Pitlochry Festival Theatre fast-tracks expansion as part of recovery plan

One of Scotland's best-known regional theatres has revealed plans to fast-track a major expansion in response to the coronavirus pandemic

It is hoped the new look for Pitlochry Festival Theatre will be unveiled in May of next year. Image: Susie Bridge Architects
It is hoped the new look for Pitlochry Festival Theatre will be unveiled in May of next year. Image: Susie Bridge Architects

Key elements of a long-awaited refurbishment of Pitlochry Festival Theatre are planned to be brought forward to create a second performance space by the time the venue reopens to the public in the spring.

And the existing building will also be extended to ensure there is more ‘front of house’ space to help accommodate social distancing measures expected to be needed to help audiences arrive and leave safely.

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The new 175-capacity studio theatre is aimed at creating a flexible space which can easily be adapted to the latest social distancing restrictions when the venue reopens.

Picture: Julius Cardew

The extra performance space and expansion of the building were elements of a £20 million vision for the future of the venue, which has been in development for the last six years and had secured £10m worth of public funding under the Tay Cities Deal.

However the project’s first phase, expected to cost around £2.5m, has been fast-tracked to try to take advantage of the ongoing closure of the building, which is not expected to reopen until May, for the venue’s 70th anniversary season.

The theatre, which will stage a promenade-style Christmas show in its 11-acre grounds in November and December, is also planning a number of outdoor shows to help retain and develop audiences.

Kris Bryce, the theatre’s executive director, said: “The bigger redevelopment we’ve been planning has always had three physical ambitions – the development of a second performance space, an upgrade of the main performance space and an extension and improvement of the front of house spaces.

"We’ve always been very focused on remaining open for our audiences during the redevelopment. What Covid-19 has meant is that with our doors closed we are able to move in and undertake part of the project. We have the plans, the funding and the time to do that.

"All the work we are doing sits within the ambition of the full project – we are effectively accelerating aspects of it but we absolutely want to complete every element of it.

"The extension and upgrade of some of our front of house space will allow us to reorganise how people can easily access the building and move around.”

Elizabeth Newman, PFT’s artistic director, said: "We want to ensure audiences have a high quality experience that strengthens their relationship with theatre and also encourages them to support us during what we think is going to be another couple of years of disruption.

"There is a real necessity for us to adapt and change and try to grow. It’s about trying to ensure we’ve move forward and not constantly looking at what we’ve not been able to do.

"The studio theatre will be about asserting to audiences and artists that in the face of coronavirus, which has been about the severing of that direct contact between them, we are building another place for them.

"More artists and more audiences will be able to meet in a completely different way in future. We are planning it so to all of the seating can be removed so that it just becomes a big room and artists can construct the space in the way that they want to.”

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