The project, costing £4.75 million in total and being managed by Newcastle based construction company SURGO, will include extensive restoration of the auditorium and conservation measures to protect the external fabric of the building, including the famous Portico on Grey Street.
The Grade 1 Listed theatre, opened in 1837, is regarded by many as the UK’s most beautiful theatre building and was once named by Ian McKellen as his personal favourite. It is one of only seven Grade 1 listed theatres in England.
Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the North East, Ivor Crowther said “The Theatre Royal is a historical gem in the heart of the city and has been putting on show-stopping performances throughout the decades. Our investment will contribute to a vital project which will conserve and transform the fabric of this fantastic building and through its new learning programme, teach visitors about the Theatre’s fascinating history, ensuring it remains at the centre of the local community.”
Extensive work will be carried out in the auditorium, including new seating at all levels, new lighting and ventilation systems, a new Stalls entrance and reinstatement of lost historic features including light fittings and gold leaf decorative work. The aim is to recapture the grand style of Frank Matcham’s 1901 design (much of which has been lost over the last century) while at the same time creating twenty first century standards of comfort.
SURGO Construction is a general construction, design and build contractor, operating throughout the Northern Region with considerable experience in both the private and public sector. The company works across most of the main construction segments including Educational, Industrial/Commercial, Residential, Retail, Leisure and Health.
A new heritage exhibition will be developed in partnership with the V&A Theatre Collections Department aiming to introduce new and existing audiences to the rich heritage of the theatre. Volunteers will help to lead tours of the site and develop and maintain the archives.
In parallel with these developments the Theatre is creating a Heritage Learning Programme and a new fully resourced History Room where the heritage of the Theatre can be studied by members of the general public. The Learning Programme will feature a series of history projects and a 175th anniversary history book.
Philip Bernays, chief executive of the Theatre Royal, said “This grant is great news for us, and we are over the moon. In an age when competition for funding is at its most fierce, we are delighted that the HLF have recognised the critical importance of this project. This is our biggest single donation so far and will form an important part of the overall funding package. We chose SURGO for a number of reasons - they have good, local, relevant experience, particularly in theatres and listed buildings. What’s more, their submission was very articulate and showed how well they understood us and the importance of the project. They have also demonstrated excellent relationships with their sub contractors, a comprehensive approach to programming and a proactive approach to consultation and partnership."
As the Theatre is an independent charitable trust and its future depends on public support, a Heritage Fund has been set up to enable members of the public, businesses, and charitable foundations and trusts to contribute to the restoration. A limited number of patron packages are available, offering seat dedications, invitations to exclusive patron events and various other benefits. Every theatre ticket purchased also includes a contribution to the fund.
The Theatre Royal will have no performances from 14 March to 11 September 2011 while the restoration is taking place, however, all the other theatre functions will continue as normal, including the Learning programme and Box Office.
The Theatre will re-open its spectacular new auditorium on 12 September with Alan Bennett’s magnificent The Madness of George III, a brilliant theatrical profile of the eccentric King who granted us our Royal licence in 1788.