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£580,000 project to improve Mercury Theatre facilities gets go-ahead

26th Feb–14th Mar EDUCATING RITA By Willy Russell
26th February to 14th March EDUCATING RITA By Willy Russell

The Mercury’s Studio Theatre in Colchester will be comprehensively refurbished with increased capacity thanks to new funding confirmed today.

  • Access for disabled people will be enhanced in the Main and Studio Theatres.
  • The temperature in both spaces will also be improved.
  • 25% of the theatre’s power will be generated from solar energy.
  • The project is the largest investment in the theatre since it opened in 1972. It will cost £580,000 and work will take place throughout 2015.

Arts Council England today confirmed a grant of £400,000 to the Mercury Theatre from their Small scale Capital funding programm0065. Colchester Borough Council are backing the refurbishment with a grant of £80,000 and a donation of solar panels, the J Paul Getty Jnr Trust and the Fowler Smith and Jones Trust have each committed £25,000, and the Mercury has allocated £50,000 from its own reserves to make the work possible.

The seating capacity of the Studio Theatre will be increased from the current 65 seats up to a new maximum of 103, in a fully retractable unit of tiered rows. Sound-proofing will be installed so that sound from the Main Stage no longer ‘bleeds’ into the Studio Theatre, meaning that both spaces can run side-by-side all year round for the first time.

Air conditioning will be installed in the Studio, which will also be equipped with digital filming equipment, and technical equipment will be upgraded, making the performance space more flexible. In the Main Theatre, a new heating and cooling system will be installed to make the environment more comfortable. A new platform will be built in the auditorium, providing more flexible accessible seating for customers with a wide range of access needs including wheelchair users and people of limited mobility.

Hedley Swain, Area Director, South East, Arts Council England, said: “We are pleased to be able to support the Mercury Theatre Colchester through our Small scale capital programme. The work will help the Mercury to build on its role as an innovative producing theatre and create a more sustainable future, whilst also improving audience experience and access. Colchester is an important place for Arts Council investment and we are pleased to be able to help improve the offer for audiences in this way.

Cllr Tim Young, Portfolio holder for Community Safety and Culture at Colchester Borough Council said: “Over the past year audiences at the Mercury have grown, with record numbers of residents attending for the first time. I’m proud of the work the Mercury Theatre does, and I’m delighted that the Council is able to support this project that which has the potential to benefit everyone living in the Borough.

As a building that operates almost 24/7 hours, the Mercury burns through a lot of electricity – the Council-funded installation of solar panels means a quarter of that electricity will now come from a sustainable source, improving environmental impacts and reducing costs.”

Phillip Tollhurst, Chairman of the Trustees of the Fowler Smith and Jones Trust, who are supporting the work in the Studio Theatre, said: “The Trustees of the Fowler Smith and Jones Trust are delighted to support the Studio Theatre, seeing it as a vital and vibrant community resource with many close links to the local community across all ages.”

“As an Essex-based Trust, for the benefit of local communities, we are pleased that our support has helped attract matched funding, by other grant-giving bodies, to this imaginative project.”

Building and installation work will take place throughout 2015. The Mercury aims to install the improved cooling system in the Main Theatre by August 2015, and to re-open the refurbished Studio Theatre in October 2015.

Mercury Theatre Colchester

Tuesday 24th february 2015


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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