The £7.5 million renovations project has indeed flooded what was a somewhat dark, cavernous building with light, a sense of space and of art deco ornamental opulence. At times, as with the vast women's toilet area, it even resembles a plush London hotel. And Mackintosh’s sense of humor is evident there, as elsewhere, in the posters for Funny Girl, which once played this venue.
The auditorium is some 15 seats short of its old number, now seating 1,015. The new, specially designed chairs, made from brown timber and scarlet-cushioned, offer more comfort and leg room than their predecessors. Mackintosh has installed the same new space-saving sound desk he’s used at The Queen’s for Les Misérables. The architects weren’t allowed to touch the listed side walls, so instead have covered them with new acoustically improved walls, which are also slotted to conceal much of the technical lighting. A new grid above the front stalls allows objects to be flown over the first three rows.
“That might come in useful sometime,” winked Mackintosh, a producer who has been known to fly such objects as chandeliers and witches over gaping spectators.
The bar areas have been completely redone. The Stalls Bar, now in crimson and blue, even has a small cabaret stage. Of the Prince’s Room, which will be used for corporate entertainment, Mackintosh said, “We want to employ students who are aspiring actors and theatre workers here, to give them a good chance of networking and furthering their careers.” The American Bar has expanded the original design of gold, curving lines on the ceiling and restored the distinctive light grilles.
Throughout, architect Norman Bragg said, “We used the motifs of the best decorative features we uncovered. We give a taste, a flavor of ghosts from the past.” Those are also in evidence from the posters — many advertising the Follies Bergeres, and a glass sculpture in the lobby, depicting the theatre as it originally was in 1937 (complete with period cars outside). One other change is the catering. Light food such as sandwiches are available and can be ordered when you book your ticket or at the theatre. The catering is overseen by Mackintosh’s brother Nicky. Such a connection would suggest a touch of the theatrical, and there are indeed themed snacks — a Greek box including pita bread, humus and feta cheese for the Greece-set Mamma Mia!, which currently runs at the theatre. And theatregoers are promised a Mary Poppins pack, including Mary’s special recipes, when that Mackintosh-produced show opens at his Prince Edward’s Theatre later in 2004.
Delfont Mackintosh Theatres has announced that Richard Johnston will become the firm’s chief executive beginning October 2004, replacing the retiring George Biggs. So it will be Johnston—who is moving from racecourse-owners the Racecourse Holdings Trust—who will oversee the company’s biggest project, when Mackintosh renovates the Queen’s and Gielgud Theatres, and builds the new Sondheim Theatre on top of them. The 500-seater Sondheim will be Shaftesbury Avenue’s first new theatre in 73 years.
Bragg, who will also oversee that project, notes that the three auditoria will together hold more audience members than the National Theatre. He told Playbill On-Line that the Gielgud will hopefully stay open during most of the construction time, expected to take around 21 or 22 months, and start in 2006 at the earliest. Explaining the process of building the Sondheim above, he said, “To be simplistic, it will be like building a vast steel table on the Queen’s and Gielgud, with its legs penetrating them, and then we build the new theatre on the table!”
Delfont Mackintosh currently holds seven theatres (five freeholds and two long leases). On September 28, 2005, the Albery and Wyndham’s will come back under the company’s control, as will the Gielgud on March 25, 2006.
For more information about Mamma Mia!, call (0)870 850 0393.