Over €4 million has been invested in a major refurbishment of the Olympia Theatre in Dame Street, which is owned by Caroline Downey and Denis Desmond of MCD. The result is very impressive indeed...
Hot Press has done the full guided tour of the newly refurbished Olympia Theatre in Dublin – and we can report that it’s a winner.
Fans attending events there may not have fully realised it, but over the past nine months or so, a major renewal project has been going on behind the scenes, under the guiding hand of Olympia and Gaiety Theatre boss, Caroline Downey. Over €4 million has been invested in bringing the historic theatre – which first opened its doors as Dan Lowery's Star of Erin Music Hall in 1879, and was rechristened The Olympia Theatre in 1923 – back to its former glory.
The only stipulation at the outset was that the theatre had to remain open. There were too many dates locked in to allow for even a temporary shut-down.
“That was a huge challenge,” says the Olympia's Chief Operating Officer, Kim O’Callaghan. “But once the staff here and in MCD were aware of what was involved they wanted to be part of it. It is all about teamwork – and everyone rolled up their sleeves and set about getting the job done.”
From a practical point of view, getting the seating on the auditorium floor right was the biggest challenge. The old seats – installed many decades ago – were by this stage cramped, worn and, well, not exactly offering the height of modern comfort!
“People who are big complained for one reason. People who are small complained for another,” Kim laughs. “They had been in place forever, so they really had to be changed.”
The project team, with Eamonn Fox and David 'Spud' Murphy of MCD's outdoor team to the fore, came up with a brilliant solution, which provides extra leg-room for everyone without losing capacity. The new seats have a slim-line elegance and they are really comfortable. But the design also makes them easy to remove and stack – which vastly improves the turnaround time from seated shows to standing, and vice versa.
“The old seats had to be literally screwed out individually, so it was really tedious, labour intensive work that was very difficult to manage,” Kim says. “Whereas the new seats can be slipped in and out – there are no screws involved.”
The seats are set into a grid system, which is cleverly designed to be both rock solid and easily removed. It is a great piece of modern design and engineering, which in every way benefits the fans and the patrons. But it also benefits the artists, because the old central aisle has been eliminated.
“A similar change was made in the Gaiety Theatre,” Kim says, “and so Caroline had that experience to guide her. The thing is that the performers all say that they by far prefer it. When you think about it, in the old seating arrangement, if the artist was smack bang in the centre of the stage, they’d be looking down at a big gap. Now, it feels much fuller, which is what every artist and performer wants. It really does add to the atmosphere when you have a packed house.”
The theatre’s four bars have also been transformed, with design input from Gwen Kenny of Divine Designs. For a start, the objective was to give them a fresh, and more luxurious feel, appropriate to the status of the theatre, as one of Dublin’s great entertainment destinations. But it was important too to ensure that service would be speeded up, to enable people to reliably get a drink during the classic theatrical interval rush.
The legendary Maureen’s Bar, on the ground floor, now features a visual homage to the great woman herself – who still does her shifts in the evening at the age of 91 – and which features dozens of pics of her with celebrities, actors, comedians and musicians of various shades and stripes. The bottles are now displayed properly too, adding not just to the visual appeal of the room, but also giving patrons a quick feel for what’s on offer – which is vital given the maximum 20-minute window that is the standard interval time in theatrical productions. In addition, attendees can now order their drinks in advance, so that they are ready and waiting when the stage lights dim.
In all of the bars, large-scale photographs are given pride of place. Alongside Maureen’s Bar is The Portrait Bar. Taking its design cue from the huge central chandelier, a circular bar has been positioned in the centre of the room, completely changing the dynamics and giving it a much buzzier and more convivial atmosphere.
On the walls is a series of photos of Ireland’s acting greats, taken by leading photographer Barry McCall – featuring Gabriel Byrne, Saoirse Ronan, Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell and lots more iconic figures. There is a beautifully stylised look about the printing of the photos and they are superbly framed and lit. The muted lighting in the room gives it a feel that is both warm and welcoming. In many ways the Piece de Resistance of the refurb, it is the now the kind of place that friends might meet in advance of a show or hang around for drinks and conversation afterwards.
“Caroline was really hands-on with everything,” Kim says. “She is really brilliant at visualising things and knowing what is going to work – and at imagining how it is going to look. It was a real pleasure to work with her and to see how she interacted with the design team – and to watch the ideas being turned into reality.”
There are spectacular results elsewhere too, with the new bars made by Caroline’s cousin and Gwen's husband, Tadhg Kenny, among the stand-out elements.
Meanwhile, in terms of visual themes, in the Circle Level Bar, musicians are featured on the walls, with a great shot of Dublin’s own Imelda May taking pride of place. Meanwhile, on the Gallery/Upper Circle level, the bar focusses on comedians and there’s a couple of voluptuous torsos adding to the sense of style, with a strategic hint of decadence.
The floors in all of the bar areas have been changed too, with rich wood finishes the order of the day, adding immensely to the quality of the finish. An extensive technical upgrade has been carried out, with the mixing desk now in the centre at the back. There has been comprehensive electrical work; the provision of a new medical and staff area; new shops in the stalls and circle levels; and improved facilities for those with special needs.
"Huge emphasis has been put on bringing the Olympia technical specifications up to the best contemporary standards,” the theatre’s Technical Director Matthew Cregan says. “We began with a full rewire of the stage production lighting system, including new dimmers, production facility panels, lighting control consoles and theatrical and concert lighting fixtures. We have also replaced the show relay and paging system to all areas back stage. That allows the show to be relayed to the dressing rooms and also calls for cast to be made as needed, which is a huge advantage to performers.”
There are other major improvements: in terms of sound power, as the Olympia will now have both 110volt and 240volt systems – favoured in the US and in Europe respectively – for touring bands, cutting down on complications hugely.
“We’ve also increased the load capacity in the roof above the stage for the suspension of lighting and stage set pieces,” Matthew adds. "This work was crucial, as shows are getting bigger and bigger, and thus heavier to hang. We’ve also installed what’s called a counterweight flys system, which will allow smooth, live flying of scenery and lights during shows."
Add in new carpeting, the addition of new pictures of the hundreds of artists that have played the venue along the corridors and it is fair to say that The Olympia Theatre has been through its own Operation Transformation – and is looking fantastic in the aftermath.
“It’s incredible that we were able to do all of this work while remaining open,” Matthew reflects. “99 per cent of the work was done onstage overnight and around shows. This could not have been done without the dedicated team of technical staff in the venue and also the highly experienced teams from both Push The Button and Production Services Ireland, who have been carrying out all the stage works.”
For Kim, it was all about staying calm and making things happen smoothly – from everyone’s point of view!
‘We worked away quietly on this through the year,” Kim O’Callaghan says. “We haven’t gone out there making big statements about it – but it is really brilliant when you see the look on people’s faces, for example when they step into one of the new bars for the first time. The reaction has been fantastic. Maureen is really thrilled what we’ve done with her bar, which is important. She’s such an extraordinary character.
“Caroline was an inspiration. And everyone on the staff feels that it has all been worth the hard work and the pressure. It was very intense at times, and there was the odd sleepless night, but everyone was great.”
The end result? A Dublin theatrical and musical institution has been given a fresh new lease of life. Long may it run...
From the director of 'Suicide Squad' and 'End of Watch', comes a new film called 'Bright', starring Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, and Noomi Rapace.Read More
Virgin Media has just confirmed that it will be increasing its high street footprint here over the next 12 months by opening further retail stores across IrelandRead More
London Irish Abortion Rights Campaigners will be hosting a comedy evening in the London Irish Centre this March.Read More
The directorial debut by comedian Jordan Peele, Get Out is a satirical horror which shines a spotlight on racism in America.Read More
International music star, Ed Sheeran, has make a very special donation to the London Irish Centre charity this week.Read More
Ryan Adams covered The Boss' 'Streets Of Philadelphia' for Radio 6 Music.Read More
The American TV presenter pulled no punches during his opening monologue at the Oscars.Read More
American actor Lin-Manuel Miranda and voice actress Auli’i Cravalho performed the song from Disney's newest animated film.Read More
American jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington will play at the National Concert Hall this summer.Read More
Rusangano Family, Bananarama & Candi Staton are among themRead More
Much-needed funds for Focus Ireland will be raised in the OlympiaRead More
It's no sleep 'til Cyprus Avenue as the trio go coast-to-coast in March & AprilRead More
Sam Herring & Co. will be seeing a lot of the country in July...Read More
She sadly lost out on the Best Actress gong to Emma Stone, but Irish thespian Ruth Negga stood out on the red carpet last night by making a subtle political statement with an American Civil Liberties Union ribbon proudly displayed on her elegant Valentino gown.Read More
The 2017 Academy Awards will more than likely be remembered for the Oscar mix-up fiasco with 'La La Land' losing out on the Best Picture gong to 'Moonlight' in such a bizarre scene. But it was also a night that 'La La Land' swept the board with six gongs, even if it failed to clinch Best Picture or Best Actor...Read More
With their debut album Born Brief being released today, Hot Press went down to Tower Records to watch the Cabra lads perform a few tunes from the album.Read More
Human, by Rag'n'Bone Man is still at number one this week.Read More
Both his new singles show no sign of coming down from the top of the charts, even in their seventh week.Read More
The filmmaker will be honoured with the prestigious John Ford Award tomorrow in Dublin.Read More
The R'n'B singer, who is expecting twins, has pulled out of performing at California's Coachella music festival in April under doctor's orders.Read More
The hip-hop artist released a new video yesterday for his latest single.Read More
The '80s synth pop duo are hitting the road again to support their 17th studio album, World Be Gone.Read More
The American singer has added a second Olympia Theatre for his Irish tour this September.Read More
SEO LINN take to the stage at Vicar St for their first ever headline show.Read More
Brian Wilson will perform live both Dublin and Galway this summer.Read More
Honorees included Zachary Quinto, Ruth Negga, Glen Hansard, and Caitriona Balfe.Read More
The first LP from the Cabra indie-rock four-piece hits the shelves as of today, February 24.Read More
Part two of the hip-hop drama will air on the Netflix streaming service in April.Read More
Filmmaker Louis Theroux has revealed that he is now planning to make a documentary exploring Donald Trump's path to power.Read More
To celebrate the album's 30th anniversary, the new deluxe edition will be released on 31 March and includes newly remastered sound, unreleased recordings, rare tracks, music videos and more.Read More
Scottish singer Paolo Nutini has been arrested in his home town for alleged road traffic offences.Read More
The 22-year-old jazz singer-songwriter has added another date of performances due to demand.Read More
How I Met Your Mother Star Jason Segel gave praise to Irish singer Glen Hansard at an event to support The Ireland Funds in America.Read More
Laura Cantrell, the Nashville singer-songwriter, is heading Dublin this April.Read More
Today FM duo takes to the roads of Ireland with hilarious new comedy show.Read More
Comedian Louis C.K. will debut two new stand-up comedy specials exclusively on Netflix. The first of the specials, titled 2017, was filmed in Washington DC, and will premiere on 4 April.Read More
Music Generation Laois, in conjunction with Laois School of Music, has just announced its inaugural 'Brass Evening', which will take place next Monday (27 February) at 5pm in the Laois School of Music, Portlaoise.Read More
The list of 13 Irish acts set to perform at this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Conference in Austin, Texas has just been announced.Read More
David Bowie was posthumously honoured with the Best British Solo Artist and Best British Album for ‘Blackstar’ at last night’s BRIT Awards. While other big winners on the night included Adele who scooped the Global Success Award, Beyonce deservedly took home the gong for Best International Female and Drake was named the Best International Male artist.Read More
The 30-year-old actress said she was “racially profiled” recently at the Heathrow Airport in London, because she covered her hair with a headscarf.Read More
The American singer-songwriter will headline a show at Dublin’s Whelan’s this May.Read More
The 2017 Brit Award will take place tonight, February 22.Read More
Sziget Festival, the 7 day festival on an island north of Budapest, has announced the first 22 acts for its 2017 event.Read More
After topping the Irish Charts with his debut album Human Rag’n’Bone Man takes us behind the scenes in the latest instalment of the Beats by Dr. Dre's Beat x Beat series.Read More
Body & Soul music festival have revealed the first acts who will be heading to Ballinlough Castle, Westmeath, this summer.Read More
The National Opera House, Vicar Street, Mike The Pies and Boyle’s of Slane were also among the winners on the night...Read More
Katy Perry takes viewers to Oblivia in official video for 'Chained to the Rhythm'.Read More
J COLE has announced a 3Arena Dublin date as part of The 4 Your Eyez Only tour.Read More
The Los Angeles-based trio will release the single, originally from PJ Harvey's 1995 album To Bring You My Love, this Friday, February 24.Read More
Stormzy, who is nominated for British Breakthrough Act at the upcoming Brits which takes place next week, releases his new album 'Gang Sings & Prayer' on Friday, 24 February.Read More
The second season of Chelsea Handler's talk show Chelsea will return to the Netflix streaming service this Friday (14 April) at 8am Irish time.Read More
Cork musician Talos (aka Eoin French) has just dropped his new single, 'Odyssey'. It's taken from his debut album 'Wild Alee', which will be released in April.Read More
Game of Two Halves from Former Green on Red ManRead More
The co-founder of the progressive rock band said that "musicians have an absolute right, a duty, to open their mouths to speak out."Read More
The U2 frontman thanked the Vice President for defending PEPFAR - the US Government initative to prevent AIDS/HIV - on the White House floor.Read More
Tower Records (Dublin), Music Zone (Cork) and OMG@Zhivago (Galway) to open at midnight on Thursday, March 2 ahead of official release this Friday.Read More
Hollywood star Matt Damon has revealed that he has such a strong grá for Ireland that he dreams about one day splashing out on a lighthouse somewhere along the rugged Wild Atlantic Way.Read More
Grammy ® award-nominated rapper, singer, producer, and artist Jidenna has just unleashed his anxiously awaited full-length debut album, 'The Chief' on Wondaland Records/Epic Records.Read More
Sonya Kelly's award-winning play 'How to Keep an Alien' has already received the stamp of approval from audiences in Ireland, Australia, London, Edinburgh, New York and Paris…and now it’s heading to New Zealand. But Irish theatre fans will have one last chance to see the play before it goes on tour Down Under when it's staged in Drogheda on 9 March.Read More
Lana Del Ray has just released the first single 'Love' from her eagerly anticipated new album, which will be released later this year.Read More
IFTA will host renowned filmmaker Martin Scorsese for a Masterclass in Film, as well as the John Ford Award presentation, in Dublin next weekendRead More
Pickups, which is directed by Jamie Thraves, will be screened at the Irish Film Institute at 20.15pm, Saturday 18, with a Q&A after the show.Read More
The British singer-songwriter keeps defending his place on top of the charts.Read More
The glorious debut album from British soul star shoots straight for the top spot on its first week.Read More
The British comedian will be bringing his 'Humanity' stand-up show to the 3Arena this summer.Read More
Breathtakingly emotional coming-of-age film examines sexuality, race, and identity.Read More
Brian Wilson will perform live this summer in Dublin.Read More
Irish international footballer Anthony Stokes has been ordered to pay €230,000 in damages to an Elvis Presley impersonator he headbutted and seriously injured in a Dublin nightclub.Read More
The critically-acclaimed singer will be returning to Ireland for three dates in September, following the release of his sixteenth studio album, Prisoner, which is on sale today.Read More
The live version of 'How Would You Feel (Paean)' was released this morning.Read More
Castle of Song and Turning Pirate are getting ready to put on two intimate evenings of song and storytelling in Galway and Dublin, with Ronan O’Snodaigh, Roesy and Ye Vagabonds giving performances.Read More
Linkin Park fans will be excited to learn that the band have announced that their eagerly anticipated new album, entitled 'One More Light' will be released on 19 May.Read More
Community groups throughout Dublin City will be taking centre stage at national theatres, galleries, museums and performance venues across the capital over the coming weeks to perform and display artworks developed with artists through "Dublin’s Culture Connects: The National Neighbourhood programme."Read More
Michael Jackson's album 'Thriller' has just become the first album in RIAA Gold & Platinum Program history to be certified 33x Diamond for United States sales and streams.Read More
The trailer for Sandy Wexler – a new Adam Sandler comedy that will air exclusively on Netflix from 14 April – has just been uploaded on social media.Read More
The country singer will be making his way to Dublin this March.Read More
Thousands of you made your nominations. Now we can reveal the shortlist for "The Hotties" Live Venue of the Year 2017.Read More
Ahead of their Irish tour, which kicks off tonight in Voodoo Belfast, the avant-garde rockers are back with the first single from their upcoming EP mkll (part 2).Read More
Ahead of his shows on February 19 and 20, a final batch of tickets were released for Drake's shows at the 3Arena.Read More
Luke Fitzgerald, in his new role as Ambassador for the PRO12 Final, has kicked off the 100 day countdown tothe May 27 decider at the Aviva Stadium.Read More
Some of Ireland's finest live acts will help the weekly podcasters celebrate hitting the half century mark.Read More
He might be one of the biggest sports stars on the planet, but the UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor has dismissed the notion that he's an A-list Celeb, bluntly saying: "I'm not a celebrity. I break people's faces for money and bounce!"Read More
Tinie Tempah, who has just announced that his eagerly anticipated new album will be released on 31 March, will perform his latest single this Friday night on BBC's The Graham Norton Show at 10.35pm.Read More
On top of her live show at the Button Factory with Canadian singer Austra this March, Pixx has announced the date for the release of her first album.Read More
It's awards season and we're down to our final vote off for the Hot Press Reader's Poll. Thousands of you made nominations and we've now announced the finalists so it's time to cast your votes! [the venue of the year voting will close on MONDAY 20th February as the winner will be announced at the IMRO Live Music Venue of the Year Awards] Everyone who votes (in any section) by then will have the chance to win tickets to the IMRO Live Music Venue of the Year Awards.Read More
Three-piece Limerick punk band Slow Riot are back with ' Pink December 'Read More
The poem, which was commissioned for the St. Patrick's Day Festival, is an honest, clear-sighted odyssey into Ireland as we know it today.Read More
Stiff Little Fingers will be playing at Belsonic this summer, along with The Stranglers, The Ruts DC, The Outcasts & punk legend Terri Hooley.Read More
A truly incredible line-up features Sigma, Primal Scream, The Coronas, Foy Vance and Badly Drawn Boy.Read More
Caffé Rockers, straight up burgers & tasty Belgian Blondes are all on this fortnight’s menu.Read More