Much-loved actor and writer Simon Callow has relaunched Malvern College’s iconic Rogers Theatre after a major refurbishment, at a packed gala evening that included an acclaimed performance of Chicago by some of the college’s most gifted performers. The theatre, originally a boxing stadium in Edwardian times, has been rebuilt and extended to include a substantial glass foyer, creating a versatile space for small-scale performances, exhibitions, rehearsals and exams. It will also provide room for receptions and gatherings before performances and during intervals. The new flexible seating will enable the staging of a variety of drama styles, including theatre in the round. The Salnikow Circle has also been enlarged to provide further seating and an integrated, state-of-the-art technical control area beneath a new tension wire grid, giving pupils safe access to lighting and sound equipment. The whole project cost £4 million, with £1 million raised by college donors, including the Malvernian Society.
Simon Callow, who has been starring opposite Jane Asher in a sell-out run of the Noel Coward classic A Song at Twilight at the Malvern Theatre, arrived after his matinee performance and toured the Rogers Theatre. During the opening ceremony, he underlined his passion for live theatre.
“Honestly, I’ll open any theatre – out of self-interest,” he confessed, “partly because perhaps one day I’ll appear in that theatre – and because if we encourage people to do plays and go to see plays – and that habit continues as it has for over 2,000 years, I might still be able to make a living. I little knew what a wonderful theatre this would be. It’s thrilling: one of those special, rare spaces which, as you step into it, you feel it instantly appeals and you think ‘I want to make theatre now’. You immediately get a sense of the energy of that stage and understand there is going to be a vivid, real connection with audience.
“In some theatres you feel as though you’re on top of a mountain, shouting down with little connection with the audience. Here you can command every single inch of the theatre with your energy, with your voice and with the words the writer has kindly given you.
“Nothing compares with this live interchange between stage and auditorium. The whole idea of this interchange – of actors telling the audience a story – is that it will change the audience but also that the audience will change us. The shell this theatre inhabits was made for a different purpose – all those exhausting years of pugilism are somehow on the walls – but theatre shouldn’t be a sacred, special withdrawn space; it should be part of life – like this wonderful space.”
Chicago received a standing ovation and among a strong cast, the highly experienced Lucie Fletcher as Velma and Missie Hingley as Roxie stood out. Nic Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Malvern Theatres, praised the Rogers Theatre’s sympathetic refurbishment marrying modern and Edwardian architecture.
“I enjoyed the production of Chicago”, he commented. “The theatre’s well designed, comfortable and the stage has very clean lines. There’s a good atmosphere and excellent acoustic.”
Keith Packham, the College’s Director of Drama was equally enthusiastic: “The refurbished Rogers Theatre is a vibrant, dynamic space for theatre makers, which has been warmly received by both patrons and performers,” he said. “Throughout the design process, we paid much attention to detail and considered carefully the heritage of the building and how modern enhancements would sit alongside the original building features. We hope that rehearsing and performing in such a wonderfully creative environment will inspire future artistic talent here at Malvern College and in the wider Malvern community.”