A great transformation

The Regal after the refurbishment

The Regal after the refurbishment - Credit: sub

The Regal Theatre in Minehead has recently undergone a series of refurbishments which have transformed it into a vibrant venue

The Regal in 1934

The Regal in 1934 - Credit: sub

The refurbishments which, with the hard work of volunteers and contractors and the support of local architects Louise Crossman Architects, reflect the vibrancy and enthusiasm of the arts groups using the theatre.

The new Regal lift and entrance

The new Regal lift and entrance - Credit: sub

The History

The theatre was originally built in 1934, seating 1,600 people in two tiers, with a single-storey ballroom on one side. The ballroom was sold many years ago. Sadly, due to the general downward trend of traditional seaside entertainment, use as a large theatre/cinema was not possible by the 1970s, and, in 1979 Mr Welch, the owner, sold the main auditorium to a supermarket chain, retaining the upper tier, which was converted into a smaller theatre/cinema seating 410 people, and the original cafeteria, which was converted into a small cinema.

It was only through Mr Welch’s determination that the theatre survived at all.

In agreement with Mr Welch the local amateur groups equipped the stage and used it for about 10 productions a year. For the remainder of the year it was used as a cinema.

Minehead Amateur Theatrical Association (MATA), run entirely by volunteers, was formed in 1982 and was entrusted to take over the running of the theatre in 1994 with the ambition of enriching the lives of the people of West Somerset and their visitors by putting on as wide a variety of arts events as possible.

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The Transformation

With only basic facilities, the box-office shoe-horned into residual space on the first floor, and, with the theatre served only by a staircase which opened directly onto the street, the ambition of widening access to the arts was challenging.

MATA commenced with the conversion of the small auditorium into a bar, and then set about a series of phased improvements supported and designed by Louise Crossman Architects. The first phase included further refurbishment of the theatre bar and the reconstruction of the old, disused, over-street balcony.

The new balcony was designed to be used as an extension to the bar with bespoke stainless steel and glass balustrading, and with wooden, decking style, flooring. A fully glazed set of windows and doors provides access to the balcony from the bar.

The effect was to raise the street presence of the theatre and provide a pleasant space for theatre-goers to enjoy their drinks. The bar area is now also used for small scale events including music, close-up theatre, art exhibits, poetry and jazz.

The second phase involved the installation of a lift to provide improved access to the theatre, the relocation of the box office and the provision of accessible toilet facilities. This presented the opportunity to provide a much more iconic, distinguishable and welcoming presence at street level and using the limited space at ground floor level the new box office, lobby and lift shaft were designed with glass walls to invite members of the public in. A bold, pre-patinated copper roof visually links the new foyer with the existing green tiled roof of the theatre and at night the illuminated lift shaft now forms a beacon on the Minehead streetscape.

What’s on

MATA have an exciting schedule of productions planned for 2014 including an ongoing programme of films which are presented monthly by the Regal Film Society (next showing 11 February: Barbara, dir Christian Petzold, Germany 2012, subtitled).

Local amateur groups continue to show their work and are well regarded in the county, winning awards for their productions and for their actors. Next productions are the Barnstormers, 27 – 29 March, Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck), and Waterfront Theatre Company 1–3 May with The Remarkable Strange Case of Doctor Watson & the Spitalfields Vampires (by Fred Owen). Minehead Dramatic Society present Plaza Suite by Neil Simon 22–24 May.

Local companies will present further shows later in the summer and into the autumn, culminating with Minehead Panto People’s Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves after Christmas.

Highlights of the summer season are the hosting of the Minehead and Exmoor Festival with two classical concerts in early August and the MATA Summer Show 14–22 August, which this year is Les Misérables.

A full programme of professional theatre, dance and musical performances guarantees that there is always something to entertain at the Regal Theatre. Full details can be found online at regaltheatre.co.uk, where people can download the current events brochure.