CONFIDENTIAL went to the press preview of the new Bluecoat this week. Quite frankly, you won't recognise the old place.
A plethora of scribes, TV and radio have been in already, mingling with arts types, asking questions, and swigging back the pinot noir. The darkest thing in the place, it turns out. For the new Bluecoat is all light with plenty of potential for creative use of white space.
Grosvenor's cranes hover high above the Bluecoat's new model garden, as if about to swoop down and pluck away the only two trees that have survived this latest, modern Blitz.
Crucially, there is new wing. It replaces the the one lost to the Luftwaffe and is polished concrete walls, flat laid brick and urban functionality. It completely counters the gentle edges of the original building to which it is latched.
A large gallery within contains an immense wall painting by artist Paul Robinson, part of a show called Now Then. Multicoloured bird boxes dangle down in the hallway outside from Scottish artist Alec Finlay, there is related stampage in frames, and light pours in from several sets of glass doors that lead onto the garden.
Closed for three years, astonishingly, it's difficult to remember anything about the Bluecoat, such is the radical redesign. Quiggins next door has long gone to make way for the giant that is Liverpool One (“It's progress mate”, someone quipped), and Grosvenor's cranes hover high above the Bluecoat's new model garden, as if about to swoop down and pluck away the only two trees that have survived this latest, modern Blitz.
Confidential managed to arrive just in time to miss the speeches by no fewer than five people and just as the media throng had been taxied off to look at the big Cityscape picture at the Walker. There, according, to our notes, they would be treated to another speech, this time by the artist Ben Johnson. “Nice one,” remarked one stray lady reporter we passed on Church Alley.
But the Bluecoat's genial marketing chap, Phil Olsen, had not left the building, and it was no bother for him to take us on another tour.
So what's changed about the city centre's oldest building? Well, the facade is still the same, but, beyond that, everything.
Through the double doors, enter an airy open space that houses a very impressive sandwich and coffee bar on one side (all home made, all biodegradable packaging) and a long information desk and box office on the other.
Then it's straight through more glass doors to the garden, relandscaped, for disabled access, and suddenly as modern as the new wing. You might like it, you might not, but nevertheless is an oasis within the oasis of calm that always has been the Bluecoat, the city centre's oldest building and the oldest arts centre in the UK.
In the new wing there is also a 160-seater performance space, a functional, oblong room basically, which is hard to judge in the absence of a show. Back in the old building, a beautiful looking restaurant and bar occupies the old theatre space.
It is run by the Tate Gallery's national catering arm, although that's where any connection with the Tate ends. A very nice chef called Nigel Smith, a Manchester lad, has come up from London to run it. He treated Confidential to a tasty Lancashire hotpot from a very impressive looking menu which is passionate about locally sourced produce.
We will be in there reviewing when it's settled down, but meantime you need to know that it's open to 10pm every night and has its own entrance, so you can go even when the galleries are closed.
There are nooks and crannies galore to stage performances and exhibitions in the new Bluecoat, following this £12.5 million refurb, plus offices, a shop and artists' work spaces.
There is a lot to like about it too and you should make a point of sticking your head around the door when it opens to the public this weekend.
Just as we were about to leave, the sound of several hundred cats being skinned alive reached our ears. Alarmed, we quickly followed the terrible, terrible noise.
Ah yes, we forgot to mention. Yoko Ono's films are on in the back room.
Bluecoat Opening Weekend. Saturday-Sunday March 15-16. Ribbon cutting: 9.45am Saturday.
Exhibition: Now Then.
Jeanette Winterson's keynote speech (7.30pm, Saturday )
Tom Paulin (1.30pm Sunday)
The Steve Reid Ensemble featuring Kieran Hebden (8pm, Sunday).
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