Derngate reopening: Everything visitors need to know about changes made to entry to Northampton theatre
The Derngate will tonight (October 24) reopen its auditorium, which has been closed since September 4 after the discovery of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in the theatre’s foyers.
Performances in the Royal auditorium resumed last Monday (October 16) and tonight the Derngate auditorium will reopen with Northampton Musical Theatre Company’s production of Kinky Boots.
Audience members have been assured that they will be kept away from the affected areas at all times.
The only changes to visitor experience will be the entry and exit routes, and the availability of some facilities.
This newspaper was given a tour of the adapted Royal & Derngate building, ahead of visitors being welcomed back on the evening of October 24.
Here’s everything you need to know about entering the building and where to go to watch your show in the Derngate auditorium
The challenge for the Royal & Derngate team has been figuring out how to get visitors in and out safely, where the box office is going to be located, and how everyone will access facilities like toilets and bars.
A “huge amount of retraining” has happened to ensure this has been achieved, with all new routes properly risk assessed and fire approved.
Over the past few evenings, trial runs have taken place – from evacuations to the experience customers will have inside the building – to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.
Everyone who has booked a ticket for a Royal & Derngate show is encouraged to engage with the information they have been directly sent via email, so they know what to expect.
All visitors should enter the building via the Northampton Filmhouse entrance, on Derngate. The main entrance remains out of bounds.
As customers enter along Derngate, they will be faced with a walkway – with new signage to make it as clear as possible about where they need to go.
The first entrance is labelled ‘circle’ and a flight of stairs will then take circle ticket holders to their seats, after being met by front of house team members.
The second entrance is labelled ‘stalls and bar’, which will take customers into the ground floor of the building.
After being met by front of house staff at the ‘stalls and bar’ door, customers can either go straight into the auditorium to their seats, or carry on round into the building – where the box office, bar area and toilets are located.
The team is pleased that the fire exits that are being used to enter the building are all close to accessible seating and facilities, meaning everyone can be welcomed back for the same experience.
Bespoke hoardings have been made and put up inside the building, to ensure it is clear where customers can and cannot go.
As you first go round the corner and into the building, there is the temporary box office. It still operates from John Franklin’s during the day, but in the evenings customers should use the temporary box office inside the theatre.
A lot of the facilities, as you continue into the building on the ground floor, remain available and unaffected.
More entrances to the auditorium stall seats are available further inside the building, as well as a pop-up bar that has been created. A few of those are dotted around the Derngate.
Where the original larger bars are, you can expect to see smaller units that have been made especially. Visitors can pre-order interval drinks to speed the process up.
The theatre shop is also located on the ground floor of the building.
At the furthest point, before the foyer is cordoned off and being worked on, there is the flight of stairs down to the toilets. These are completely protected and available to use.
All facilities are available on each floor, which includes toilets and pop-up bars for refreshments throughout.
“We want to make customers feel comfortable and confident that they are being kept away from the RAAC,” said Jo Gordon, chief executive of Northamptonshire Arts Management Trust and its venues – including the Royal & Derngate.
“The experience will be busy but there’s lots more space than we were anticipating. It’s designed to look as permanent as possible so there’s no confusion about where’s safe and where’s not.”
Though there has been a practice run for everything, the team are not naive to the fact changes may have to be made – and they will adapt accordingly.
Scaffolding is currently going up in the foyers and in as soon as two weeks’ time, they are going to take another look at the affected area.
It is anticipated that the box office will be moved back into the building in a few weeks and access to the Royal auditorium will change.
“The scaffolding will make it even safer,” said Jo. “For us, it’s about constantly evolving and constantly learning.”
Anyone with accessibility needs with seats located in the circle are advised to get in touch with the Royal & Derngate team ahead of their show. As there is a flight of stairs up to the circle seats and no lift, you will be re-seated somewhere more accessible.