Renovation of Scottish Opera home hit by delays

An artist's impression of the revamped Theatre Royal. Picture: Contributed
An artist's impression of the revamped Theatre Royal. Picture: Contributed
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SCOTTISH Opera will have to deploy temporary toilets and bars at its historic home in Glasgow in the spring after plans for a grand unveiling of a “flamboyant” extension had to be shelved due to late-running building work.

The transformation of the 147-year-old Theatre Royal into a “world-class venue”, which was due to be completed in May. has been put off until later in the summer because work on an iconic new entrance building and roof terrace is running more than a month behind schedule.

Prolonged bad weather over the winter is being blamed for the delays, which mean all the new facilities - including new foyer spaces, a cafe, bars and a roof-top terrace will be out of action - will be out of commission.

Bosses have admitted last-minute fitting out and snagging work is now likely to continue until shortly before the transformed venue is due to play a major part in the cultural programme for the Commonwealth Games at the end of July.

£11.5 million project

The 1500-capacity Victorian auditorium, home to Scottish Opera since 1974, is currently closed while work goes on to link the historic building to a four-storey “lantern” complex as part of an £11.5 million project being funded by both the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Several shows are booked into the venue in May and June, including a flagship production of Madama Butterfly, which was supposed to herald the unveiling of the venue’s new look, which architects have pledged will create a new “big Glasgow corner” where Hope Street meets Cowcaddens.

Work on the project, which will see lifts installed in the building for the first time, started in August 2012 on the site of the old Cafe Royal bar and a parcel of land snapped up by Scottish Opera which was previously part of STV’s historic studios.

Scottish Opera’s general director Alex Reedijk, who gave The Scotsman a guided tor of the construction site yesterday, said the new date for the official unveiling for the building would now be in late July, when the company will be staging a brand new piece of work that author Alexander McCall Smith will be helping Scottish Opera create for the Commonwealth Games.

This means that the first real test for the new facilities will be when the theatre hosts the flagship production, Anamchara, which will feature more than 100 singers and musicians drawn from Scotland, India, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

‘Complicated work’

Mr Reedijk, who had announced a planned unveiling date with 365 days to go last May, insisted he was not expecting work on the building “to the wire.”

He told The Scotsman: “We are now expecting the work on the actual building to be done in early July and after that it will be a case of getting everything up and running, training up staff and dealing with any snagging issues.

“The May deadline has been quietly creeping up on us. The crane on the site was off quite a bit over Christmas. We must have lost around 10 days due to high winds. We couldn’t have any work going on if the wind speed was more than 30 miles an hour.

“We had to do a lot of advance work on the site, but the actual construction work didn’t get underway until around a year ago. Although it is quite a small site we are building on we had huge ambitions for the footprint available to use so everything had to be as condensed as possible, although we’re creating four times as much foyer space as we had before.

“It is obviously a complicated project to link the old building with the new one. We only really started this work last month.

“All the bars have now been taken out of the auditorium and we’ve also lost a lot of the toilets until the extension is open, so that’s why we are having to bring in temporary facilities when we reopen in May.”

‘Unique’ roof terrace

The new-look Theatre Royal, which will also boast new corporate hospitality facilities and education spaces, is expected to provide a huge boost to the city’s booming culture quarter area, which will also include an expanded Royal Concert Hall later this year and the brand new Glasgow School of Art building, which is due to be unveiled next month. The area is also home to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the National Piping Centre and the Pavilion Theatre.

However Mr Reedjik said the improvements being made to the Theatre Royal and its profile at the top of Hope Street would make it a unique new landmark and cultural attraction for the city.

He added: “The roof terrace will be unique in Glasgow, to the best of my knowledge. There’s actually nowhere else you can go outside to get a view across the city. It will provide an extraordinary perspective in each direction which is not afforded at all just now.

“The way the building has been designed will also ensure that light pours into it. There will also be that wonderful thing of seeing outside, but also of being seen at the same time.

“There will be a huge difference in the facilities we can offer. We will have a new ground-floor cafe, the roof terrace and bars on each of the four floors. There will also be 39 different window bays which you will be able to relax in and even have your internal drinks delivered there.”