At least four regional theatres have been forced to close due to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) – amid fears that some may never reopen.
Dartford’s council-owned Orchard Theatre became the latest theatre to shut its doors on Tuesday after inspectors flagged issues with RAAC panels in the theatre’s roof.
The Sands Centre in Carlisle meanwhile shuttered its events hub, which hosts theatre and live music events, after the discovery of RAAC. It said improvement works in parts of the building were already underway and “will now be accelerated”.
It follows the closure of Northampton’s Royal and Derngate theatre and the charity-run YMCA Theatre in Scarborough, which both shut their doors and postponed upcoming events over the weekend due to identified RAAC – the building material that has led to chaos for schools and hospitals across England over fears it could crumble and pose a risk to life.
Another venue, the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh, East Lothian closed in March after “structural issues” with RAAC in its roof – with repair work since stalled by the local council after RAAC was also found in the local school. The future of the venue is currently unclear, with a decision on repair options – likely to require a “significant investment” – put off until later this year.
London’s iconic National Theatre has meanwhile confirmed to i that it is surveying “a small number” of areas where RAAC has been found.
A spokesperson for the venue said: “The National Theatre is a grade II* listed building made predominantly from traditional reinforced and post tensioned concrete; there are a small number of select backstage areas where RAAC is present.
“Our structural engineers are in the process of surveying these areas, initial indications are that they are safe and do not currently require remedial works.
“We have always and will continue to take the safety of our staff and audiences very seriously.”
The Theatres Trust has urged theatre owners “to seek guidance from specialist structural engineers” amid fears of further cases.
But Phillip Brown, director of membership at UK Theatre, told i he was not expecting a “tidal wave of issues”.
A number of bigger venues are thought to have quietly addressed RAAC concerns previously “when they’ve done refurbishment or upgrade to the venues”, he said.
The award-winning Chichester Festival Theatre confirmed to i that it had identified RAAC in its walls during a “comprehensive restoration and redevelopment” in 2013-14, adding: “It was removed and fully replaced at that time. No other RAAC remains.”
While “a lot of the bigger venues” have addressed RAAC concerns during routine refurbishment works, Mr Brown said “some of the smaller theatres, we don’t know about”.
Many council-owned venues are already “financially getting squeezed” amid local authority cuts, he said. Some within the industry have expressed fears that costly renovation work could pose a major challenge for venues still recovering from the pandemic and facing soaring costs.
None of the venues closing this week had a firm timetable for when they might reopen.
Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite said the closure of the Orchard Theatre was “not the news that anyone wants to hear but there is nothing more important than the safety of the audiences, staff, artists, volunteers and everyone at the venue”.
“Although any closure is a blow, we are in the fortunate position to have the resources and determination to put the building right and reopen it for the benefit of residents,” he said.
Jo Gordon of the Royal and Derngate Theatre meanwhile warned it was unclear when the venue will reopen.
“We are deeply saddened by this discovery and to have to close our doors at this time, particularly as September is usually an incredibly busy and important time for the theatre,” she said.
“We are keenly aware of the disappointment that this will cause to audiences, visiting companies and our staff alike, though we know they’ll understand that their safety is always our primary concern. We look forward to welcoming everyone back as soon as possible and updating further as soon as we are able.”