ANYONE planning a trip to Newcastle’s Theatre Royal after it reopens next month is in for a treat – regardless of what’s showing on stage.
For a time, it seems, the building will be the star and worth the ticket price on its own.
As I discovered yesterday, the step into the future afforded by a near £5m improvement of the auditorium is also a reminder of a glorious past.
My guide Simon Campbell, of SURGO Construction, repeatedly pointed out that what has been taking place is a restoration rather then a refurbishment – an attempt to reinstate the original vision of the famous theatre architect Frank Matcham.
The view from the stage was like being whisked back to a shiny new 1901 with reds, golds and dark browns reminiscent of the richly flamboyant Edwardian era.
Gone are the old green cinema seats, spongy, wrongly angled and lacking leg room. In their place are purpose-built theatre seats with firm but comfortable upholstery and enough room between rows for long legs.
The seats are the colour of a rich red wine, the carpet – made to match samples of the original – a matching burgundy with swirling gold plumes.
Look up and you will see the elaborate plasterwork, beautifully restored and shimmering with immaculately applied gold leaf. It’s like a glorious wedding cake, light as air and with the frieze above the stage, of fruit and musicians and a relief of Shakespeare, shining like new.
Sight lines have been improved. Two rigging columns which stood at either side of the stage have been removed and the equipment moved into four of the boxes which, in any case, were designed not for a good view of the stage but for the occupants to be seen.
Four new private boxes with wheelchair access have been created at the back of the grand circle where wooden arcades have been recreated, adding a dash of glamour
The upper circle now has a central staircase. Having stumbled on evidence of this original feature, the architects adjusted their plans and reinstated it.
In front of the gallery – the “gods” – three rows known as the amphitheatre have also been recreated, offering a fantastic view of the stage for about 70 audience members.
In the foyer, new entrances to the stalls have been created through two booths next to a new sweet kiosk.
In contrast with the rather gloomy and apologetic entrances, with the back row of seats against the wall, you now get the full glory of the auditorium as you find your seat – and there’s a walkway at the back for ease of access.
Liz Rowe’s ceiling painting, commissioned for the foyer when the theatre was refurbished in the 1980s, has been replaced by a new period piece by a specialist firm from Bristol.
Liz’s painting, featuring a shirtless man with a pint, is in safe keeping, I was told.
With better access for all and everything a-sparkle, this job looks like a resounding success. I can’t wait for the first show.