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The top producer at Hampstead Theatre has revealed that the supermarket aisles of Sainsbury’s helped to inspire plans for a major revamp at the venue.
Greg Ripley-Duggan hopes the £450,000 refurbishment of the theatre’s foyer will help protect it from public funding cuts and secure its future for the next 100 years.
The executive producer says parts of the lobby area are currently a “complete disaster” and feel more like a waiting room at a “bleak eastern European airport”.
He was speaking last week after launching a public fundraising appeal for the popular venue in Eton Avenue.
He explained that plans to refurbish the split-level foyer, box office and cafe space started with the appointment in September 2012 of a new chairman, David Tyler, who is also the chairman of Sainsbury’s.
“He took one look and said, the people flow is all wrong,” Mr Ripley-Duggan told the Ham&High.
“It all started when he came in. He looked at it and said ‘I’m a retail man and this just doesn’t work’.
“He brought in a few people who designed Sainsbury’s superstores and it all flowed from that.
“We’re applying elementary retail science to what is a retail space.”
The theatre is calling on the community to raise £100,000 towards the refurbishment, which will take place over six weeks in the summer, after already securing the first £350,000.
The aim is to generate more money from trading, by selling more drinks and snacks at intervals and improving the daytime cafe experience.
The boost in trading revenue would help the theatre to “stand on its own feet” at a time when there is “no question that government aid is going to decline”.
Mr Ripley-Duggan says the theatre’s Arts Council grant of £870,000 has already been frequently “salami sliced” in recent years. Meanwhile, box office takings have hit a ceiling, with average attendance at 98 per cent in the last financial year.
“It’s all about securing the future of the institution and enabling it to strengthen so that it will be here in 50 to 100 years time,” he said.
The redesign will see the bar, box office and a staircase moved to open up space, allowing for more tables and meaning the place gets less “clogged up” so it will be easier to reach the bar. The “bleak” basement level will be spruced up.
The theatre is also “cautiously” reviewing the possibility of opening a restaurant by bringing its large unused kitchen into play.
Mr Ripley-Duggan said: “The ambition on stage really is the reason for all this. It’s about being able to mount bigger productions and being able to spend bigger money on the work.”
The theatre is also keen to ease the burden on its team of 19 by increasing staff numbers.
“I do worry about killing all these nice kids out there – we’re just working them into the ground,” he said.
“We have 14 productions a year. I don’t know how we do that really.
“Everyone gets the 1,000-yard stare after a bit. We will get to a point where it will become unsustainable.”