Dame Judi Dench praised the art deco building in Liverpool city centre as one of the “best loved regional theatres” after Heritage Lottery Fund awarded over £860,000 towards its redevelopment.

Dench is a patron of The Royal Court Liverpool Trust, a registered charity formed in 2008 to look after the property located in Roe Street, which successfully secured the second round of funding from the HLF.

The trust said the £867,800 grant will mean the first stage of the first phase of a planned £10.6million refurbishment will begin on 1 February 2012, which is costing just over £1.2million. 

A revamp of the theatre is being phased to ensure that it does not close to audiences for any longer than a few months at a time. The first phase is costing around £2.5million in total and is expected to be completed by September 2013.

Dench said: “The Royal Court is one of our best loved regional theatres and especially dear to me. I made my stage debut here as Ophelia in the 50s and it was a wonderful experience. I am delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund have decided to support plans for the first phase of the theatres regeneration and look forward to seeing the Royal Court start a new chapter in its rich history.”

Liverpool-born Paul Monaghan, director of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, who is the architect behind the proposals, said: "By next Summer we will see the beginnings of the complete reinvention of the theatre with striking contemporary cabaret seating, new lighting and the complete redecoration of the auditorium which will make the Royal Court one of the leading venues in the country. At last the building will be able to match the superb quality of its productions."

Plans for the theatre include a new glass frontage being created with a pod being built on the side of the Grade II-listed building for more backstage and office space. A roof top extension to provide a new bar with two lifts being fitted internally, one backstage, one front of house, is also planned.

Gillian Miller, founder and chief executive of the Royal Court Liverpool Trust, added: “The first phase is costing nearly £1.3m and is known as the heritage stage, with work being done between February and May next year and then the same time the following year. Liverpool City Council granted planning permission on 9 September.”

Last November, the trust was granted a long lease on the building of 30 years from Liverpool City Council, meaning that it could start to access public funds and other sources of support such as private trust funds and foundations.

A £1 ticket levy was introduced in March 2010 on all tickets to shows at the Royal Court, which has raised over £200,000 to date and been used as match funding for the trust’s second round Heritage Lottery application. This will run until the project is complete.

The trust was awarded a development grant of £116,200 from the HLF last year.

The building first opened in 1826 as Cookes New Circus and was renamed in 1831 as Cooke’s Amphitheatre of Arts, presenting a programme of opera, music, theatre and ballet, before becoming known as the Royal Court Theatre in 1881.

The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1933 and rebuilt in 1938 in the current art deco style of the era. After 1976 the theatre was let on a series of short-term licences to commercial operators and primarily used as a rock venue in the latter part of the 20th century.