At last, there is more news of the much-missed Bloomsbury Theatre, as students were finally briefed on the Bloomsbury renovation consultation process.

Simon Cane, UCL’s Director of Public and Cultural Engagement at UCL, Frank Penter, the Bloomsbury’s Theatre Coordinator, and Nick Edmonds, Activities and Events Officer briefed arts society representatives. Also present was Matt Aldridge, the Student Arts Officer, who attended the initial consultation meetings.

Plans begin to take shape

In the plan devised, Bloomsbury will reopen in Term 1 of the 2018/19 academic year, with the main construction work to start at the end of 2017. The new design will be as similar to the old theatre as possible – mostly because this allows the quickest build. With specialist external design consultants Charcoal Blue already involved, this seems fairly promising.

The Bloomsbury’s operating model is also to be revised. In the new theatre, students will be given 5 extra weeks in which to perform and set up productions. Commercial usage has been reduced to compensate for this, but Cane and Nick Edmonds intend to promote the regular Bloomsbury programme as much as possible within UCL to help cover this shortfall.

The board now have an incentive independent of student concerns to reopen the Bloomsbury by 2018: it will be the theatre’s 50th anniversary, and the Bloomsbury administration are keen to celebrate it in style with a grand re-opening programme.

No Approval Yet

However, the plan has not yet been approved by UCL. The Bloomsbury’s future rests on the ability of the project board to convince UCL management that their new operating model can cover the costs of running the theatre adequately – and until they do, the specifics of the new model can’t be decided, which means specific student concerns like backstage renovations and rehearsal access have yet to be addressed at all.

There has also been no mention of a potential replacement for the Garage Theatre, which closed last year.

Doubts in the long term

The main concern of SAO Matt Aldridge, however, is that once this year’s graduates are ceremonially dumped onto the streets, there will be almost no students left who performed in the old Bloomsbury. The new operating model of the Bloomsbury is nebulous enough already, with the plan as yet unapproved, if all the students who knew the old theatre are gone by the time it’s decided, it will be far harder to get student concerns across in the implementation.

All Cane’s placating promises of additional student access, backstage renovations, and a swift re-opening will come to nothing if UCL can’t be convinced; and if the new operating model isn’t decided soon, there won’t be any student veterans of the Bloomsbury left to fight for it.

Huw Steer
Image: ©UCL Digital Media, 2018