History in Structure

Theatre Royal Plymouth

A Grade II Listed Building in Plymouth, City of Plymouth

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Latitude: 50.3699 / 50°22'11"N

Longitude: -4.1447 / 4°8'41"W

OS Eastings: 247572

OS Northings: 54417

OS Grid: SX475544

Mapcode National: GBR R9X.XH

Mapcode Global: FRA 2862.3AA

Plus Code: 9C2Q9V94+W4

Entry Name: Theatre Royal Plymouth

Listing Date: 20 August 2018

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1457337

ID on this website: 101457337

Location: Plymouth, Devon, PL1

County: City of Plymouth

Electoral Ward/Division: St Peter and the Waterfront

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Plymouth

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Tagged with: Theatre


The Theatre Royal, Plymouth, built 1979-82 by the Peter Moro Partnership, extended 2013 by Andrzej Blonski.


The Theatre Royal, Plymouth, built 1979-82 by the Peter Moro Partnership, extended 2013 by Andrzej Blonski.

MATERIALS: the building is a reinforced concrete structure with large span steel roofs to the auditorium, fly tower and scene dock. It is built on strip foundations cast on a basement pad and individual pad footings. The stalls are formed from a sloping flat slab with stepped risers, while the dress and upper circles are designed as stepped treads and rises spanning between raking beams supported on columns in the foyer areas and the side walls of the auditorium and stairs, with a stiff ring beam at the front. Cantilever shear walls tied into the upper circle structure and cantilevered foyer slabs provide a column-free perimeter to the front elevation. The auditorium ceiling is made of steel and timber and weighs 140 tons.

The administrative offices are suspended above the foyers, and their bronze anodised aluminium curtain wall facades hang from the roof. The roof is felt with aluminium rooflights. The elevations are part infilled with blockwork and large areas of bronze anodised aluminium windows with bronze tinted solar glass, which are also structural. The concrete of the foyers has been left exposed and shot-blasted.

PLAN: the theatre is essentially octagonal in plan, for its prominent corner site is visible from many angles. There are three levels of public foyers wrapped around the main auditorium, with a small studio theatre to one side.

EXTERIOR: the theatre is characterised by its octagonal plan and the varying heights of individual parts of the building, which produced a multi-layered effect with contrasting materials. The main entrance is housed in the 2013 extension by Andrzej Blonski which projects on the north-east side with a full-height glazed wall and concrete roof. The structural glazing of the original building continues around the ground floor exposing the foyers to external viewers. The bronze-clad upper levels rise above this with the blockwork of the fly tower standing tall over the whole building.

Moving round the building, the blockwork of the studio theatre, the main auditorium and the fly tower weave together with the glazing and bronze-clad elements. The differing heights and profiles of each section highlight the differing function within.

To the rear there is a large service entrance and the stage door, with three floors of offices and backstage facilities above.

INTERIOR: the main entrance opens into the foyer as refurbished in around 2013. The double-height space has cafe and booking office facilities with a projecting mezzanine level above. The square columns of the extension distinguish them from the octagonal concrete columns of the original build. The lift shaft is also octagonal. Ceilings throughout are of textured plaster. To the right, the main stair rises, turning at the half landing to accommodate the angle of the structural glazing alongside. The stair is of shot-blasted concrete with chrome handrails, with further octagonal columns expressing the structure of the building here. A further stair rises in a straight flight to the upper level. The upper foyers also have exposed concrete and blockwork denoting the rear of the auditorium. Secondary stairs on either side of the main auditorium rise the full height of the building.

The auditorium is on three levels - stalls, dress and upper circles, accommodating 1,271 seats, reduced to 768 when the moveable section of the ceiling is lowered in front of the upper circle. The upper circle is symmetrical about the auditorium and building centreline, but the two lower levels are asymmetrically planned with a tongue of seating of the dress circle running down on the stage right to stalls level, designed for concert and conference use. The stage has a proscenium arch and is flexible, with a forward area that can be lowered to form an orchestra pit.

The interior of the studio theatre is plain with flexible seating. It has an upper balcony with moveable panels within the handrails. The back of house areas are largely functional with exposed materials and some services exposed at ceiling level.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: there is a rear wall in blockwork matching the main building which encloses the service yard to the rear; this terminates in an angled enclosure which echoes the shapes of the main building. Beyond this, adjacent to the west side of the building, are angled blockwork planters with stairs giving access to the basement of the building.


Plymouth's Theatre Royal was built in 1979-82 to the designs of the Peter Moro Partnership, led by the partners Peter Moro, Michael Heard, Andrzej Blonski and Charles Peel, who were assisted by Richard Bray, Lucy MacNair, Kerstin Hilsson, Christopher Ratcliff and Jacek Basista. The engineers were Ove Arup and Partners, and Arup Acoustics were responsible for the acoustics.

The client was Plymouth City Council, owners of most of the land in the city centre since its extensive damage in the Second World War. In 'A Plan for Plymouth', produced in 1943, the planner Patrick Abercrombie and the borough engineer James Paton Watson identified a site for a theatre near the surviving Royal Cinema and Derry's Clock, envisaging a cultural precinct with perhaps a concert hall or a second cinema in addition. However, this was one element of the plan that Paton Watson could not push forward in the face of building restrictions in the early 1950s and the site lay derelict as a car park until the 1970s. When it was proposed to demolish the only significant theatre building surviving in the city, the Palace Theatre of 1898, the council finally determined on a limited competition for a theatre as part of the commercial development of a large area between the theatre site and the civic centre. Discussions continued into 1974, when the deteriorating economic situation saw the abandonment of the commercial scheme. Surprisingly, the council decided to proceed with the theatre, aided by the Arts Council and later by a grant of £2million from the European Economic Community, at the time the largest grant for a single building that it had ever offered. John Foulston's early-C19 Theatre Royal had long been demolished when in 1952 the architect/theatre historian Richard Leacroft had written an article on its importance to theatre design, which may have inspired the revival of the name.

Another cause of the slow commissioning process was a conflict of ambitions within the council. While one faction favoured a modest repertory theatre seating 700 people, such as a number of local authorities had built in the manner pioneered by Coventry and Nottingham in the late-1950s, other councillors pressed for a larger auditiorium that could be used for travelling opera and ballet companies, and also for concerts. The council eventually resolved to combine all these needs. The theatre consultants Martin Carr and Peter Angier prepared a detailed brief for a theatre that could cater for both large and small productions within a single auditorium, with a seating capacity ranging from 750 up to 1,300 people.

The practice of Peter Moro and Partners (as it was known until 1980) was appointed in March 1977. The practice fulfilled the brief by proposing an auditorium with a moveable ceiling which could be lowered to conceal the upper tier of seating, providing a smaller venue while not detracting from the quality of the overall space. The idea of making an auditorium adaptable in size rather than shape had never been attempted in Great Britain, but there were precedents in the very large buildings for opera and theatre on the Continent, where the best example is probably the Stadsteater at Malmo, Sweden, built in 1938-44 to combined designs by David Hellen, Erik Lallerstedt and Sigurd Lewerentz, where the auditorium is reduced by bringing in the side walls using a complex manual operation. The mechanical adaptation of the ceiling was simpler and quicker.

Plymouth differed from earlier post-war theatres in being designed for national touring companies as well as for in-house repertory productions, and has a very large stage and backstage facilities. By the standards of the 1970s even an auditorium seating 750 people was quite large, and many theatres built secondary auditoria in the form of small studios for experimental productions, such as Moro had added to the Theatre Royal in Bristol. A small studio was duly added to the brief here.

In around 2013, Andrzej Blonski returned to the Theatre Royal to undertake a programme of refurbishment, which included the replacement of the external cladding and the extension of the basement. The front of house area was also altered with a glass-walled extension to provide additional foyer space.

Reasons for Listing

Plymouth Theatre Royal, 1979-1982 by the Peter Moro Partnership, project architect Andrzej Blonski, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for its sophisticated design which uses distinctive geometric forms with careful detailing to produce a flexible theatre which has civic gravitas and presence;
* for the skilful handling of multiple functionalities within one building of unified design;
* for its use of good quality materials and construction;
* for its technological interest, particularly the moveable auditorium roof.

Historic interest:

* as a major work by Peter Moro, pre-eminent theatre designer of the post-war period in Britain with numerous listed buildings to his name;
* as an important example of a post-war repertory theatre with a flexible auditorium and smaller studio theatre;
* for its place in the post-war redevelopment of Plymouth.

Group value:

* with the Grade II Listed and Registered former Civic Centre, at the heart of the post-war redevelopment of Plymouth.

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