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WATCH: Chester's £37m theatre project starts to take shape

RE:NEW project director Graham Lister takes chief reporter David Holmes behind the scenes of Chester's new cultural centre

Chester’s £37m cultural centre will surely be the coolest venue in town when it opens in autumn 2016 but only a few will ever know the blood, sweat and tears that went on behind the scenes.

Work is progressing apace to deliver the theatre, cinema and library, which is based around the art deco Odeon building in Hunter Street, but with a modern extension incorporating lots of glass to make it welcoming for arts lovers as well as those who simply want to hang out in its trendy cafes and bars.

Behind the curtains, a team of suited designers is working on the detail down to the nth degree. While in the spotlight, our protagonists, complete with high vis costumes, are clearing out the old auditorium ready for its transformation into the new foyer, a bustling hub through which the theatre auditorium will be entered but also featuring the library and cafe area, creating an exciting space.

Soon the underground service area below the main stage will be complete, ready for the steel frame work to go up from the end of June, which is when the public will really start to see the new building taking shape.

‘There’s an enormous amount of work that’s been done and it’s really exciting,’ said project director Graham Lister, who told The Chronicle about the challenge of delivering this amazing project in time for the 80th anniversary of the Chester Odeon’s grand opening in 1936.


‘It’s an incredibly complex construction. We’re in Chester, we’re dealing with the archaeology. Theatres are very complex buildings,’ he explained. ‘There’s miles and miles and miles of cables and infrastructure running around these theatres to make them work.

'The build-construction has to be of a really high quality to ensure the stage machinery works properly. We’re dealing in tolerances of 5 and 10mm. With the auditorium, it’s so important all those seats have really good sight-lines of the stage.

‘There’s a massive amount of coordination from all the different disciplines – the acousticians who care about how the spoken word and music will work in that space as well as the structural engineers who ensure the building will stand up, as well as the architects who want to make sure it’s got the right aesthetic and then the theatre planners, in charge of all the systems, stage engineering systems as well as lighting and sound systems.’

Graham believes the cultural centre will have broad appeal and act as ‘a catalyst’ to kick-start the Northgate Development next door.

The project director explained: ‘I’ve always said, it’s been my mantra all the way through, everyone should be able to connect with this building in many different ways.

‘So there will be those that don’t come and see shows but use the cafe-bar; there will be those that take part in workshops; there will be those that take their kids to the library on Sunday mornings and then there will be those who are not interested in live performance but are interested in film and then there are the 300,000 people who use the library on an annual basis and will continue to do so but will have better facilities.’

Name in lights

One no-go area at the moment is the possible name for the new cultural centre. Graham knows that whatever name is chosen is likely to be contentious and he’s not ready to fall through that particular trapdoor.

Having said that, if you have a few bob to contribute then you might stand a chance of getting your own name up there in lights.

‘If there was a significant investor, a business that wants to have their name attached to this building, as you know, we would be wanting to have a discussion with them,’ proferred Graham.

MBNA has already agreed to contribute £600,000 for some ‘subtle’ branding.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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