Planning Proposal to Redevelop Cheltenham Playhouse
"Preserving the Past, Securing the Future"
One of Cheltenham's best-loved and most historic buildings is on the brink of a redevelopment that will help it become a community performing arts centre for the 21st Century while uncovering much of its fascinating past.
The Playhouse first started operating as a theatre in 1945 and its former life as the Montpellier Baths goes back to the early 19th Century when it was central to Cheltenham's spa heyday.
Now its board of trustees believe it is time to open a new chapter in the building's long history: they are determined to secure the Playhouse as a viable and accessible performing arts venue for the enjoyment and participation of all sections of society whilst preserving and respecting its rich heritage.
Central to their plans is a redevelopment of the building to make it more flexible and fit for purpose as a vibrant hub for a wide variety of performing arts. On 1st March they will submit an application for planning permission with Cheltenham Borough Council.
While the intimate and well-loved auditorium will be unaffected, much of the rest of the building will be remodelled for the benefit of patrons, performers and users.
- Creating an atrium with lift access to first floor facilities;
- More flexible areas to provide additional rehearsal and performance spaces for music, comedy, small-scale theatre productions, etc;
- Returning the public entrance to its original site to provide level access;
- Relocating the box office to the venue's Edwardian lounge;
- Improved accessibility for disabled users;
- Create better changing rooms and improved spaces for hire;
- Create a permanent exhibition of the building's rich and extraordinary past.
Chair of Trustees Malcolm Ball said: "We want the Playhouse to become a hub for the Bath Road vicinity that will enrich and contribute to a vibrant Cheltenham town centre. It will be a hive of activity that will be a lively and happy place to visit and participate in."
"We have been working on plans for the Playhouse for nearly two years and we're excited that we're ready to apply for planning permission. 2020 will be the 75th anniversary of the building being converted into a theatre and this is the perfect time for the Playhouse to enter the next phase of its amazing history. Its rich heritage isn't that well known: few of our audience members know that when they are enjoying a performance in our main auditorium they are sitting above a 19th Century swimming pool!"
"We have worked with specialist heritage architects Poole Phillips and renowned archaeologists to ensure our redevelopment plans are sensitive to the patchwork of historic developments going back more than 200 years, and we want to make this past as open and interesting as possible for the benefit of visitors."
In recent years the Playhouse has become a venue for a wide variety of local and touring performers, not just theatre but live music, comedy, dance, poetry, burlesque, improv and film.
Malcolm added: "The profile of those performing and visiting the venue has evolved considerably over the years and changes need to be made to the venue to secure its future and ensure it is still relevant for generations to come."
"However, the building's layout doesn't make it easy for patrons to experience the wide range of performances now available, or for us to offer flexible spaces to performers and other hirers. Our proposals aim to expand the buildings' remit and greatly improve the visitor experience of everyone using the venue, including better access, updated décor and an improved food and drink offering."
"We have been liaising regularly with council officials about our plans for redevelopment and they have been supportive in principle of our approach. If planning approval is given and funding is in place, we believe the work will take ten months to complete."
The Playhouse, which is a Grade II listed building, is owned by Cheltenham Borough Council and leased to a registered charity led by a board of trustees and supported by over 100 volunteers. It began life circa 1806 as Henry Thompson's manufactory for The Real Cheltenham Salts and over the years was enlarged to incorporate slipper baths, a swimming pool, a steam mill and bakery and medicinal spa, whilst also being used for dances, an indoor cricket school, cycling lessons and gymnasium. After operating as an ARP centre during WWII it was converted to a theatre in April 1945.