Theatre transformed

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AFTER six months being closed and £4.9million-worth of refurbishment, North East audiences can now take their seats at a new look Theatre Royal, in Newcastle. Katy Wheeler found out more about the work to return the venue to its former glory.

THE “crowning glory of Grey Street”, Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, reopened to the public this week after one of the biggest and most meticulous theatre restorations in recorded history.

Costing £4.9million and taking six months and 500 workmen to complete, (in preparation for the Theatre’s 175th birthday in 2012), the project has reconstructed the Grade I listed Theatre’s Victorian auditorium in exquisite detail.

Carpets, brasswork, light fittings wallpaper, lost tilework and ornate gold-leaf plasterwork and more, has been meticulously recreated from original 1901 designs, photographs and catalogues by craftsmen from across Europe.

Now work is complete, the team is confident the venue will offer one of the best, and most authentic, theatre experiences in the UK.

Including renovation of the interior and exterior, the restoration work has recaptured the grand style of Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham’s 1901 design, while introducing 21st century standards of comfort and improving energy and carbon efficiency.

Seats are now much more comfortable, with more leg room and a better view of the stage, plus there are now two new luxury boxes in the Grand Circle, and a superb Amphitheatre in the Gallery.

David Wilmore, a theatre consultant and Matcham expert who has advised the project, said: “This is the biggest and most meticulous theatre restoration I have ever worked on – no other I’m aware of has been as meticulously researched and recreated.

“Because we know more about Frank Matcham than ever before, and understand how great a genius of theatre design and the audience experience he was, we have been able to achieve a bespoke reconstruction. The level of detail is extreme.

“Nothing is ‘off-the-shelf’ here, everything has been bespoke-made using traditional techniques, and for that reason the project signifies a fundamental shift in how we approach conservation in the 21st century.”

Lighting, air conditioning and technical facilities have all been upgraded; foyers, toilets and stairways have been renovated, and there is an all-new restaurant for Theatre-goers. Access for wheelchair users has been considerably improved.

In addition, repairs and lighting enhancements have been made to the famous Grey Street Portico, which had been damaged by the elements and recent severe winters.

Philip Bernays, chief executive of Newcastle Theatre Royal, said: “This project has been a labour of love for everyone involved, and no expense spared on the creation of authentic decorative touches.

“We haven’t skimped in any way – we’ve sought out the best craftsmen from across Britain and Europe, and in some cases the original Victorian manufacturers are still going.”

Alan Bennett’s period drama The Madness of George III is the first show to be performed in the theatre in six months. It runs until Saturday.

Tickets are £9-£30 and can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk