Eastbourne theatre to close for 18 months

The Congress Theatre is to close for 18 months as the £44 million Devonshire Park redevelopment gets underway.

Monday, 4th April 2016, 1:25 pm
Updated Monday, 4th April 2016, 1:31 pm
Congress Welcome Centre SUS-160404-132214001

Council bosses have revealed the theatre will be temporarily closed from January 2017 until June 2018,

It is part of a facelift for the theatre complex.

This morning Eastbourne Borough Council announced that the main building contractor on the £44million redevelopment of the Devonshire Park site will be appointed in September 2016.

Bosses say that when complete, the ambitious and high profile project will establish Devonshire Park as a premier conference and cultural destination and deliver major improvements to the international tennis facilities.

The Congress Theatre and Winter Garden will be transformed, as the old buildings benefit from the extensive restorations and improvements they need and deserve - architecturally, the Grade II* listed Congress Theatre is of national importance, ranking alongside the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall.

In January 2017 the contractor will demolish the Congress Suite to allow the construction of the new Welcome Building (pictured).

The Welcome Building will provide a fully accessible entrance to the theatre, including lifts to every floor, two new large conference spaces, a central box office, breakout and hospitality areas and a coffee and wine bar that will enjoy views across the tennis lawns to the International Tennis Centre.

At the same time extensive work will start inside the Congress Theatre to reinstate and enhance the stylish interior that was present when it opened in 1963 and replace the old heating and air conditioning systems.

While the temporary closure of the Congress Theatre will run from January 2017 to June 2018, council officers have been working closely with partners in the entertainment industry to ensure the show programme that Eastbourne is synonymous for continues in other venues and performance spaces.

The ever popular and externally refurbished Devonshire Park Theatre will remain open throughout with concerts, comedians and first rate drama taking to the stage and, of course, the famous annual and record breaking pantomime.

The Winter Garden will also be in regular use during 2017 and The Hippodrome Theatre is completely unaffected and will be open as normal. Similarly, Towner Gallery will remain open throughout the entire contract period and the Aegon Eastbourne International Tennis Tournament will be played each June as normal.

Margaret Bannister, the council’s lead member for tourism and leisure, said, “When you embark of a project of such huge scale and ambition it is inevitable that there will be disruption to some degree. However, I know I’m one of many looking forward to seeing some of the old favourites in different venues, such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the Devonshire Park Theatre. I’ve no doubt the performances will be fabulous.”

The London Philharmonic Orchestra will remain ‘in residence’ in Eastbourne by performing some of their season in the intimate surroundings of the Devonshire Park Theatre.

This provides them with the perfect platform to offer up some exquisite gems from their chamber repertoire and display the virtuoso talent of some of their Principal Players.

Timothy Walker, chief executive and artistic director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, said, “With the recent announcement of ambitious refurbishment plans for Congress Theatre, we are already looking forward to returning to a new improved ‘home’ as part of our ongoing Residency in Eastbourne.

“In the meantime, this gives us a rare and exciting opportunity to perform in the beautiful Grade II listed Devonshire Park Theatre.

“We look forward to some wonderful afternoons of music-making, with some of our finest orchestral musicians in the spotlight.”

The next stage of the scheme will return the famous Winter Garden to its former glory. Working hand in hand with English Heritage throughout the entire project, the work will include the reinstatement of internal and external original features and architecture within the Grade II listed building. This work will start in January 2018 and be completed by June 2019 and the building will be closed for this period.