AN explosion of golden confetti signified the grand reopening of Colchester’s Mercury Theatre after an £11.3million renovation project.

Directors, sponsors, actors and councillors joined together to tread the boards of the newly-refurbished theatre yesterday after two years of closure for the Mercury Rising transformation.

To mark the milestone, everyone who was invited took to the stage of the redeveloped main auditorium for a confetti cannon celebration before heading on to a tour of the venue.

Gazette: Reopening - Steve Mannix and Tracey Childs in the new cafeReopening - Steve Mannix and Tracey Childs in the new cafe

Executive director Steve Mannix said he was “over the moon” with the result of the transformation.

The refurbished venue includes a larger and brighter foyer space, a new café bar, additional seating, a new rehearsal room and extended backstage facilities.

The building also is more accessible for people with disabilities.

Mr Mannix added: “There has been a great team effort and [yesterday] was a real testament to that work.

“This is a venue has been built for local people by local people and, against all the odds, we have been able to keep going.

“People really value the Mercury Theatre.

Gazette: Celebration - inside the revamped auditoriumCelebration - inside the revamped auditorium

“We represent the best of the town and of the £11.3million we have spent, we have spent £10million in the local economy through contractors.”

But the road to completion has not been without its bumps.

The theatre has faced a host of challenges over the past few years during its transformation project.

The coronavirus pandemic delayed the works significantly, and much of the new furniture had to be chosen via Zoom calls, rather than in person, due to restrictions.

Some of the equipment needed for the renovation was even stuck on the container ship which blocked the Suez Canal for six days, causing further setbacks to the project.

Gazette: Visiting - guests on a tour of the theatre Visiting - guests on a tour of the theatre

The renovation also ended up costing £1million more than its £10million initial budget.

However, Mr Mannix and executive producer Tracey Childs both feel the improved building has managed to exceed all of their expectations.

Ms Childs said ticket sales for the upcoming Aladdin pantomime alone have reached £150,000 already.

“We were not sure how people would react to the transformation, but people have really missed the Mercury and have been booking tickets,” she said.

“I think now most people have been vaccinated, they are looking forward to going to the theatre together.”

She said anyone can make use of the new café and bar space without booking tickets for a show.

Gazette: Welcome - Steve Mannix in the main auditorium Welcome - Steve Mannix in the main auditorium

Ms Childs and Mr Mannix said they felt “humbled” by the generosity of residents who raised £660,000 towards the renovation works.

The rest of the funding was secured through Arts Council England, Colchester Council, Essex Council, South East Local Enterprise Partnership and European Regional Development Fund, as well as the Government’s Kickstart Cultural Recovery Fund.

Colchester’s mayor Robert Davidson was one of the guests at the grand reopening ceremony yesterday.

He said: “It is a privilege to see the Mercury rising.

“The team have had to pull it together through thick and thin.

“Without all of the partners [here today], we would not have been able to start and finish this project.

“I am looking forward to all of the plans over the next two years here.”

The building opens for the first time to the public on Saturday and the season opens in July with Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville, directed by the company’s creative director Ryan McBryde.

It will be followed in October by the UK premiere of Antigone directed by Dawn Walton.

Also launching this season is Mercury Originals, a programme of new plays, showcasing the voices of local writers. The year concludes with the return of the pantomime Aladdin.

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