Arts aficionado Dorian Kelly is impressed with what he finds on a visit to the new-look Mercury Theatre in Colchester

THE drought is over - not just the dearth of top-end drama and music, but also the lack of easily-bookable rehearsal rooms, dance studios, workshop spaces and meeting rooms in Colchester.

Yes, the Mercury is back with a bang. And what a bang.

The café-bar opened on Saturday morning and I was there, uninvited, within the hour to run a road test of the coffee and cake (most important) and take a tour of the new building, which I was determined to look at with an ultra-critical professional eye and report back to the management whether they like it or not.

I’m pleased to say I was so impressed with the community rooms, the dance studio, the massive rehearsal rooms, the easily bookable office space and meeting rooms (and the coffee and cake) that I forgot to be critical.

Gazette: Excited - Dorian Kelly, who is taking part

Columniost Dorian Kelly

The best I could offer was a lame suggestion of better signage to the toilets.

As the Mercury is running tours of the building this week (fully booked, it seems), the café-bar was full of people, all of whom appeared to appreciate their surroundings.

The menu, under the tutelage of the first executive chef at Greyfriars, seemed comprehensive and I understand they are serving meals up to 8pm, with the bar open until late.

Gazette: Food, glorious food - The Mercury's new cafe-bar Picture: Simply C Photography

Food, glorious food - The Mercury's new cafe-bar Picture: Simply C Photography

They have obviously given a great deal of thought to the way the area is laid out to handle not only daytime cafe customers, but the theatre crowds, too.

And as a special treat, the theatre is offering a series of free late-night entertainments in the bar - music, poetry, comedy, after-show talks and whatever else occurs to their fertile imaginations.

The Mercury ethos is inclusivity, which is why every square inch of the floor space is fully accessible everywhere.

There are now three lifts instead of one and the free internet works at a blistering speed.

I downloaded a test file of 2gb which loaded in less than five seconds.

The theatre itself looks just the same at first sight - it has had a lick or two of paint - but don’t be deceived. There are more seats with a larger number at a permanently reduced price.

The backstage is completely refurbished, with badly-needed new light, sound and stage management facilities which will cement the Mercury’s national reputation for excellence.

Gazette: Looking the part - the revamped Mercury Theatre Picture: Simply C Photography

Looking the part - the revamped Mercury Theatre Picture: Simply C Photography

The dressing rooms are no longer cramped and crowded and the wardrobe actually has room to create and maintain costumes, and there is a proper green room for exhausted actors in need of a cup of tea.

But the Mercury is not just about theatre on the stage.

It’s about giving opportunities to adults and children from tots to teens to act, dance and create music and theatre.

It’s about professional development for theatre-makers, playwrights and technicians - and it offers a space for freelancers to hire an open plan workstation in the creative and inspiring midst of the Mercury team.

Just the place to write that play.

I look forward to the Sherlock Holmes piece Baskerville, a new version of Sophoclese’s Antigone, an Agatha Christie play and so much more.

I don’t think I will be joining the Little Mix tribute, but each to their own.


Just take a look at their what’s on page.

It might take a little time, because there is so much.

Oh, and if you are passing by in the evening, the lighting of the outside is quite spectacular - and I am notoriously hard to please.