When Scott Carver Architects were restoring the iconic Theatre Royal in Sydney CBD, they worked to balance the theatre’s rich architectural past with the expectations of modern theatregoers.

The project, completed at the end of 2021, was headed up by architect and director of Scott Carver, Doug Southwell and head of interior design, Tina Fox.

Fox said the building had been left “in a pretty shabby state by the previous operators”.

“It was a bit of a two-fold refurbishment of the theatre. The landlord Dexus & Woods Bagot did some work themselves. The whole of the front entry was opened up and had a whole new glass facade so you could now really see inside,” she explained.

“They assisted with some new lifts and really helped elevate the connections between 25 Martin Place, the retail spaces and the theatre itself”.

Scott Carver’s scope included an upgrade to the auditorium, theatrical production equipment and back-of-house areas as well as a new fitouts for the front-of-house facilities. They designed new bars and VIP lounges which can be used during theatre performances but equally can be leased out for events at other times as well.

“The most challenging aspect of what we had to do was within the auditorium itself,” Fox said.

“The operators really wanted to increase the seating as much as we could, so we ended up adding a new balcony to the front of the circle and now we’ve got seating for just over 1200”.

When it came to the balcony extension, they really had to make sure it didn’t affect sightlines and the original intent of the auditorium.

“We had full respect for the original intent of the design…most Theatre Royals around the world are actually red and gold…we were really happy to run with that original design direction and take that on”.

Southwell said a key component of the design work was considering how the theatre melded with the surrounding venues.

“In reality, the magic of going to the theatre starts at home. It’s the journey you take to get there, the art of arrival, it’s where you drink and eat beforehand or after…. It’s really intimately linked,” he said.

When it comes to refurbishing heritage buildings, he said it’s all about understanding the resilience of what the original built form can offer.

Another theatre refurbishment Southwell is working on is the 140-year-old Victoria Theatre in Newcastle.

“It hasn’t been used as a theatre for 60 years. There’s a ridiculous number of layers in that building so rather than stripping it all out and recladding it’s really about paring it back to the original distressed nature of what was there and really celebrating that.”.

As well as celebrating the original form, Southwell said there are key areas where upgrades add value such as equitable access, new amenities, bars and foyers.

“People love visiting historically relevant buildings. They’re actually quite forgiving that it may not necessarily perform as well as a new building…not just the patrons but the performers as well,” he said.

If you’d like to find out more about redesigning the Theatre Royal, listen to the full episode here. This podcast is brought to you in association with Stormtech proud sponsors of our 2023 Hospitality & Retail series of podcasts.