Is This a Digger That I See Before Me? - Geotechnics at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Posted on November 15, 2017
Archive : November 2017
Category : Case Studies

To celebrate #LoveTheatreDay, we're looking back at some of our favourite theatrical projects. In this article from 2007, we took on a unique challenge inside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. We had to get quality core samples from the auditorium for their £112.8 million renovation - AND make sure the venue would be ready for their next play just a few days later. 

Working within a tight timeframe, we took a rotary drilling rig into the venue and drilled through the orchestra pit. It is testament to the hard work of everyone involved that we got in and out of the theatre within 88 hours... Just in time for the RSC to begin work on The Merry Wives of Windsor! 



The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the RST, in Stratford-upon-Avon, has staged some of the most important productions of Shakespeare’s plays over the past 75 years. Now, the stage is set to transform the RST into the “best theatre for Shakespeare in the world” in a £112.8 million renovation project. Geotechnics Limited was asked to come up with a unique solution to a very complicated problem. How to drill a borehole, recovering top quality core samples in the auditorium of a world famous theatre between shows and yet leave no trace that anything had happened? A literally “for one night only” job.

Buro Happold, Consulting Engineers to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s RST Transformation project, approached Geotechnics with the following proposition: bring a cable percussion boring rig as well as a rotary drilling rig into the auditorium of the theatre, drill and core a 20 metre deep borehole, obtain 100% core recovery, leave no mess or any sign that any work had been carried out, and then remove the rigs again. All of this had to take place in a precise time slot of 88 hours. Nothing could go wrong, break down or otherwise fail. No damage to the fabric of the theatre would be countenanced.

Contingency plans would need to be drawn up to abandon the borehole and equipment if a major problem was encountered so that the show could go on.

In fact the task proved even more difficult than first anticipated:

  • Where could we find an adequate water supply for the rig?
  • What if artesian water was encountered?
  • How do we protect the original marble flooring?
  • How do we manoeuvre a 5 tonne drilling rig through foyer doors with a clearance of only 25 mm?
  • How do we track the rig over timbered and carpeted steps to the front of the stage without irreparably damaging both?
  • How do we ensure that all drilling fluid and groundwater was contained, that fumes from the rig were removed and that noise levels were kept to a minimum?

The answer as always with this sort of job was effective planning, efficient teamwork and the use of high quality staff and equipment. Preparation started six weeks before the allocated time slot. Key meetings were attended by all members of the team including all subcontractors. A detailed programme allocating every task a precise timescale was agreed on and briefed to all team members.

As the curtain came down on the final performance of the The Tempest and prior to preparations for The Merry Wives of Windsor, it went up on our performance and the plan swung into action. What seemed like only a few hours later, the job was done, the hole was drilled and the rigs, access track, sound proofed hoarding and the rest of the equipment was out of the theatre. It is a testament to the hard work of the people involved that the job was completed well within the original time allocation.

No great performance would be complete without a list of credits. Thanks go to GT Trax who designed and made the bespoke access tracks for the rigs and equipment, to Macklin Geotech who provided the cable percussion rig, to Drilcorp who were unfailingly helpful and provided a highly professional drilling service, to Buro Happold who provided first class project management throughout the process, including overnight work, to the RSC who understood perfectly the need for the team approach and who gave every assistance on the day and finally to the Geotechnics team of Richard Betts, Leigh James, Ian Boyle and James Havard, without whose commitment none of this would have been possible.

This article first appeared in the 2007/08 of Geotopics. You can find out about our more recent work in the current edition


To find out about our ground investigation services in the Midlands, contact Regional Manager David Bland

To enquire about our rig availability across the UK, please contact our teams across the country