Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Year:2007

Duration:2 years

Cost:£5.3m

Country: UK

What did this project achieve?

Restore a Grade 1 English theatre and add new technical systems

Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds was designed and built in 1819 by William Wilkins (also architect of London’s National Gallery) and is the last example in the UK of a Regency Theatre.

Although the building still had many of its original features a number of changes had been made during the Victorian and other periods which were out of character.

These included the removal of the original entrances to the pit and the distinctive Georgian forestage. Boxes had also been removed from the dress circle and the whole seating layout changed throughout.

Engineers Arup advised on improvements and designed modern technical systems for this historic English theatre.

A view of the stage from the upper stalls

A view of the stage from the upper stalls

Difference the project has made

Restoring this Grade I listed playhouse has ensured its survival as a unique historic monument. It’s one that is loved and used by thousands of visitors every year. It has also breathed new life into the production and understanding of historic theatre, giving insight into the architecture, stage techniques and the relatively less-known plays of the 18th and 19th centuries.

As well as the restoration of the building the theatre’s artistic team researched and re-discovered many lost texts of the Georgian repertoire which have since been performed on the Theatre Royal’s grand stage.

The restoration has won many awards including the architectural RIBA Award East, the USITT Honor Award and a Civic Trust Award.

How the restoration work was done

The big challenge for the engineers and architects was to incorporate modern facilities as seamlessly and sensitively as possible into what has been described as the UK’s most beautiful theatre.

The engineers restored several aspects of the original stage. The newly-created forestage, perfect for Georgian theatre, can easily be removed for other types of plays.

Also, a new area of the main stage incorporated stage traps (special trap doors for making things appear and disappear) and potentially for the future, original stage machinery. They also installed new motorised hoists over the stage.

Work in the auditorium included putting back boxes overlooking the stage, restoring the original entrance to the pit seating and changing the seating throughout to achieve the authentic Georgian actor/audience relationship.

As well as the restoration work the engineers also created disabled facilities and a new foyer building giving more space for audiences and bigger and better bars.

“​‌

The regeneration of this lovely playhouse is little short of a miracle... all the people who have worked tirelessly to make it live again will never be forgotten.

Sir Peter Hall

Theatre and Film Director

Fascinating facts

Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds is the third oldest theatre in the country.

It lay empty between 1925 and 1965 and was used sometimes as a barrel store by the local brewery.

Not everything was restored back to Georgian standards. When it opened in 1819 it only had three ‘earth closets’ (toilets) for nearly 800 people. Now the building enough for 350 visitors.

People who made it happen

  • Engineers: Arup
  • Lead architect: Levitt Bernstein, director Axel Burrough
  • Client: The National Trust

Explore more civil engineering projects

I want to become a civil engineer.

See how your studies lead to a civil engineering career

The job you end up with in civil engineering is likely to link back to what you studied at school, college or university. Here you can see your options at any age.

At school

Up to 16 years

School / college

16-19 years

College / university

18 years +

Change career

Any age