Theatre Royal, Sawclose, City Centre
The Theatre Royal is a Grade II* 1805 theatre, situated within the historic centre of the Bath Conservation Area and World Heritage Site. The Grade II* listing also encompasses the adjoining early 18th century Garrick’s Head public house along St John’s Place, formerly a townhouse which was originally constructed in the Baroque style and occupied by Beau Nash (Historic England) before his later occupation of the Grade II* 9 St John’s Place. The Theatre Royal retains a prominent position within the public realm of Sawclose which was completed in 2018, although it is noted that its now-principal frontage and Sawclose entrance were later 19th century additions as part of remodelling works in the 1860s. The former entrance to the Theatre was orientated onto Beauford Square, along which the Theatre maintains a grandiose presence as originally designed by George Dance the Younger. The Theatre has further expanded to incorporate buildings to the south-west; the Grade II formerly St Paul’s Church Hall on the corner of Monmouth Place and St John’s Place has been converted to The Egg children’s theatre, and the Ustinov Studios were later constructed along Monmouth Place in 1997.
BPT acknowledges the challenges faced by the Theatre to appropriately market and showcase its growing programme of events and shows. Sawclose’s commercial demographic has made this area increasingly competitive between a range of evening/after-hours leisure and food and drink venues, which can also be considered in wider relation to adjoining areas of high public activity and ‘night time economy’ such as Kingsmead Square. Considering the Theatre Royal’s role as one of Bath’s key performance venues and event spaces, we therefore welcome the opportunity to update the Theatre’s signage and enhance its activation of the public realm and streetscape in this area.
The use of a gold-finish frame on the proposed signage modules on the principal east elevation would appropriately match the existing gold detailing treatment, pending further details as to the exact finish. The existing poster boxes across the east elevation and the south-west corner already utilise gold-coloured frames.
BPT has typically maintained a position against the use of illuminated/screen signage within the city conservation area, although the suitability of illuminating signage or a building frontage remains to be carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis dependent on the defined special interest of the building and its localised contribution to the historic environment. Our full position is available in our publication ‘Signs, Adverts, Banners and Awnings’. In the case of the Theatre Royal, we consider that the sensitive use of illumination is in-keeping with the historic typology of theatres and cinemas/picture houses which often feature illuminated signage, as can be seen at Komedia (formerly Cannon Cinema) and Bath Forum. We further emphasise the Theatre’s status as an exceptional building which defines the Sawclose public realm, which would be enhanced through the limited use of activating signage.
It would be helpful for further technical details to be provided as to how the new signage modules would be installed. The existing poster boxes feature internal illumination, and it is therefore presumed that the new modules would reuse existing chasing-in points for any cabling or wires. It is further recommended that where possible, new signage should reuse existing fixing points to minimise any harm to or loss of historic stonework.
We note that as part of the Vision Statement, proposed visuals have been provided including the new signage modules. However, in the proposed visual of the east elevation, it appears to include the provision of two new A-boards to replace the existing A-board. BPT maintains that there is an ongoing issue with the proliferation of A-board signage and resulting increase in clutter within the public realm of detriment to both the visual amenities of the conservation area, as well as the pedestrian amenity of accessing Bath’s public spaces and pavements. B&NES similarly maintain in their guidance on commercial signage that “Free standing ‘A’ boards can cause obstruction to pedestrians”; a maximum of one A-board per business may be considered where it can be demonstrated that this would not impinge on or obstruct public accessibility of the streetscape. We therefore maintain that due to the increased activation and engagement offered by the proposed installation of 5x digital signage modules, there is limited justification for the further need of 2x A-boards which would negatively contribute to the cumulative cluttering of the Sawclose public realm. We therefore strongly recommend that this aspect of proposals is omitted.
In relation to the proposed signage on the south-west elevation around the entrance to The Egg, there is a positive opportunity to better enhance the separate principal access to the children’s theatre. Whilst the principle of slightly increased signage modules either side of the entrance is accepted, there would be a disparity between the scale of the existing and proposed signage that would unbalance the overall cohesiveness of the signage approach across this frontage. Where possible, we would encourage consideration of updating all four signs in this area to maintain a homogenous approach to signage height and scale.