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Latitude: 51.2948 / 51°17'41"N
Longitude: -0.3285 / 0°19'42"W
OS Eastings: 516642
OS Northings: 156404
OS Grid: TQ166564
Mapcode National: GBR 6P.CVM
Mapcode Global: VHGRV.8Q67
Entry Name: Thorndike Theatre
Listing Date: 8 July 1999
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1387322
English Heritage Legacy ID: 475276
Location: Mole Valley, Surrey, KT22
District: Mole Valley
Town: Mole Valley
Electoral Ward/Division: Leatherhead South
Built-Up Area: Leatherhead
Traditional County: Surrey
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Surrey
Church of England Parish: Leatherhead
Church of England Diocese: Guildford
TQ 1656 SE LEATHERHEAD CHURCH STREET
Theatre. 1967-9 by Roderick Ham, assisted by Ronald Bayliss, David Hancock and Colin Bex, theatre consultants Theatre Projects Ltd, for the Leatherhead Repertory Company, incorporating side walls from inter-war cinema formerly on site. Auditorium and foyers of reinforced concrete with board-marked concrete and brick infill, in shell of old building; fly tower and workshop are steel framed with brick infill panels clad externally with pale grey moulded sheets. Dressing room and administration blocks of load-bearing brickwork supporting reinforced concrete beams set into the old auditorium walls. Complex plan set behind separately rebuilt shops and offices (not included), so only a narrow entrance to street, with similar entrance from car park to rear. Three tiers of foyers give on to fan-shaped auditorium with single raked tier of continental seating (526 seats) and end wall proscenium with small apron and flytower. To left a block contains small youth theatre space (the Casson Room) and dressing rooms. To right offices and scenery workshop.
Narrow frontage under three storeys of small windows has sets of three light timber doors with squared panes giving on to foyer. In car park are similar doors, with windows to sides serving offices. Large lettering announces `THORNDIKE THEATRE'. The flytower and workshop exteriors, giving on to the car park, are not of special merit. The interest of this building is internal. The motif of doors with near-square glazing panes is repeated throughout the three tiers of foyer, which also feature board-marked concrete surfaces to auditorium drum, staircases (at either side of space) and fronts to balconies which give views up, down and across the space. Lower foyer with foundation stone (1967) bearing Dame Sybil Thorndike's signature, and with a bust of her, below the plaque recording the opening by Princess Margaret on 17 September 1969. Former caf' area under auditorium. Upper floor with square rooflights. Auditorium with rough square tiled walls which fan out and curve back, so that the broadest rows of seating (by Ernest Race) are not at the rear and the sightlines and acoustics are excellent. Implied proscenium in stage end 36ft by 16ft high, with lighting alcoves to either side and in ceiling gantry. Green room is entered only from upper foyer, but is on top of adjoining office block which is not itself of special interest.
The Thorndike Theatre was one of the most successful theatre designs of the late 1960s. It replaced the former Crescent Cinema which had been adapted to flourishing repertory use under the managing director Hazel Vincent-Wallace and with the support of Dame Sybil Thorndike, who starred in the opening production in September 1969. It was Ham's first theatre, and established him as one of the leading specialists in their design. `The stage and auditorium, at the heart of the project, are in the proscenium form with all the scenic advantages of a flying system but without emphasis on the proscenium arch. The lighting slots merge into the walls, the lighting bridges are moulded into the ceiling and flow into a single space embracing the acting area' (Ham, 1995). The implied proscenium, providing a natural frame to the action but without the sense of looking through a picture frame, and intimacy of the space - although there are 526 seats none are more than 58ft from the curtain line - compare favourably with the more traditional planning of, for example, the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford (1965) and Oxford Playhouse (1964) and made the Thorndike an actor's delight. The foyer is a deliberately theatrical space, dramatic in its architecture, for the audience to perform. RIBA Award 1970. As the Architects' Journal considered, the Thorndike is not only beautifully designed but achieves, despite [budgetary] limitations, a technical perfection perhaps unequalled in British theatre building' (12 November 1969, p.1244)
Architects' Journal, 12 November 1969, pp.1239-45
Design, December 1969, pp.48-53
Concrete Quarterly, January-March 1970, pp.34-40
Tabs, December 1969, pp.10-16
Frederick Bentham, ed., Tabs, New Theatres in Britain, London, 1971
Ronnie Mulryne and Margaret Shewring, Making Space for Theatre, Stratford, 1995, p.134
Listing NGR: TQ1664256404
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