Curtain goes up on ambitious £4m plans for new-look theatre

10/8/2011 (NEWS)''An exhibition was held of the purposed plans for the possible extension for the New Theatre Royal on Wednesday 10th August 2011.''Pictured is: The artist's impression of what the extension to the New Theatre Royal will look like.''Picture: Sarah Standing (112846-7926)
10/8/2011 (NEWS)''An exhibition was held of the purposed plans for the possible extension for the New Theatre Royal on Wednesday 10th August 2011.''Pictured is: The artist's impression of what the extension to the New Theatre Royal will look like.''Picture: Sarah Standing (112846-7926)

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AMBITIOUS plans to create a buzzing theatreland in the heart of Portsmouth have gone on show to the public.

Their focus is a £4m major redevelopment of the oldest playhouse in the city combined with a £20m university project providing new student accommodation.

The New Theatre Royal and the University of Portsmouth have joined forces and they hope their plans, if approved, will create a thriving artistic feel to Guildhall Walk.

City council planners are expected to consider the project at the end of the month.

If they give the green light the new-look theatre with halls of residence for 110 students above it would open in the summer of 2013.

For the past two days the plans have been displayed in the foyer of the 111-year-old theatre to gauge public reaction.

Theatre director Caroline Sharman said: ‘We had a steady stream of people over the two days, all curious about what we hope to achieve.

‘Their reaction has been very positive which has been great because we think that, if it’s approved, the new-look theatre will become a new focal point for the arts in the city.’

The new ‘theatre-quarter’ as it has been dubbed, would transform the old building into a 700-seat venue. Its current capacity is 525.

Ms Sharman said: ‘The larger capacity means we could attract London companies here. This would give us the financial clout to become home to some of the leading amateur groups in the city.

‘They certainly would not lose out as a result of this redevelopment.’

The project would give the theatre a bigger stage and improved backstage facilities. It involves building on unused land behind the building – known as the back-lot – which fronts White Swan Road and Exchange Road.

There would also be a 150-seat studio theatre to be used by smaller community productions and the University of Portsmouth.

When building starts the theatre building will close for about two years but, Ms Sharman emphasised, will still have a presence in the city.

‘I’ve got plans to take productions out all over the city during that time,’ she said.

‘I want to take them to Gunwharf, Southsea Castle, the Rose Garden at Southsea, and to community centres around the city.’

Kenneth Gibbon, 59, of Collingwood Road, Southsea, viewed the plans yesterday. He said: ‘I’m very encouraged by what this would do for the theatre. God knows, the Theatre Royal badly needs some proper investment.

‘However, I’m not sure I go a bundle on the tower at the back above the theatre which will contain the students’ flats.

‘But I guess these days the only way the arts are going to thrive is by getting into bed with partners who have a lot of money.’