We were back to our usual weekly scone-tasting today and decided to try the new cafe in the recently-refurbished Alnwick Playhouse. This was a great opportunity to check out what’s new in this popular local venue.
We got one of the last tables available in the bistro section (it was the busy lunchtime period)- there are additional tables in the foyer but it all seems to fit together well. It was good to see the place full of people again after such a lengthy closure for the renovations. The staff were helpful and our coffee and scones arrived quickly. The drinks were served in generously large cups with saucers and the scones were just warm and served with foil wraps of nicely soft butter. I wasn’t sure why the scones were sliced. I prefer to pull them apart to see the texture. They may have been a little under-baked for my taste, possibly bought in rather than made on the premises, but quite acceptable. There were some very scrumptious-looking cakes in the counter cabinet.
I do like the lunch menu, which had a good varied selection of classic sandwiches, including the local ham and pease pudding stotty, salads, soup and some with a Moroccan flavour (using ingredients like chickpeas, falafel, halloumi), It all looked very appetising and portions look generous, The staff were attentive and cleared tables quickly: it always looked tidy during our visit. It did seem a on the expensive side, but not excessively so. It’s a welcome addition to that part of the town, open to the public whether or not you are at a theatre performance.
The town has eagerly awaited completion of this multimillion pound refurbishment, following a massive fundraising effort. Alnwick Playhouse has always served its community well, with an impressive programme of theatre, music, comedy, dance and film, including live broadcast West End theatre productions, opera and ballet.
Many local people have been on both sides of the footlights at the Playhouse as amateur and school shows are given a high profile too…. and rightly so. Their standard is very high (and that merits professional performance space which brings out the best in our performers and musicians. I once spoke to some holidaymakers in the interval at a junior amateur production. They were staying nearby so thought they’d spend an evening at the theatre. Initially they been disappointed, thinking that the show that night was “just a school play” but soon changed their minds and were so impressed they wanted to come back again.
Now it’s re-opened! I’m impressed with what they’ve done to the place – thoughtful consideration of how to improve facilities AND retain the unique character and features of the building. That’s never easy but I think they’ve done a pretty amazing job. They’ve opened up areas of the building I didn’t know existed, to integrate a re-sited public library/information centre (and the cafe) alongside the theatre and gallery. It isn’t at all cramped though – it actually looks and feels more spacious. It’s a really clever use of space
There are some good improvements to accessibility too and I had a brief look at some of these. The entrance ramp has been resurfaced and the metal railings replaced by toughened glass, which doesn’t block the cafe’s view of the street. The handrails on the steps seem better too. The reception/box office counter is lower. The lift to the upper floor is easier to use as it’s not tucked into an awkward corner like before, but the beautiful spiral staircase has been retained. The gallery space looks more spacious, making use of previously dead space and flexible seating. Only the bar is still not fully accessible. It never has been so I won’t miss it! I hope to go to a show soon and try out the auditorium for accessibility – reports are good so I’m confident it will be a good experience. The young woman at reception/box office was really helpful and knowledgeable about the building’s accessibility.
Enough! I’m sounding like the brochure. I need to stop (and knit). I’m sure there’s scope to do that in the Playhouse too.
Do you have a local community theatre? What makes it special to you?