be more different.

The old was a 1930s cinema which was converted into a 900 seater playhouse in the 1980s. The new is a modern, angular mix of stone and glass which sits boldly among a host of Grade I and Grade II listed, medieval buildings.

Inside, the auditorium, which now boasts 1,200 seats, is all dramatic colours and curves, while the glazed foyers offer panoramic, picture-postcard views of the city, with one staircase window filled entirely by a view of the Cathedral.

Architect Keith Williams, who won the commission to design the building said: ""The new Marlow is that very rare thing - a major new contemporary theatre building within a magnificient historic cathedral city.

"Its architecture is radical yet it has been conceived to fit comfortably with its historic surroundings and I am confident that it will have a transformative effect on arts and culture in the south east and beyond."

The idea of a new all-singing, all-dancing Marlowe Theatre originally formed part of Canterbury City Council's bid to become 2008 European Capital of Culture. The bid was ultimately unsuccessful, but officials decided to go ahead with the plans for a bigger, more high-tech venue which could attract and cope with the kind of major productions theatre bosses wanted to bring to the city. The plans also included a smaller, studio space for rehearsals and more intimate performances.

Canterbury City Council agreed to put £17m towards the cost of the project, while famous names including Orlando Bloom (who appeared on stage at the Marlowe with a dance troupe at the age of four), Joanna Lumley and Jools Holland all supported the fundraising efforts to find the rest of the money.

Demolition of the old Marlowe began in 2009, with the entire project captured on a timelapse camera.


Mark Everett, the Marlowe's Theatre Direct said: "Audiences at the new Marlowe Theatre will have the opportunity to be entertained, to enjoy, to learn from and to talk about world class theatre.

"The Marlowe Studio will be open to people of all ages to participate in the performing arts, and experience more leftfield or intimate live entertainment.

"We're thrilled that the two new auditoria will be served by fabulous front-of-house facilities for everyone enjoying the best new theatre so far in the 21st Century."

The theatre will now host a wide range of shows including Cirque Eloize: iD (a blend of circus acts and urban dance), the pre-west end tour of new musical Top Hat, Peppa Pig, The Nutcracker and a residency by acclaimed opera company Glyndebourne.

Click here for the full programme


Marlowe Facts

1,040 tonnes of concrete were used in the new building together with 550 tonnes of steel
It has more than 372,000 metres (230 miles) of electric cabling which is the distance from Canterbury to Liverpool
Each stone column weighs more than 4 tonnes.
1,700 contractors worked on the site during construction
The auditorium has 1,200 seats, none of which is further than 25m from the stage
A maximum of 12 permanent wheelchair positions in main auditorium
The orchestra pit is big enough for 80 musicians
The Studio has fully retractable seating and accommodate up to 150 seated, or 300 in standing room format.
The highest part of the theatre is the same height as the Cathedral roof