The Orchard Theatre to undergo massive refurbishment

PUBLISHED: 15:14 20 June 2019

The Orchard Theatre will be undergoing a massive refurbishment. Picture: Dartford Council

The Orchard Theatre will be undergoing a massive refurbishment. Picture: Dartford Council


A £500,000 redevelopment project for The Orchard Theatre in Dartford has been announced.

A very early artist's impression gives a flavour of what the inside of The Orchard could eventually look like. Picture: Dartford CouncilA very early artist's impression gives a flavour of what the inside of The Orchard could eventually look like. Picture: Dartford Council

To carry out the extensive works, it will be shut down for six weeks over the summer.

New auditorium seating will be installed on all levels which will increase capacity by 69 to 1,025 and, maybe more importantly, improve sight-lines of the stage.

Everything will be covered in the work, including new lighting and sound systems using energy-efficient equipment.

There are to be access improvements to create additional spaces for wheelchair users.

A fresh seating configuration will allow easy transition from seated to flat-floor events.

And it is all being led by venue operator HQ Theatres and initially funded by the council and off-set by future reductions in the annual management fee paid to HQ.

The authority says all this will significantly enhance the customer experience; allow the venue to widen the range of shows and events on offer; bring access arrangements at the theatre up to modern standards and improve energy-efficiency.

The plan will see the entire auditorium stripped back, with new seats installed in all areas of the auditorium.

To help cater for different events, motorised seating will be installed in the flat-floor area.

This will offer much greater flexibility to visiting producers and allow for a wider range of shows.

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New carpets will be installed and cosmetic and decorative enhancements will be completed throughout the auditorium and foyer spaces.

HQ Theatres will project manage the redevelopment having worked with a range of partners and suppliers including seating specialists Auditoria Services, technical infrastructure experts AC Lighting and access consultancy Attitude is Everything who have advised on the access requirements.

Julian Russell, chief executive of HQ Theatres and Hospitality said: "We're thrilled to be unveiling the details of the redevelopment at The Orchard in partnership with Dartford Borough Council.

"The theatre is already a powerhouse venue in the HQ portfolio - punching above its weight in terms of the shows on offer, the audiences served and the range of community events programmed.

"This major redevelopment will position The Orchard brilliantly for future success; improving facilities for audiences and visiting companies; and protecting the council's cultural asset for many years to come.

"It's enormously encouraging to work alongside a local authority with the vision, foresight and flexibility to rethink existing funding models to deliver facility improvements in this way - and of course to have the opportunity to deliver this redevelopment for the people of Dartford whose venue, ultimately, this is."

And Jeremy Kite, leader of Dartford Borough Council, added: "Investing in the theatre is part of our strategy to support quality services, quality facilities and celebrate a venue in the town that can bring our community together.

"With so many councils cutting support for theatres it would have been easy for us to do the same, but it would not have been right. We have an unshakeable belief in the value of the arts as part of a strong society.

"The fact that the theatre is going from strength to strength is testament to the fact that the council has made the right spending decisions in tandem with HQ Theatre's excellent stewardship.

"The Orchard is rapidly gaining a reputation for being one of the best theatres outside of central London."

Lorna Strawson, theatre director at the Orchard, said: "We can't wait to see the finished results and to unveil the wide-ranging improvements to our customers and to visiting producers.

"We know how much our audiences value the theatre. Over the past 12 months we welcomed around a quarter of a million people to a show at The Orchard - with many thousands more engaging with us through our Community and Creative Learning programme.

"These improvements will make sure we're well-placed to continue to offer the widest range of professional shows, community events and creative learning work to our customers for many years to come."

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