CROYDON COMMENTARY: The re-opening of the Fairfield Halls last week, after a refurbishment that took nearly four years and cost £41million, has met with some decidedly lukewarm reactions from Croydon residents and theatre-goers. Here reader DICK BUDGEN gives his first impressions
We went to Fairfield Halls for a concert of film music, and it wasn’t a great experience.
We arrived at 6.45 for the concert at 7.30pm, the idea to have a drink and a wander around before the show. We got neither. Everyone was corralled in the foyer and mezzanine, with burly security guards preventing anyone going through the doors to the stairs and areas around the auditorium.
I can understand why they wouldn’t open the auditorium itself (the orchestra was still doing its soundcheck), but there was no reason at all why they couldn’t have eased the crush in the foyer/mezz by allowing people into the other areas, which is normal at most concert venues.
Gone are the old volunteer stewards – instead there were dozens of young people in green FH sweatshirts ( I have a feeling that acronym is going to get a different interpretation) asking everyone if everything was alright. It wasn’t.
The foyer area was hot as hell and people were very unhappy, many fanning themselves with their programmes. The foyer bar was packed, with very long queues. The pop-up bar on the mezzanine was fully staffed, but for some inexplicable reason unable to sell drinks. They were the only bars.
The doors to the Ashcroft, where I assume there is still a bar, remained locked. I believe there is a club lounge somewhere for those prepared to pay an annual £45 fee. We aren’t. Like most people we just gave up. If we come again, we’ll bring our own refreshment.
They eventually let us in at 7.30, five minutes before the concert was due to start (it eventually started at 7.40), and we went to find our seats.
The signage is very small and poor, and there were no staff outside the auditorium to assist. Luckily, we had treated ourselves to box seats, so we kept going up until we reached the top floor, where there were a series of unmarked doors.
Having visited a storage area behind the organ and another cupboard/office, we eventually found the boxes. We then had to guess which was ours, which we did by a process of elimination and with help from others engaged in the same exercise.
The concert itself was fine, although the stage looks very bare and unattractive. A bit of dressing or even some imaginative lighting wouldn’t have gone amiss.
I wasn’t impressed with the rest of the refurbishment either. As far as I could tell, all they’ve done is give the wood panelling a wipe, splash some paint on the walls and lay some new(er) carpet. If their intention was to retain the tattiness of the 1960s original they have certainly succeeded. It was, and still is, the Poor Man’s Festival Hall.
And I have no problem with that, if that was the intention.
But I saw nothing worth the three years-plus closure and £41million price tag. The project is clearly far from finished.
From our seats, we had an excellent view of the dust and detritus on top of the organ enclosure. By looking through windows and peering over fences, you can see that much of the complex is still a building site. The rear of the building, where I believe they were planning improved access for stage trucks (one of the reasons given for the need to update the venue), looks virtually untouched.
What on earth have they been doing since June 2016?
You expect a few glitches when a venue re-opens after a period of closure, But this was dreadful. It will be a while before we go again.
Read Inside Croydon’s reports on the Fairfield Halls’ not-so-grand re-opening events last week:
- Unfinished and incomplete: where’s Fairfield £41m been spent?
- ‘I paid £45 to see Dame Judi, and this is the view I had’
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