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Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Description: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Grade: II
Date Listed: 11 October 2012
Building ID: 1407438

OS Grid Reference: SU9958349211
OS Grid Coordinates: 499583, 149211
Latitude/Longitude: 51.2334, -0.5750

Locality: Guildford
Local Authority: Guildford Borough Council
County: Surrey
Postcode: GU1 3UX

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Listing Text


Post-war provincial theatre, designed and built in 1963-5 by John Brownrigg of the locally-based firm Scott Brownrigg and Turner.

Reason for Listing

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Design interest: a distinctive, sculptural form, with a dramatic curved facade of glazed outer walls set behind by a fin-like ‘brise soleil’, maximising a difficult but picturesque riverside setting within historic town centre;
* Interesting Plan: an inventive plan for its date comprising a single, large, circular auditorium with an apron stage, set within a horseshoe footprint, encircled by foyers overlooking riverside terrace;
* Use of materials: expressive, exposed concrete structure and auditorium; curved, predominantly glazed exterior shaded behind a concrete ‘brise soleil’;
* Auditorium: flexible circular plan with an apron stage, an exemplar of theatres of the period that were designed to engage the audience with the players, here with particularly good sight lines and acoustics, and with unusually large wings;
* Historic interest: the epitome of the new generation of post-war provincial theatres, the first in the South East to be funded by public subscription; named after the locally-based actress Yvonne Arnaud who brought it to fruition. Early use of a stage revolve and cyclorama.


The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre was designed and built in 1963-5 by John Brownrigg of the locally-based firm Scott Brownrigg and Turner, with contractors Marshall-Andrew & Co Ltd. It was built to replace a previous theatre which had been destroyed by fire in 1963, but coincided with a nationally heightened interest in provincial theatre which saw the emergence of notable new theatres, in, for example, Nottingham, Coventry, Chichester and Billingham from the late 1950s to mid-1960s.

The Arts Council had been set up in 1945 while the 1948 Local Government Act allowed local authorities to levy funds to support the arts. Although the construction of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre reflected this post-war government initiative to support the performance arts and it was secured by the donation of the site and £20,000 from the local authority, the theatre was essentially funded by subscription. Named after the actress and local resident, Yvonne Arnaud, the theatre has an impressive cultural heritage and like many contemporary provincial theatres at the time attracted prestigious casts, on the opening night led by Ingrid Bergman and Michael Redgrave. Set up as a repertory theatre, it became a producing theatre in the 1970s. Its proximity to London has attracted important artists while it has also fed productions to the London theatres.

Newman Turner and John Brownrigg set up in practice in 1946 with Duncan Scott joining them in 1955 to form Scott Brownrigg and Turner. John Brownrigg (1911-2002) had trained under HS Goodhart Rendell before studying at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. After a period of work at the LCC Architects' Department he became Assistant Art Director at Fox-British Films Ltd, where he was involved in the design and construction of film sets. Primarily known for residential developments in the Guildford area, the theatre was his most notable project, while other work included a technologically innovative house for the racing driver Stirling Moss, in London.

Changes in theatre direction in the 1950s and public expectation, heightened by increasing access to television, invited a new approach to theatre design, moving away from the traditional, framed proscenium that tended to separate the audience from the performance. Yvonne Arnaud was built with a single auditorium which was larger than most equivalent theatre spaces at the time and an apron stage that was increasingly favoured in post-war theatres, that in this case included a revolve and cyclorama and spacious wings.

The theatre stands on a virtual island formed by the former mill leat, overlooking the River Wey and it was intended that the main pedestrian approach should be from the west via a footbridge. The external lift tower, which was planned from the outset, was added shortly after the main theatre, as money allowed. The former mill buildings on the site (1771, listed Grade II) have always been used by the theatre, initially as a scenery store and workshops and latterly as a studio theatre. More recently some of the offices, dressing rooms and former rehearsal rooms in the main theatre have been refurbished to provide wardrobes and members' rooms.


MATERIALS: perimeter drum of reinforced concrete columns between fully-glazed walls, in part wrapped in an outer brise soleil, painted white. Stage, wings, fly tower and service block in pre-cast concrete. Dark grey brick and timber cladding. Auditorium interior in exposed, ribbed concrete, suspended plaster and timber lined ceiling, steel balustrades to balconies. Steel-truss roofs, with copper cladding above auditorium. Concrete and timber stairs with steel balustrades.

PLAN: D-plan. Circular auditorium, designed to seat 574, of end-stage layout with apron stage, flanked by spacious wings, with a horseshoe of foyers, dressing rooms and offices wrapped round it. Fly tower rises above the stage. Main entrance from Millbrook leads to ground floor foyer and to restaurant overlooking the river. Internal open stair leads to first floor foyer; above, on the upper floor, the former club room and circle bar. Full-height internal enclosed stair wells and external but linked lift tower. External stairs from ground floor to first floor foyer with small terrace. Single storey service block adjacent to river.

EXTERIOR: concave entrance set behind the piers of the curved outer drum and beneath a slender projecting, fan-shaped canopy that is supported on the piers. Vertically-aligned glazed brick cladding beneath clerestory lighting and timber cladding flank the entrance doors. Foyers have full-height steel window units between concrete columns, all painted white. Ground floor folding teak door units open onto the terrace. A brise soleil of narrow vertical fins, in the manner of Oscar Neimeyer, wraps the west-facing elevation overlooking the river and the entrance to Millbrook, creating a screen seen between trees. Behind it are steel-framed casement windows to offices and dressing rooms. The rear of building is constructed of shutter-marked pre-cast concrete blocks with deep, wide joints, with the canvas store and walkway projected externally. Above, a low fly tower with angled, louvred, clerestory vents, is set above the sloping roof that rises to the north-west and conceals the central dome above the auditorium. The shallow moulded eaves fascia continues as a narrow concrete band on the rear wall. Large door to wings to south of main entrance. Attached full-height cylindrical lift shaft to north, also concrete-framed with glazed walls and linked to the main building at ground floor and upper level. External stairs from the first floor foyer, constructed of concrete slabs supported on a slender central spur and with a steel balustrade, lead to a small circular sitting/viewing area at first floor level.

INTERIOR: entrance, with box office, leads to the foyer in which the radiating spokes supporting the upper floor slab are expressed in the ceiling. Visually floating, open-sided stairs with timber treads supported on a slender pre-cast concrete frame, with a steel balustrade and timber handrail, rise to upper foyer. Beyond is a separate restaurant that opens onto the terrace through folding, teak, glazed door units. On the ground floor cloakrooms and offices are set within the internal drum beneath the auditorium. At first floor level the drum is expressed with a vertically-ribbed surface and has shallow shelves for drinks attached to it.

Auditorium with steeply-raked stalls and balcony with steel framed balustrades, providing good sight lines. A pair of boxes to each side, each on a separate, projecting concrete floor slab. Exposed, heavily ribbed concrete walls, shaped plaster ceiling with a sound-reflective timber soffit above the stage, designed to maximise the acoustics which were further augmented by the carpets and upholstery. Apron stage within c 37 ft wide proscenium. Unusually wide wings; back stage corridor and upper bridge; sub-stage trap (proximity to the river prevented a full sub-stage corridor). Sound and lighting box to rear of auditorium.

Internal pre-cast concrete stairs have pronounced linear tread ends and steel balustrades. Other internal surfaces are functional: the wings and backstage being in exposed shutter-marked concrete; offices, dressing rooms and wardrobes have painted, concrete block or stud walls. The original rehearsal room, later a board room, has been refurbished as a members' room that is out of keeping with the original decorative scheme.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.