In the process of restoring the "Grand Old Lady of Grey Street" back to its Victorian glory with the assistance of old photographs, original plans and catalogues, the team has unearthed the original wooden benches used by the Victorians and some Matcham fibrous plasterwork which had been covered over by a false ceiling.
The discoveries have proved crucial in helping to re-construct exactly how the original auditorium would have been, but were very unexpected as at the project’s commencement it was doubtful that many original features from 1901 still existed in the front of house areas.
Theatre conservation expert and restoration consultant David Wilmore said: “The benches are very solid and in good condition, considering how old they are. They’re made from timber that was shipped from the forests of Bohemia and imported to the Tyne – so they are an important piece of local history too. We aren’t removing them as they are an important original feature – but at the same time audiences of today wouldn’t find them very comfortable, so we are retaining them in situ beneath the new Gallery floor which reinstates in principle Matcham’s original sightlines.
“The fibrous plaster ceiling rose in the Grand Circle was a real gem of a find – by amazing coincidence it was the ‘missing piece’ we needed to complete the a missing elements of the auditorium ceiling.”
The Grade I Listed Theatre Royal on Grey Street dates from 1837, but after a major fire in 1899 following a performance of ‘The Scottish Play’ the entire auditorium was re-designed by one of the world’s greatest theatre architects, Frank Matcham. In the century that followed many more renovations took place, following fashion trends and ‘current thinking’, not always in the building’s best interests. The new restoration is as authentic as possible, converting the Theatre back to the way Matcham originally intended (with some essential 21st century adaptations!) Wallpapers have been reprinted, lost tilework reinstated, original carpet patterns sourced and extensive gold leaf applied. Specialist workshops have reproduced period light fittings, brassware and ornamentation and seating and layout have been reconfigured, with new seats in all areas – 1901 in style, but modern in comfort.
The project is now in the ‘final leg’ of its six month project duration and in five weeks the Theatre will reopen to the public with Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III on 12 September.
For more information visit the Theatre Royal website.