More seats, more panto, and absolutely no portable toilets. Executive director, Steve Mannix, tells us what we can expect from the iconic theatre’s temporary home.

Just three weeks ago, part of a ceiling came down in the Mercury Theatre. 

This isn’t the polished performance we see when we go for a show – but when the Mercury has not had any major investment since being built in 1972, it is inevitable. 

Steve Mannix, executive director, said: “It’s only just about holding on. It’s not unsafe, but it’s only going to last a few more years.” 

The theme of theatre’s £9 million Mercury Rising renovation, as its website will tell you, is “bigger and better”. 

A busy night at the Mercury makes for a heaving front-of-house, so this will be expanded. 

Actors will get more rehearsal space and dancers will get a professional studio to practice in.

Mr Mannix said: “I want to see the whole foyer and café full of teenagers.”, shares Steve, explaining what he believes the theatre will mean to the community. 

“I don’t care if they’re hanging around with one can of coke for the whole evening. In these days of high knife crime, it should be their space. 

“If they want to do a show, if they want to put a band on, it should be theirs.”

However, this is all a good while away. 

The new and improved theatre is schedule to open its in September 2020, so what will be happening in the mean time?

Abbey Field will be the home of the Mercury’s productions until next summer. 

A giant marquee will become a temporary theatre – offering more seats than even the renovation will at 847. 

According to Mr Mannix the temporary theatre will be a “When we asked Steve to explain the tmporary theatre to us, he says it’s best put simply as: “a big top, but with comfy seats”.

He added: “And it will have nice loos. Not your horrible portable loos.”

As for the number of seats, this was contradictory, but for a good reason. 

Steve explained why When the Mercury reopens it will not be the size of big London theatres, in fact it will only have a few dozen more seats than it does now. 

Mr Mannix says a half-full auditorium would make for a poor experience and the big shows comes with big tickets prices, so the Mercury is happy in the “middle range”. 

The launch of the temporary theatre coincides with the pantomime season, where attendance is never an issue. 

In fact, more than 35,000 people came to see the panto last year, and with “record number” of advanced sales of the tent’s star show, Steve isn’t worried about a poor atmosphere. 

Mr Mannix is confident. He says  Chester’s Grosvenor Park hosted an open theatre which too started as a temporary measure but ended up staying put because of the success. 

Could one of the Mercury’s temporary venue become a permanent fixutre? 

“I’m all up for it,” said Mr Mannix, “but let’s see how it goes first. You might find me a gibbering wreck.” 

The Mercury Rising project and funding for theatres in general have come under scrutiny in times of funding cuts.

Mr Mannix said: “We didn’t steal any money from Age Concern, we didn’t steal any money from the cancer unit. Because we can’t.

“We went for funding that is allocated for the arts.” 

Mr Mannix believes the use of public funding is in the town’s interest because it means people visiting Colchester to see a show are putting money into the economy though meals, parking and shopping. 

Another criticism levelled at funding by Conservative borough councillor Dennis Willetts was that theatres are for “toffs”.

Mr Mannix says the theatre’s figures show the opposite, that a huge cross-section of society enjoy the theatre.

He is adamant it will continue to offer something to everybody, from opera to tribute bands to comedians, as well as running clubs and courses, apprenticeships and employment opportunities. 

But first there is the small matter of raising £500,000 in public donations, which is probably Mr Mannix’s biggest challenge yet.