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The Tricycle Recycled

The Tricycle Theatre auditorium will get a new lease of life when it moves to its new home, says designer Tim Foster

Posted by Hannah Vickers | March 11, 2017 | Facilities management

By Tim Foster, the founding partner in Foster Wilson Architects (formerly Tim Foster Architects) the practice he established in 1979.

I am pleased to announce that the structure of the Tricycle Theatre auditorium, which I designed with Iain Mackintosh in 1979, has been saved and will become a new theatre for The Valley Park School in Maidstone, Kent. 

The comprehensive school will use it to create a new theatre in an old gym building. In deciding they should have it, I was particularly influenced by the support of Anthony Drewe of Stiles & Drewe, who are patrons of the performing arts at the school and reminded me of their first production of ‘Just So’ at The Tricycle in 1990, which I remember well. The School will acquire a world-class theatre at a fraction of the cost of a new building.

The Tricycle was the first theatre I designed as a young architect, and I remained closely associated with the building for over 35 years, rebuilding the theatre after the disastrous 1987 fire and then adding the award winning cinema and rehearsal room extension in 1998. I was also a member of the board for 12 years. I was determined that the current management should not simply throw it in a skip and I am grateful to them for allowing me to remove it and find it a new home.

Some may say that after 36 years, it has had a good run for its money and it is time for a change. I, however, feel it embodies timeless theatrical principles that are as valid today as they were when it was built. 

Being built from a standard scaffold system, it was low cost and unpretentious but its form was derived from the 18th Century Georgian Theatre in Richmond Yorkshire. This gave it a theatrical power that has been emulated worldwide. Theatres with side galleries which embrace the stage and connect the audience to the actor are now the norm but in 1980 they were relatively novel, with the likes of The Young Vic and The Cottesloe leading the way. Despite its small size, the theatre is capable of housing both the epic and the intimate.

We now live in an age of ‘pop-up’ theatre, and an auditorium which can be loaded on the back of a lorry and moved to a new location is an idea that has found its time. It is not a new idea however – just as Burbage moved the Globe from Shoreditch to Southwark, so we are moving the Tricycle from Kilburn to Kent.

Vic Ashdown, Headteacher at Valley Park School said that the school is delighted to provide the Tricycle Theatre’s new home.

The new theatre will enhance the outstanding work that happens within the performing arts department here at our school, providing yet more unforgettable experiences for our students and becoming a valuable creative resource for our local community - Vic Ashdown, Headteacher at Valley Park School

“The new theatre will enhance the outstanding work that happens within the performing arts department here at our school, providing yet more unforgettable experiences for our students and becoming a valuable creative resource for our local community,” he said.

Iain Mackintosh, Theatre Consultant and Historian commented: “In 1979, when planning our ‘unworthy scaffold’, Tim and I sent Tricycle founder Ken Chubb off to Richmond in Yorkshire to the 1788 Georgian Playhouse. This is a unique survivor from the end of the 18th century. 

“There were more than 200 such playhouses the length and breadth of England at the end of the 18th century. They were scaled to work for comedy and for tragedy, but were also mostly flexible. 

“It opened in 1980. The room where it stood burnt in 1987, but the scaffolding survived largely unscathed. It reopened in1989 and served Kilburn and the British theatre until last year. 36 years in all, almost as long as the 42 of its first life in Richmond. Now it is off to Maidstone in Kent for another reincarnation. An old stage never dies”.

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