The UK’s only fully operational surviving Regency theatre, the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, will reopen in September 2007, following a £5.1million two-year restoration and development project. The venue’s new season kicks off, fittingly, with a production of the classic Georgian nautical melodrama Black Ey’d Susan by Douglas Jerrold.

An international co-production with the Goethe Theater of Purcell’s King Arthur will also feature in the opening season, alongside work from Hull Truck, Northern Broadsides and Ballet Ireland (dates tbc). There will also be plenty of Georgian plays under the banner of Restoring the Repertoire, as artistic director Colin Blumenau hopes the renovated theatre will “do for Georgian Theatre what London’s Globe Theatre has done for Elizabethan theatre.”

The building – which was constructed by William Wilkins (the architect who built National Gallery) in 1819 and is one of only eight Grade 1 listed theatres in England - was restored to a model as close to its original designs as possible, after extensive research by architects Levitt Bernstein, in collaboration with theatre staff and the National Trust. In order to accommodate the needs of a modern audience, a separate new wing has also been designed to house bars, toilets and other facilities.

The project has been made possible through grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Trust, Arts Council England, St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Suffolk County Council complemented by massive local support which has seen the project reach its conclusion both on time and on budget.

Judith Shallow, chair of the board of directors, said: “Our belief in the importance of this extraordinary building has been completely vindicated by the massive and overwhelming support for the restoration and development of new facilities at the Theatre Royal. The fact that what some would consider to be a small, regional theatre can command this level of support and enthusiasm speaks volumes for its significance historically, artistically and in so many people’s hearts and minds.”

Timothy West, patron of the Restoration Appeal, said: “It is not often, in one’s lifetime, that one is fortunate enough to be associated with a project of real significance…. The success of this research project will see the Georgian repertoire return to its rightful stage…. and what better place to learn about a previous era and how it contributes to our understanding of the present time than through its theatre in all its glory; architectural, artistic and downright good fun!”

Black Ey’d Susan runs from 11 to 22 September 2007, (preview 10 September) directed by Blumenau and designed by Kit Surrey. Set at the end of the Napoleonic wars it tells the story of Susan, who falls on hard times while her husband is away at sea. It depicts the increasingly fervent attempts of her crooked landlord to woo her, and her increasingly desperate attempts to keep him at arms length.

- by Caroline Ansdell