We Are Chester editor Angela Ferguson was invited to take a sneak peek inside Chester’s new Storyhouse centre, ahead of its much anticipated opening on 11 May.
There’s a palpable sense of excitement in Chester right now, with the countdown on to the opening of the hotly anticipated Storyhouse cultural hub.
The centre is undergoing the final touches before its grand unveiling on Thursday, 11 May.
It’s an imposing venue that is, to many people in and around the city, long overdue. It has, after all, been some 10 years since the city last had a major theatre and cinema at its heart.
Well, the waiting is nearly over, with just under eight weeks to go until the doors are opened to Storyhouse’s first customers and visitors. And if the team at Storyhouse are nervous about the impending grand opening then they are doing a good job of hiding it. Even at this late stage – with the final touches going on all around me – they are happy to lay on a pretty chilled out guided tour.
My guides are Storyhouse marketing and PR manager Nancy Davies and venue manager Noel Tegg, who has only been in the role for the past month or so. It’s good of them to take time out to accompany our little tour group, considering how close we are to the opening day.
I shuffle around the elegant Art Deco building in clumpy builders’ wellies which are a tad on the big side for my dainty feet. I’m part of a small tour group which also includes some of the friendly team from the neighbouring Coach Inn on Northgate Street, who are one of the sponsors of the building.
We giggle as we don our hard hats, hi vis vests and boots, feeling distinctly unglamorous but definitely ready to glimpse the butterfly that is Storyhouse preparing to break free from its cocoon and shine a light on all the good stuff already happening on the arts and culture scene in Chester.
The centre houses a theatre, studio theatre, a boutique cinema, a library, a restaurant, cafe and bar. It will also include a storytelling space for children, with a Narnia-esque wardrobe located nearby, packed with dressing up clothes linked to current productions.
It’s also clear from my wander around that the library has been well and truly integrated into the building. Book shelves abound in all corners, waiting to be filled with weighty tomes and tantalising tales.
And the main theatre – well, what can I say. It is somewhat unreal to walk through a door and glimpse a sea of scarlet seating fronting a huge and imposing stage in the very heart of the building. It’s been a long time coming but we finally have a venue that will be home to not only Storyhouse’s productions but also major touring productions.
The stage can be transformed from a traditional proscenium, where the actors are on stage at the front of the audience, to a more intimate thrust stage, where the audience surround the actors on three sides.
The theatre space reminds me of the Liverpool Everyman theatre, with an effortlessly hip and modern vibe. This urban chic look is also reflected in the open brick work, glass frontage and warm copper hues featuring in the new extension to the former Odeon building, including the very swanky rooftop bar. It’s all rather New York loft in appearance and certainly looks like it has the makings of an unmissable venue for a day or night out in the city.
I should add that the grand entrance to Storyhouse is an Art Deco feast for the senses, doing justice to the building’s glamorous 1930s roots, complete with curving walls and staircase to entice visitors to step inside.
The restaurant and cafe on the ground floor is called The Kitchen and will serve Mediterranean and Middle Eastern- inspired food. Equally, it’s also a place where thirsty visitors or theatre goers can enjoy a cuppa while taking in the hip and historic ambience of the venue. Is it possible for a venue to be both hip and historic? We certainly think so.
There will also be a big screen in the foyer area, with screenings of major national events, ranging from rugby and Wimbledon to General Election coverage and the Great British Bake Off final. We are also promised musical performances from the likes of Manchester Camerata in the foyer area.
It promises to be an eclectic mix of entertainment in a building that is sure to be a talking point far and wide. It is, after all, the largest public building ever in Chester and is set to attract half a million visitors every year, according to the Storyhouse team.
Indeed, the opening night at Storyhouse – featuring the inaugural performance of adults only musical, The Beggar’s Opera – is already a sell out.
The studio theatre – and the rooftop bar nearby – are known as The Garret. The Garret theatre will be available for hire and use by community theatre groups and other organisations. It will also be home to Storyhouse’s young company of actors, who will stage productions twice yearly.
I have to say that when our little tour comes to an end I don’t really want to leave. But one last glance inside the beating cultural heart of Chester should hopefully keep me going until May, when I can return and soak up the atmosphere that this venue already has in spades. We darn well deserve this cultural gem – a long awaited jewel in the crown of our already thriving cultural scene. Now, how many days is it again until Storyhouse opens? Not that we’re counting.