“ Address: Exchange Street, Aylesbury HP20 1UG, England „
I have lived near Aylesbury for nearly twenty years and I must say that I was very surprised to find that when I moved here there wasn't a decent theatre. As the County Town of Buckinghamshire I did expect there to be such a thing but the best Aylesbury had to offer was the concrete monstrosity called the Civic Centre which had the cultural appeal of a McDonalds milkshake with seating and acoustics to match. I visited the Civic Centre many times over the years and my daughter even performed there but it was never a particularly exciting evening out.
Over the last few years there has been lots of building and rejuvenation work going on in Aylesbury and in about 2007 there was talk of a proper theatre. I was never convinced that this would actually happen but eventually work began on a site in Exchange Street. Although it seemed a building site for a long time it became apparent that a rather unusual looking glass and wood structure was emerging and the Waterside Theatre eventually opened towards the end of 2010. The theatre does seem to offer a real variety of performances; for example there is Jimmy Carr, Julius Caesar and the Bolshoi ballet in the next couple of months. There is a second part to the theatre called the Second Space but I have not yet visited this part and I am not sure where it is located.
Unfortunately ticket holders for the first performances found actually getting to the venue tricky. There used to be a large multi-storey car park opposite the site but this was attached to the old Civic Centre and it all got demolished as part of the New Aylesbury Plan. This left people having to find parking elsewhere in the town which was not always easy for evening performances as the large shoppers car park also closed at night.
The parking situation has now been resolved with a large, flat car park on the cleared land which also serves the cinema and a couple of local bars/restaurants. And we have found that it is only £1 to pay and display in the evenings. We have never struggled to find a space, even when arriving quite close to show time although obviously we did end up with a space in the farthest section of the car park. The walk to the theatre is down a rather steep, wide path which is fine and useful for wheelchair access but I think may prove very dangerous in icy conditions.
The imposing wood and glass frame always puts me in mind of a boat as it is vaguely hull-shaped. The front of the theatre has some concrete seats but I was surprised that no pull-in area has been built at the front. I took my parents to a performance and I expected to be able to drop them near the door whilst I went and parked as the walk from the car park was a little hard for them due to ill-health. This wasn't possible and you certainly can't pull-over at the side of the road as it is a very busy road and someone is likely to plough straight into the back of you. I don't know if there is another access point for people with severe disability, I couldn't find any information on the website to suggest so.
Upon entering the theatre you immediately find yourself in a large, spacious foyer that seems to be the full height of the building. You enter to one side and then the bar area and seating takes up the majority of the area to your left. I always seem to have managed to visit when it is quite cold outside and unfortunately the doors and design seem to mean that the foyer is quite chilly, not cosy and welcoming. I never buy a drink once I get to the theatre (don't want to have to have a comfort break!) so, unfortunately I have no idea what the prices for drinks are like. I have noticed that they do seem to sell things like Panninis before the performance too. I know that the small tubs of ice-cream that they sell during the interval are currently £2.50 which is expensive for the tiny tubs really.
When we visited on a night when the theatre was very full I found it very difficult to get past the bar as the tables occupied the majority of the space and with people waiting to buy drinks it was quite awkward to get through. This is not a problem for men as their toilets are on the same side as the main door but women have to battle through to get to the washrooms.
The washroom is always clean and well stocked with liquid soaps and toilet rolls. I have visited several times and I think they have always been pristine. There are about 10 cubicles which seem adequate as there are more facilities upstairs. However, what strikes me as strange is that there are an excessive number of washbasins. Whilst waiting for my daughter I counted that there were more basins than toilets which I don't think I have seen before. There are hot air dryers and paper towels but the dispensers are very high. I didn't notice any lower ones and children may have trouble reaching them.
There are stairs to the higher level of the theatre. These bring you to another bar and more toilets but this area is much more peaceful and the mezzanine floor means that you can people watch and also benefit from the warmer air higher up!
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the auditorium is the wood. The whole place is covered with wooden slats; the entire walls look like they are made of thin wooden bricks and the uneven nature of the design adds a real feeling of warmth and luxury to the building. The Stalls area has a large bank of seats at the front with no central aisle and then there is a smaller bank of seats at the back and there is also a balcony.
Having been to a few performances I have now managed to try out a few different seats.
On our first visit we had opted for expensive seats a couple of rows back from the front. I was very disappointed with eth view. The seats were hardly staggered at all so you were sat almost directly behind the person in front and there was also hardly any slope. Being only 5'2" tall I found that I could hardly see anything and my poor mother, who is smaller than me, actually had trouble following what was happening as there were large portions of the stage she could hardly see. The seats themselves however were quite comfortable although a higher back would have been nice. Our seats were near the middle and since there is no central aisle we had to pass a lot of people to get in or out of them and I would have struggled to have got out in an emergency.
On my second visit I opted for one of the much cheaper seats position around a small ledge that runs from the balcony along the side of the theatre. These tickets are listed as not suitable for children and there was some mention of restricted leg room but I didn't think that would be a problem. These are some of the cheapest seats in the house so I wasn't expecting much. I was very much surprised to find myself in an extremely comfortable, high-back seat that felt like an armchair. These seats swivel which meant that it was very comfortable to twist round to see my daughter and have a chat before the performance and I certainly thought there was enough legroom. These seats are also well spaced out so you are not close to the people next to you. There is only one row of these seats so there is no-one blocking your view but being positioned at the side the view is partially blocked of the side of the stage nearest you. However you are quite close to the stage and I thought we could see very well. To see more of the edge of the stage I had to lean forward and realised that I may have been blocking the view of the people in the next pair of seats but since they were a reasonable distance from us I presumed they could lean in and see fine too.
Our next visit saw us choosing seats at the front of the rear section of the Stalls. These seats are staggered and the floor is quite sloped so we had an excellent view. We were very impressed with these and they have become our preferred position. They are cheaper than the stalls but allow great visibility of the whole stage.
Once the performances started I have always been impressed. The stage has been designed to be large so that it can accommodate the professional travelling shows. The lighting has always been very effective and the acoustics also seem very good. Recently we saw An Inspector Calls and although the cast appeared to be miked up there was a problem with the sound and they had to perform without microphones. Theatre staff came to the back and asked us if we could hear all right and I was very impressed to note that we could hear every word clearly.
The theatre is under the management of ATG so all tickets have to be purchased through them. I have found the purchasing very quick and easy online and you are able to see all the available seats and prices and it tells you of any restrictions with each seat. You can select whichever ones you feel best suit your needs. The tickets are then delivered very promptly; mine have always arrived within a couple of days. Unfortunately the prices are quite high. The prices are not as high as the West End but the dearest seats for productions like 42nd Street are still £35. The cheaper swivel eats and rear stalls are certainly better value than the over-priced front seats and in my opinion they offer a better viewing experience. The theatre is small enough that it still feels quite intimate, even when you are near the back.
Overall I think the Waterside Theatre is a great asset to the area. I have some qualms about the seating in the front stalls but elsewhere the seats are great and much better value. I think the design of the foyer and the way people have to struggle through the crowds is rather inefficient but the auditorium itself is lovely and provides a great theatre going experience.