Named after Christopher Marlowe, Canterbury’s famous Tudor playwright, the multi-award winning 4,850m2 Marlowe Theatre has been built in the heart of the city’s historic core.
The Marlowe had been key to the city’s cultural life for decades yet prior to reconstruction the Marlowe theatre building was housed in a converted but dilapidated 1930’s cinema which more resembled low-grade jazzy seaside architecture than the major theatre in one of Britain’s finest historic cities. The city launched an architectural competition for its redevelopment which was won by Keith Williams Architects and in due course, the old Marlowe was demolished to make way for Keith Williams’ new building which has been constructed on the same site on an expanded plot which now connects the site to the banks of the River Stour as it meanders through the city.
The new Marlowe contains a 1,200 seat main auditorium, flytower and orchestra pit, a 150 seat second space, cafés and bars, rehearsal and backstage facilities.
The triple level foyer unites all public spaces and auditoria creating an open, inviting public place within the city at the head of a new public square.
The building has been treated as a single composition rising in layers from the existing historic buildings along the Friars, the street on which the Marlowe sits, to the pinnacle of the remodelled flytower. An 8m high, reconstructed stone colonnade enwraps the glass foyer, mediating between the necessarily large components such as the main auditorium and flytower, and the 2 and 3 storey historic buildings along The Friars which form the Marlowe’s immediate immediate context.
The flytower’s surfaces are clad in a stainless steel mesh skin, dematerialising the flytower’s form, and causing its surfaces to subtly reflect the hues of the sky. In a move echoing the elevated main theatre at the Unicorn 2001-2005, the second auditorium is lifted 5.5m above entrance level, to allow the foyer to slide beneath maintaining visual connection with the river. The second auditorium’s external skin is clad in pre-oxidised copper to form a contextual connection with the red/brown roofscape of the city.
Construction began May 2009 on a 2 year programme to completion and was opened by HRH The Earl of Wessex KG, GCVO on 4th October 2011.
The Marlowe Theatre has since its opening totally transformed the cultural life of the city, and helped regenerate a neglected quarter of Canterbury city centre. The building that we have created, the second tallest in Canterbury city centre after the cathedral, has shown that it is possible to bring exemplary new architecture to the heart of even our most historic cities. The multi-award winning project has sold over 3 million tickets since it launched meaning that the Marlowe can justifiably claim to be one of the UK’s most successful regional theatres.
In February 2022, the Marlowe won the Theatre of the Year Award 2021 at the Stage Awards, a fantastic tribute to the efforts of the entire Marlowe team during the pandemic.
Client : Canterbury City Council & the Marlowe Theatre
The project featured extensively in the press including :
6 October 2011 Architects Journal “Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, Keith Williams Architects” by Felix Mara