The acoustics and theatre consultancy divisions of theatre consultancy Charcoalblue have been involved in a project at the new £9m Great Hall at The Leys School, Cambridge.
The focus of the project is the Great Hall’s new 320-seat theatre, which incorporates high-spec backstage facilities, technical infrastructure including lighting and sound equipment, a control room and workshop, storage areas and a green room. These will allow the Leys Drama Department and technical staff to operate a fully functional ‘teaching theatre’, with pupils involved in every aspect of productions. The lower seating tier of the theatre is retractable, creating a School Hall which can comfortably seat 600 for a full assembly.
Working in collaboration with Bland, Brown and Cole architects, Charcoalblue provided theatre design and planning services as well as the detailed design of the theatre technical systems. Following the start of the building works on site, Charcoalblue has overseen the theatre elements of the works.
“The Leys School is one of England’s premier independent schools and has active and successful music, drama and science departments,” said Charcoalblue’s Gavin Owen, who is project-managing the operation. “The school’s previous theatre, built in 1967, was no longer fit for purpose, and so the Great Hall project was commenced to provide the school with a new home for drama.
Acoustic measures are integrated into the design and form of the auditorium to provide the best possible environment for both actors and musicians in training. Reflective acoustic panels are incorporated into the underside of lighting bridges over the stage and the walls of the auditorium are shaped. A curtain deploys from a pocket within the wall at high level to allow for variable acoustic condition depending on the type of performance. Byron Harrison, head of acoustics at Charcoalblue, said: “Great Hall balances the functional needs of a multi-purpose auditorium with the specific acoustic goals of drama performance for young people by prioritising low background noise, loudness of sound and early reflections to refine speech intelligibility.”
The retractable seating and the presence of a movable wall within the stalls allows the room to be opened to accommodate greater numbers or flat floor events but this approach can often lead to a sterile environment. Within Great Hall, this is counteracted with a shaped balcony front at first floor level. Senior consultant Ben Hanson, who led Charcoalblue’s contribution to the room design, stated: “The form of the balcony front is simple and elegant but its contribution the theatrical impact of the room cannot be underestimated, Its presence lifts the space above the ordinary.”
The use of the space by professionals and pupils alike was at the forefront of thinking during design, and the space provides for the needs of technicians in training as well as performers. Thought has been given to safe access to technical equipment, with a tension-wire grid installed over the auditorium and fixed lighting bridges provided over the stage. These bridges are double-stacked to provide maintenance access to the flying systems that sit between them allowing for the suspension of scenic and technical equipment.
Charcoalblue has also consulted on the design of the first-floor Drama Studio, providing flexible rehearsal space and an intimate theatre which can be used for small productions and group work, as well as a Dance Studio and space for the Drama Department providing three spacious classrooms and office space.
The result is a multi-configurable, modern, future-proof, and professional building allowing The Leys School to offer outstanding facilities for its music, science, and drama departments. “I am filled with excitement and enthusiasm about the building of Great Hall, and the opportunities it gives us for further improvement and growth in reputation,” said Mark Slater, headmaster of The Leys School.
Great Hall is scheduled to be fully operational for the start of the new school year in September.
“This project has felt special throughout its duration, but the end result has surpassed even our best expectations,” concluded Owen. “The building is truly a product of collaboration, and the heavy and productive involvement of the client, in the form of project director Austin Jessop and theatre manager Paul Durose, has been monumental in achieving the final result.”