David Adamson writes about the latter years of the theatre's history from the University of Cambridge first taking over management of the building in 1973, to the present day.
You can read part one of David Adamson's account of the theatre's history here.
The next notable event in the theatre's history was that in 1973/4 when the University took out a leasehold on the building; this followed considerable nervousness in the University administration about the way that the ADC management was able to handle the accountancy for the new Selective Employment Tax.
The ADC continued to flourish with a succession of brilliant and devoted members, but by the end of the 1990s, there was increasing concern about the suitability of the building: upgrades since 1974 had been limited and piecemeal as ADC funding had faltered. There was no reception area, and so performance attendees queued up along the street, sometimes in the rain, to gain admission, buying tickets, literally, at the door. There were almost no facilities for access or movement around the theatre by disabled patrons, and the flexibility of backstage facilities and of the bar area was woefully inadequate. In 2001/2 an assessment of upgrade requirements was carried through, and a proposal to carry out all the refurbishment over a one-summer period was proposed, and nearly was approved. However, some of the management committee were very concerned that this was too ambitious and would end in tears; so, perhaps surprisingly, the ADC asked the University to manage a programme of extensive upgrading. The University agreed, though its construction programme was somewhat over-stretched already.
The first phase of the ADC upgrade project took place over the long vacation of 2003: utilities were re-sited so as to allow the subsequent phases to take place, and the building’s foundations were much reinforced. The existing foundations were amazingly scanty, just a few courses of bricks below ground level. When asked why indeed the building remained standing, the reply of the excellent project manager Lionel Lambert of the University estate management department, kneeling down and peering gloomily into the existing foundations merely said “habit, just habit". The cost of this first phase was £750,000, slightly less than had been budgeted and expected. So the new season duly started in October - and with a very ambitious and successful new ticketing system. The following year an extension to the building, designed by architects Bland, Brown and Cole, led by that ADC stalwart, Barry Brown who had been the undergraduate Footlights president in his day and was still making brilliant appearances in productions. This, and all phases were constructed by the contractor Kier Marriot.
The theatre's foyer and facade before and after the 2004 redevelopment
The second phase of the redevelopment, April to September 2004, required the closure of the theatre for one term. It included the re-modelling of existing ground floor areas, so improving facilities for staff and customers alike with the long-awaited improvement to the foyer and ticketing area, and further improvement in disabled access, particularly for those in wheel-chairs, and the facade of the building was remodeled to what it is now. This phase was also completed to time and to the £550,000 budget.
The following phase in 2005 also focused on accessibility; the foyer lift was installed and a new corridor on the first floor allowed full access between bar and auditorium on that side. By raising the upper flight of the main entry stairs, there was improvement to the raking of auditorium seating giving better sight-lines and better leg-room for the new seating, which proved very popular. The technical control rooms on the second floor were enlarged and slightly relocated so as to link with the new lift.
Construction photographs and an artist's impressions of the redevelopment
The last of this four-phase upgrade was completed in 2005/6, at a cost of £1 million, with a two-story extension to provide new dressing rooms and a brand-new multi-purpose studio space aptly named the Larkum Studio, after the wonderful Charles Larkum (1942–2006) who served as the popular and very effective chairman of the theatre’s executive committee from 1999 until 2006.
The ADC was now one of the only two theatres in Cambridge with full pit, flying tower and good stage facilities; the refurbishment won the Local Authority Award in 2009 for the ‘Best Technical Design and Construction in East Anglia’.
Photographs of the phase three redevelopment in the summer of 2018 and of 'His Dark Materials' at the Fitzwilliam Museum
The most recent phase of building redevelopment took place in the summer of 2018, during which time the building was closed to the public for six months and the management team launched their 'ADC On Tour' season in pop-up venues across Cambridge. The center-piece of this season was an adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, which took place in the Fitzwilliam Museum's Temporary Exhibition Space.
The ADC theatre had previously been making plans for several years to introduce a ventilation system into the auditorium. These plans were developed and formalised between 2016-17 and the project was completed during the summer of 2018 alongside the installation of two lighting bridges, new auditorium seating, and a much-needed refurbishment of the theatre's offices, bar and front of house areas.
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