De NWE VorstTheatrecafé and restaurant, Tilburg 2007
The De NWE Vorst Theatre in Tilburg is housed in a neo-baroque mansion, built circa 1872. Today, the building is home to a theatre for contemporary drama, a ballet studio and rehearsal rooms for young theatre companies. The theatre café and restaurant designed by Maurice Mentjens are to be found on the ground floor. The historic building with its beautiful high-ceilinged rooms inspired Mentjens to opt for a neo-modernistic baroque concept for the new interior.
Around the central entrance hall are five rooms, each with their own colour scheme as was common in baroque palaces. The central hall is light grey and the five “salons” around it have been painted in the three primary colours plus black and white.
The theatre café is to be found in the black and white salons, the restaurant is situated in the red salon, the yellow salon is a meeting room and the blue salon is home to the office and the theatre’s ticket sales desk.
The black and white salons are situated next to each other and are connected by large openings in the wall. Both rooms have the same style of bar, and the bottle racks behind the bar are also identical. The bar in the black salon is black, and the one in the white salon is white. This conjures up a polarity between the two rooms; black and white, night and day, negative and positive. This polarity represents the dualism between reality and illusion, the reality of the day and the illusions of dreams in the night, as well as that of the theatre and drama.
The black salon was originally the hunting room, as we can see from the ceiling on which animals are depicted in the plasterwork. In this room, Maurice Mentjens was keen to pay homage to well-known animals from literature and theatre, such as Reynard the Fox, the Middle Dutch story of Lanceloet and the deer with the white foot, and the mythical unicorn. These legendary creatures are depicted in high gloss black on the black matt walls and ceiling, and seem to float like stars in a pitch-black sky.
The white room next door features a large white sound-proofing panel with a quote from William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage and all men and women merely players”. This quote underlines the symbolism that Mentjens wanted to give this room: everyday life in the white room forms the polar opposite of the illusion of a play performed in a darkened theatre, but is no more than a false reality when viewed in the light of Shakespeare’s words. The bars in both rooms are reminiscent of an altar, with a silver “triptych” as a bottle rack in the black salon (silver representing the moon) and a golden triptych in the white salon (gold representing the sun).
In the red salon, which is separated from the white room by large panel doors, is home to the NWE Vorst restaurant. Red – which stimulates the appetite – was a conscious choice for this room, which serves as a dining area but is also used for small-scale performances and concerts. The geometric pattern of red beams on the ceiling is reminiscent of a baroque garden. In the centre of this upside-down garden is a large glowing globe, bathing the room in warm light. Theatre spotlights can be suspended between the beams for performances and parties.
On the other side of the white salon is the purple-green conservatory, a room with two glass and steel walls and a concrete floor. In order to improve the acoustics, the other two walls are covered with sound-proofing panels, decorated with digitally-modified images of plants and flowers. These were designed by XY Dumb-office 2002. An illuminated column appears to be floating in the centre of the room. Due to its reflection in the large round mirror to which it is attached, this illuminated Plexiglas tube presents the illusion of being 4 metres long.
Behind the building is a garden, in which the new theatre was built in 1996. The old building and the theatre are connected by a long glass corridor, which also forms a dividing line between the garden and the street. On the other side, the garden is flanked by a building dating from the 1950s. This houses the restaurant kitchen, amongst other things. This in turn is connected with the theatre café through the conservatory. The aforementioned “newly-built salons” are decorated in secondary colours, namely orange (the connecting corridor between the old building and the theatre), purple (the conservatory) and green (the garden “salon”, which is open in the summer).
The orange corridor connects the black salon of the theatre café with the theatre. This 40-metre-long corridor is constructed of glass bricks and separates the street from the garden. The orange corridor - which attracts the attention of passers-by in the evening when it is illuminated by orange strip lights - is a reference to the name of the theatre: De Nieuwe Vorst, meaning the New Monarch (the Dutch royal family being known as the House of Orange-Nassau).