The Marlowe Society
13 September 2011

New Marlowe

The New Marlowe Theatre opens in Canterbury on 7th October

Eighteen months since the old theatre lowered its curtain for the last time, the new Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury is due to open its impressive new doors to the public on Friday 7th October. There was of course even more time and effort spent designing, planning and financing such an ambitious project before the rebuilding ever began, but the spectacular new building will still open on schedule.

The project has also kept within the original budget of £25.6m, which in comparison to the cost of one or two other similar projects represents very good value indeed. The city council should be commended for investing in the Canterbury arts in this way, having contributed nearly three quarters of the funding, with the rest coming from trusts, business, and private contributions. But with an increased capacity of 1,200 seats and an imaginative and stimulating schedule of events, it is forecast that the theatre will generate significantly more income, as well as contributing to the local economy and creating jobs. With the new high-speed rail link to St Pancras, Canterbury is only an hour's journey from London, and it is hoped that the new theatre along with other projects will increase tourism in the city.

The creative brilliance will not be limited to the stage. The new theatre building comprises a striking architectural design that will be the second highest on Canterbury's skyline after the cathedral. "The new building with its glass front and white colonnade of pillars stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding red-brick houses and ancient flint church buildings," notes the Guardian. "It is crowned by a sharp peak, rising high above the scenery dock, somewhat like a steeple and pointing towards the nearby cathedral." Award winning architect Keith Williams has thus designed a spectacular, modern exterior but the building still places the highest priority on theatrical considerations inside, with, for example, improved acoustics and comfortable seating that is closer to the stage. There is also the Marlowe Studio, a smaller theatre that can seat 150 people, but which also has a retractable stage to facilitate other kinds of events.

The theatre, which in its previous incarnation had been converted from an Odeon cinema that had first opened in 1933, will continue to be named after Christopher Marlowe. The Marlowe Society is hopeful that the new theatre will find some space for his work from time to time. The initial signs are good, with a short but imaginative production of Doctor Faustus appearing on the bill at the Marlowe Studio within the opening month. A debate considering the relevance of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the 21st century is also taking place in October. With a lecture specifically about Marlowe (Christopher Marlowe Tomorrow?) being organised at Canterbury Library on 23rd September to link with the theatre opening, and the launch by Kent County Council last year of the Marlowe Literary Walk around the city, it seems that Canterbury is certainly beginning to promote it's most famous literary son. Long may it continue!

The New Marlowe Theatre building in Canterbury
The New Marlowe Theatre building in Canterbury (David Anstiss) / CC BY-SA 2.0