Theatre buffs rejoice as two new venues open their doors: @sohoplace and the Marylebone Theatre, promising a dazzling array of drama, music, comedy, spoken-word and culture
Words: Jonathan Whiley
Curtain’s up! The first new-build West End theatre in – jazz hands please – 50 years has now opened. Located on the first new street name in Soho for – wait for it – 72 years,
the state-of-the-art auditorium can seat an impressive 602 people.
@sohoplace is owned by multi award-winning producer Nica Burns; the seventh London theatre (alongside the likes of the Lyric, Garrick and Vaudeville) operated by Nimax Theatres, which Burns founded in 2005 with Max Weitzenhoffer.
Its doors opened to the public last month with a New Vic Theatre production of Marvellous. An uplifting true story, it’s about the life of Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin; a man who grew up in the less enlightened times of the 1950s and would go on to hitchhike across the country, become a famous clown, bag a job as Stoke City’s legendary kitman and appear on the Queen’s New Year Honours list. In 2014, his ‘marvellous’ life was made into a BAFTA-winning film where he was played by the acclaimed Toby Jones.
“It’s a wonderful production of a heartwarming and uplifting tale about an extraordinary man who decided he would lead an exceptional life,” says Nica. “And against all the odds, he has and does.”
Marvellous is the theatre’s debut show, with Shakespeare’s As You Like It hot on its heels (running from December 6.). It’s exciting times for a venue some 12 years in the making; located directly above Crossrail’s new Elizabeth line and the existing Northern and Central lines at Tottenham Court Road station and is at the heart of property giant Derwent London’s £300m regeneration of a neglected part of Soho.
Despite the complexities of the project given its challenging location, the auditorium (built with sustainability in mind, including LED lighting) boasts great acoustics (with no vibrations) and impressively, the sightline is said to be perfect from every seat meaning that there are no obscured views and no seat is further than six rows from the stage.
Nica worked with architect Simon Allford (current president of RIBA), engineering and design multinational Arup and renowned construction company, Laing O’Rourke, to create the venue which includes a ground floor public restaurant and bar and creatives’ floor with a rehearsal room, actors’ Green Room, bar and terrace.
“I wanted to create a theatre which could add a different dimension to our vibrant West End landscape,” she says. “I asked our great theatre creatives two questions; if we could build a new theatre in the heart of the West End, what would you like it to be? What additional facilities would be on your wish list? They dreamt of a flexible auditorium, perfect acoustics and audience/stage intimacy… and the dream of a rehearsal room, a Green Room and a bar all in the same building. So that’s what we built – with a few extras, including an outside terrace.”
The interior of the curved auditorium (which can be transformed into a number of configurations) was inspired by Nica’s visit to Epidaurus – a site in Greece famous for its ancient theatre – when she was young.
“I was standing on the stage of this great ancient theatre at 8oclock – show time – as the last rays of a golden sun were coming through the trees and the stars were starting to twinkle in an indigo sky. It was magic,” she recalls.
“Epidaurus is one of the greatest theatres in the world and the plays of ancient Greece are still part of our theatre heritage today. The interior of @sohoplace reflects these colours and when you walk through the theatre, you walk under crystal star lights laid out in constellations. When you pass the building, look up to the terrace and you will see the constellations shine.”
Marvellous runs until November 26. As You Like It runs from Dec 6 to January 28. 4 Soho Place, sohoplace.org