Mercury Theatre

Arts Impact Fund

The loan will allow this acclaimed producing theatre in Essex to manage working capital as it renovates its 40 year old building into a cultural hub fit for the 21st century.

Mercury Theatre New Building Visualisation

Mercury Theatre

Region: East of England
Discipline: Theatre and performance
Investment size: £400,000

The Arts Impact Fund has supported the Mercury Theatre to embark on a transformational £10m capital project, which will see the renovation of its existing premises – the first major work on the theatre building since its construction in the early 1970s.

Based in the historic town of Colchester in Essex, the Mercury is a major producing theatre for the region, focusing on developing new talent and supporting young people. The theatre dates back to 1937, when it started life as the Colchester Repertory Company. In 1972, support from Colchester Borough Council and a major public fundraising campaign allowed the company to move into its current home, next to the town’s iconic water tower, ‘Jumbo’. At the time, this was a state-of-the-art theatre, comprising of a 480-seat main theatre, a smaller studio, an onsite workshop and wardrobe facilities.

In recent times, the Mercury has made a name in supporting the next generation of theatre-makers. Example programmes include an annual Essex Playwriting Competition, a Festival of New Work in partnership with the BBC and the University of Essex and a Vocational Degree in Technical Theatre that it the Mercury delivers in partnership with the Colchester Institute. Its community outreach team takes youth theatre to schools, works with the town’s major garrison, and helps isolated elders, as well as children and adults with learning disabilities.

Among the more innovative programmes run by the Mercury is its hACKt summer school, which is aimed at young people aged 11-16 and explores theatre making through digital technology and computer game design. Over the course of a week, young people work with Mercury Theatre professionals and can expect to use drama, video game design software, choreography, Raspberry Pi’s, filmmaking and coding to experiment and explore the possibilities of digital creativity – all of which culminates with a performance.

To continue meeting the needs of a growing and more diverse audience, the theatre embarked on a £10m capital project, Mercury Rising, that will modernise the existing building and add new spaces and facilities, including a dedicated space for its creative learning and talent development initiatives.

Whilst several minor improvements have been made to Mercury Theatre’s site since the 1970s, there has been no significant, regular investment in the theatre’s infrastructure over the years. To continue meeting the needs of a growing and more diverse audience, the theatre recently embarked on a £10m capital project, Mercury Rising, that will modernise the existing building and add new spaces and facilities, including a dedicated space for its creative learning and talent development initiatives. Moreover, the redeveloped site will allow the theatre to consolidate its multiple office spaces under one roof, resulting in substantial cost-savings.

The construction phase of the project began in June 2019 and ahead of this, the theatre approached the Arts Impact Fund to provide cashflow support while capital fundraising continues. Repayment of the loan could come from a number of sources: ongoing capital fundraising, box-office revenues and the cost-savings that could result following completion of the renovations. The Arts Impact team was impressed with both the Mercury’s people – at board and management levels. They were well organised, clear in the communications and produced accurate and timely information in relation to the project. In addition to this, the CEO and board also demonstrated much capital project experience in former lives that gave us comfort around key risks being managed.

The theatre will re-open to the public in September 2020. In the meantime, the Mercury will move to a large, temporary bell-tent in the nearby Abbey Field, beginning its return to the building in the spring of 2020. We expect Mercury’s youth theatre programme to benefit in particular from the new creative learning spaces and for the quality and quantity of young people’s engagement to increase. This will be monitored closely in our quarterly catch-ups with the investee.