Grange Park Opera unveils plans for a theatre in the woods at West Horsley Place

November 11, 2015

• Move to West Horsley Place with 99-year lease
• Architectural plans based upon one of the world’s most celebrated theatres, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan
• New theatre designed to deliver host of benefits to the community and provide a platform for the arts

The Trustees of Grange Park Opera and of the Mary Roxburghe Trust today announce their plans to build the UK’s newest country house theatre, a theatre in the woods, as Grange Park Opera festival’s new home from 2017. The new theatre is designed to enhance the cultural life of Surrey significantly and provide a platform for young people’s access to the arts.

A public consultation for a proposed theatre at West Horsley Place starts tomorrow, and aims for an opening night performance on 8 June 2017 with one of the world’s leading tenors, Joseph Calleja, singing Cavaradossi in Tosca.

Image courtesy of Tim Ronalds Architects

West Horsley Place, which dates back to the 15th century, was until July 2014 the home of the Duchess of Roxburghe, a god-daughter of George V known in the thirties and forties as a great society beauty. Bequeathed in her will to her great-nephew, broadcaster and writer Bamber Gascoigne, the property will be passed to the Mary Roxburghe Trust (‘The Trust’), named after the Duchess and dedicated to promoting the performing arts and the study and practice of crafts at West Horsley Place.

Working to a brief by GPO’s architectural consultant David Lloyd Jones, Tim Ronalds Architects and Ramboll have conceived a design based upon one of the world’s most celebrated theatres, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The stalls and the four tiers of balconies allow capacity of 700 seats and development of sound through the auditorium to create a vibrant acoustic. The romantic gardens and woodland of the estate provide a beautiful setting and there is ample space for a range of dining options.

A Conservation Management Plan for West Horsley Place has been prepared by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners. The partnership with Grange Park Opera will contribute to the conservation of this sublime setting and secure its future for many generations to come.

WHP_WebGallery4 WHP_WebGallery3 WHP_WebGallery2

The new “Theatre in the Woods” will allow Grange Park Opera to expand on its vision of bringing in new audiences to hear opera, including by developing the next generation’s love of opera. Year round access and a 99 year lease from the Trust will underpin not only the festival that Grange Park Opera has become famous for over 18 years with more than 50 productions, and 450 performances, but also much more. Grange Park Opera is committed to collaborating with local arts and educational institutions to make the theatre available as a platform for young people. It aims to host cultural and creative activities in fulfillment of the aims of both charities – from string quartet masterclasses, dance & concert performances to fashion shows – beyond Grange Park Opera’s traditional season. The presence of young people in the festival audience will be supported by the availability of 50 dedicated tickets at a special rate for each performance.

All of these activities will be easily accessible by those living in the southeast and anyone travelling from London. Equidistant from Guildford and Leatherhead, Grange Park Opera at Horsley will add significantly to the cultural life of Surrey and neighbouring counties while being within an hour’s journey from central London; there is a railway station one mile away at Horsley which can be reached for just £13.10 by return train from Waterloo.

WHP_WebGallery7 WHP_WebGallery6

The theatre will also bring employment opportunities for the area. The festival alone will be a significant summer employer for young people, offering casual employment for 400 individuals from the car park to the restaurant.

Grange Park Opera receives no public subsidy and will fund the theatre using the generous donations of individuals, trusts and foundations. A supporting appeal will be launched in December.

Wasfi Kani, Founder of Grange Park Opera, said:
“I am excited to be at the beginning of this new act for Grange Park Opera. The opportunities offered by West Horsley Place are exceptional: its beauty and historic glamour, its location 23 miles from London and the generosity of Christina and Bamber Gascoigne and the Mary Roxburghe Trust.

“I have built a theatre once before, but this new theatre, with a brilliant acoustic and a bigger pit size will allow a greater vision. Last year, Grange Park Opera’s turnover exceeded £3.5m. More than 80 people from the local area worked at the festival, 97 schoolchildren performed there and 473 young people under the age of 30 attended the festival, in many cases to see their first opera. With the help of our thousands of generous supporters, Grange Park Opera at Horsley will let us introduce more people than ever, young people especially, to the magic of opera and the wider arts. It will also allow us to give the local area something it can support and own, one of the most powerful reasons for holding a festival in the regions.”

Bamber Gascoigne, Trustee of the Mary Roxburghe Trust, said:
“I have had two very great surprises in the past 18 months. The first was the unexpected news that I had been left this beautiful house, the other the proposal made to me by Grange Park Opera. It didn’t take Christina and me long to say ‘Yes, indeed’. It was obvious from the start that West Horsley Place is perfect for an opera festival. They are planning to build the theatre tucked away romantically in a wood. A short path through the wood will bring opera-goers to our orchard, a magical place of amazingly old fruit trees, perfect for a picnic. A wrought-iron gate leads visitors into semi-formal gardens, areas of mown grass separated by ancient box hedges, which I can imagine already full of the bright tented pavilions for which the Grange Park Opera festival is famous. Roll on the first night!”