Theatr Ardudwy

The first post-war theatre listed in Wales and a fine example of Brutalist architecture.

The Brutalist exterior of Tameside Hippodrome.
Address
St David's Hill, Harlech, Gwynedd, LL46 2PU, Wales
Risk Rating
7 (Community Rating: 3, Star Value: 2, Risk Factor: 2.)
Local Authority
Gwynedd Council
Owner
Private ownership
Operator
KMD Productions Ltd / Ignite Live UK
Architect
Colwyn Foulkes and Partners
Date of Construction
1973
Listing
Grade II*
Capacity
266

Significance

Theatr Ardudwy was built as an arts centre attached to the Grade II* listed Coleg Harlech, an adult education college. In 2016 it was determined that the theatre itself should also be included in the listing as it was both under the same ownership and as a structure forming part of and attached to a listed building. Some of the theatre’s facilities are also housed in parts of the original college building. The theatre is a radical design with all elements of the building having a clear external expression and is also considered a fine example of refined Brutalism of the period.

The auditorium of Theatr Ardudwy with its sweep of steeply raked seating focused on an open stage with small curved thrust. Seats are light rust and faded mustard with backing in black

Why is this theatre at risk?

Theatr Ardudwy has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2019.

The future of the theatre and the Coleg Harlech site had been perilous for several years prior to the theatre’s inclusion on the Theatres at Risk list. Addysg Oedolion Cymru, the previous owner, had been in conversation with the Welsh Government about an urgent repair and planned maintenance programme for both the college and the theatre building. A feasibility study commissioned for the college site in 2016 recommended that a hotel or restaurant with serviced accommodation would be the most viable use for the site, to be run by a commercial operator. Concerns were raised that the physical condition of the theatre building may deter commercial operators and, through this, concern over the long-term viability of the theatre. At that time, it was suggested that the theatre be demolished. This led to the confirmation that the theatre was indeed included in the Coleg’s listing, offering some protection for its future.

In February 2018 safety concerns finally forced the theatre to close. There had been little investment in the external fabric of the building for many years. The roof was in need of repair and there were concerns over the deteriorating condition of the exterior of the building, including some of the concrete elements where the steel reinforcement had rusted.

In October 2018 there were reports of theft of lead and copper on both the theatre workshop and main college building roofs. Additional security measures, including fencing, CCTV and alarms, were subsequently introduced.

In November 2018, Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment service, in partnership with Snowdonia National Park Authority and working with the owner, undertook to complete a Planning Guidance Note to provide a planning framework to inform any future development. This lists the theatre as a significant heritage asset on the site further helping to protect the building’s future.

In April 2019 it was announced that local businessman Leslie Banks Irvine had bought the site, although his plans for the theatre and any proposed redevelopment of the site were unknown. Then in September 2019 Banks Irvine took the decision to put the site back on the market. An auction in autumn 2020 saw the site split into separate lots, the historical parts of the site, including the theatre, being kept as one lot. This is felt to be to the detriment of the historic buildings which, if the site had been kept in one ownership, could have financially benefited from enabling development elsewhere on the site to fund necessary repair works. The future of both college and theatre remains uncertain but intrinsically linked.

Theatre potential

The local community currently has no access to the arts without significant travel.

Arts Council of Wales, who awarded the theatre various grants over the years, believes that the theatre and wider college site has potential as a community and cultural sector asset.

Current situation

In autumn 2020 the Coleg Harlech site that includes Theatr Ardudwy was split into lots to be sold at auction. The listed parts of the site including Wern Fawr, the library and the theatre were auctioned as a single lot.

Update June 2021

In June 2021, Theatres Trust received confirmation that the sale of the Theatre at Risk has completed and that the theatre is to be reopened. Read our statement.

Early discussions and meetings with the new owner indicate a community-focussed ambition for both the Coleg and the theatre, with an intention to reopen the buildings as soon as is practicably possible with full restoration a longer-term ambition.

We look forward to seeing the plans for both the Coleg and the theatre as they develop and to working with the owner to help them achieve their ambition.

Main photo Theatre Ardudwy, Brinkstock/Alamy Stock Photo. Interior, Theatres Trust, Rob Firman