LONDON (Reuters) - The renovated home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which cost 113 million pounds ($180 million) to complete, opens its doors to the public on Wednesday amid Britain's severest art funding cuts in a generation.
Early reviews of the major three-and-a-half year refit in Stratford-upon-Avon have been mixed, with the rebuilt main stage praised for bringing audiences closer to the action than its predecessor despite losing around 400 seats in the process.
But some critics were less complimentary about the rest of the complex, which includes a 36-meter tower providing panoramic views and a new restaurant and cafe.
"This is a theater for the planet's greatest playwright," wrote Tom Dyckhoff in the Times, who complained of "cheap, standardized" materials and architecture that "lacked craftsmanship."
"It should be beautifully made for posterity. Only 60 million pounds of the 112.8 million pound budget went on the building itself and it shows," he added.
The main focus of the renovation is the Royal Shakespeare Theater, which replaces the cinema-style space designed by Elisabeth Scott in 1932 and renowned for being too cavernous.
The new theater boasts a "thrust" stage which juts out into the auditorium, catwalk style, and seating has been compressed to create more atmosphere and improve acoustics.
"Our transformed...auditorium offers the promise of a changed relationship between actor and audience as its thrust stage steps out from the old proscenium arch and brings the furthest seats twice as close to the action," said Michael Boyd, the RSC's artistic director.
Reaction to the main stage overhaul was generally positive.
"The theater now works well and this culturally important complex has been made accessible, open and welcoming," wrote Edwin Heathcote in the Financial Times.
However, he questioned the "looming lookout tower" and "clunkiness" of some of the details and materials.
The new stage will be put to the test in April, 2011, when the theater formally reopens with a production of "Macbeth." Next year also marks the 50th anniversary of the company founded by Peter Hall in 1961.
Of the total cost of the project, 53 million pounds came from the National Lottery via Arts Council England. A final 3.5 million shortfall has yet to be raised.
The council has been told to cut its budget by around 30 percent over four years amid government attempts to bring down Britain's record budget deficit.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato