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Treading The Boards
Oxford Playhouse (Oxford)
Member Name: Meggysmum
Oxford Playhouse (Oxford)
Advantages: Small intimate theatre
Disadvantages: Uncomfortable seats
Although I have lived near Oxford for many years I had only ever been to the New Theatre and although I was vaguely aware that the city boasted other theatres I had never visited them.
My daughter is part of a local drama group and they have become involved in the National Theatre youth connection competition. On passing the first round their next challenge was to perform in a "proper" theatre. They were allocated the Oxford Playhouse which is how I came to visit to watch their performance.
Travelling in to Oxford can be tiresome from our direction as the one-way system means that we have to drive a long way around the city to actually get in to the centre. The Park and Ride system is very good and the theatre is located in Beaumont Street, not far from the famous Randolph Hotel (familiar to all Inspector Morse fans) which is very much in the city centre, so only a short walk from the bus-stops.
However on this occasion we decided to drive in as our daughter was there all day and we felt she would be fit to drop by the time the performance had ended. A friend drove me into the centre last year and had parked very close to the theatres and a quick hunt on the internet showed me that we had obviously parked in the Gloucester Green car park. I printed off a map and found this underground car park quite easily after driving along St Giles and turning down past the Randolph Hotel. I drive 4x4 and I did panic that it wouldn't fit and although I don't think there was much space above my roof bars there was no nasty crunching noises! We arrived at 7pm and had to pay £3.10 per hour parking until 8pm and then £3.10 set fee until midnight. £6.20 is expensive but all Oxford parking is extortionate so we weren't surprised. The car park is pay and display.
The theatre is literally two minutes' walk from the car park so is very easy to find and the parking is very convenient.
I must admit that the first impression I had of the theatre was that it was quite drab looking. There were quite a few posters outside advertising future productions but the more elaborate shows tend to go to the New Theatre around the corner. The Playhouse is more of a community theatre which is why it was hosting the Connections performances.
The theatre was built in the 1930s and was designed to fit in with the style of other historic buildings on Beaumont Street.
The outside did look like it could do with a good clean but there are a lot of buildings in Oxford with the same appearance.
I had booked our tickets online and was picking them up from the box office. We arrived early so I was able to get a good look at the foyer before it became full of people. I immediately became aware that the area had obviously undergone a very recent refurbishment. The area was not huge but it was bright and light with a lovely, friendly atmosphere. I headed for the desk on the left-hand side under the sign marked Tickets and a very friendly lady quickly produced my tickets for me. Directly ahead was the entrance to the theatre and that was roped off due to the early time. Next to this was a low counter selling a small selection of drinks and sweets ready for the performance, there was also a basket of free programmes for our particular show. You could also pick up flyers for future productions.
To the right was a comfortable bar area. There were a small number of seats and it was simply decorated in a modern style. We didn't use the bar before the show although it was open. It was such a lovely sunny evening that we decided to stretch our legs and have a little walk around the historic city before returning in time for the start. However we spoke to some friends who had bought drinks and they said that the prices were not too bad, less than they had expected in a theatre. If you wanted to pre-order drinks for the interval you could.
The toilets were clearly sign-posted but getting to them required negotiating quite a steep staircase. The toilets were very clean (well the ladies were, obviously I didn't venture into the men's!) although the cubicles were tiny. There were a couple of washbasins but only one hand-dryer so I imagine there would be quite a queue on a busy evening during the interval. I found out later that there was a disabled toilet on the ground floor.
This theatre has both stalls and circle but the circle was closed when we visited as the theatre groups were using the circle area and the bar area upstairs for changing and relaxing.
The stalls consisted of about 15 rows of seats. The predominant colour as you walk in is red as all of the seats and the carpets are very red. This is not an ornate theatre so there is no lavish decoration inside the auditorium. Strangely enough the stage does not have a curtain. This surprised me as I thought that a fire-curtian was a standard safety item in this sort of venue and also the lack of a normal curtain seemed odd. I did ask my daughter if there was a curtain but they chose not to use it but she said that there just didn't appear to be one.
The stage is not very high but all of the seats in the stalls seemed to offer a reasonable view due to the slight sloping nature of the auditorium and the staggered seating across the rows. I am quite short but I had no problems with the view, even with another adult sat in front of me.
The main problem with the auditorium is the seating. The seats have quite a low back so are not terrible comfortable but the worst part was the lack of legroom. As I stated I am somewhat vertically challenged but I could barely get my legs comfortable. My husband and son ended up sitting at a slight sideways angle to fit their legs in (luckily there was an empty seat next to my son). Entering and leaving the row if there was anyone still in their seats was quite a challenge as even standing and lifting the seat didn't really give a lot of room for manoeuvre. To be honest anyone that was more than even slightly overweight might find the whole situation rather uncomfortable.
Even though we were watching an amateur performance I felt that the lighting and the sound quality was actually very good.
I liked visiting this cosy little theatre but it is a shame about the cramp seating as that is about the only negative point. Due to a lack of funding the theatre was closed in 1987 as there wasn't enough money to pay for the necessary refurbishments. In 1991 it re-opened and I presume that the auditorium was refurbished then although it still held the feeling of being quaint and old fashioned. More money was provided in 2002 and I presume that went to refurbishing the foyer area as that did all look quite new and clean. We certainly had a good night out and my daughter is very pleased to have played on the same stage as well-known names such as Elizabeth Taylor and Rowan Atkinson.
Summary: Nice small thatre
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