Newcastle Theatre Royal set for £3.5m restoration

MILLIONS of pounds are to be invested in one of the region’s cultural landmarks.

Richard Briers, theatre royal

MILLIONS of pounds are to be invested in one of the region’s cultural landmarks.

Newcastle’s Theatre Royal is undergoing a £3.5m restoration project to celebrate its 175th birthday.

The major revamp, due to be officially announced on Monday, will see the Grade I-listed building, which has been termed “the greatest building on Britain’s greatest street” restored to its former glory and safeguarded for generations to come. And theatre patron, the acclaimed actor Richard Briers, will be making a guest appearance at the Theatre Royal on Monday.

The TV and stage actor, famed for his role as Tom Good in The Good Life, will be guest-of-honour at a launch dinner for sponsors and Friends of the Theatre.

Speaking to The Journal last night, Mr Briers said: “The Theatre Royal is one of our most distinguished theatres with which I have a very long association, having first appeared here in 1958 in Gilt and Gingerbread.

“I have worked out – to my horror – that it was 51 years ago. It was the play which really started things for me. Since then I have played at the Theatre Royal several times. It means a great deal to me, and has played a large part in my career.”

He praised the venue, which is one of only five Grade I-listed playhouses outside of London, as a “jewel” in the crown of theatre.

“The Theatre Royal is magnificent, I love it,” he said. “It is without a doubt one of the best venues in the country.

“To play on that stage with the enormous space is just wonderful. It is number one on the touring circuit.

“It is a great honour to be asked here again to launch this fantastic restoration project. The theatre is a real jewel, and it is wonderful to see it being conserved.”

The Theatre Royal on Grey Street was first opened in February 1837 – making 2012 its 175th birthday.

However, a fire destroyed much of the interior in 1899, meaning most of the building dates from 1901 when it was re-built by celebrated theatre architect Frank Matcham.

Although a new wing was created in 2007, when the former Barclays Bank building on Market Street was incorporated into the theatre space, the new phase of restoration is now due to ensure the building is protected and enhanced for future generations.

During the multi-million pound revamp, a series of conservation measures will be introduced to protect the external fabric, including the portico which has been subject to rainwater damage.

Inside, new seating will be installed, new lighting and ventilation systems introduced, and major renovations will be made to help improve comfort and visibility for theatre-goers.

Philip Bernays, chief executive of the Theatre Royal, said: “The Theatre is not only one of the most impressive buildings in Britain, but it is also a major monument of civic pride. It has a place in the hearts and minds of every person in the North East and also many further afield.

“For this reason alone, its restoration is of vital importance for our present customers and also for the future generations who will inherit this much-loved theatre. We are delighted to have such an esteemed name, in Richard Briers, to do us the honour of launching this major project.”

Andrew Dixon, chief executive of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said the restoration was a positive thing for the city as a whole. He said: “The Theatre Royal is respected throughout the theatre world. Some really prestigious names such as Richard Briers, Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart all hold close affection for the theatre. The Theatre Royal is one of the earliest examples of a really successful cultural regeneration programme in Newcastle Gateshead and it’s ambitions for the future will make it one of the premier theatres in the UK.”

The conservation plan has been put together by historic theatre specialists Theatresearch, who specialise in the work of Matcham. And conservation work has already begun, with a comprehensive survey complete, contractors procured and some of the more time-consuming restoration techniques well under way.

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Gillian Dickinson Charitable Trust said: “This refurbishment is the culmination of work across the city’s cultural venues - the Sage Gateshead, Live Theatre, Northern Stage.”

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 and businesses to contribute to the refurbishment. A limited number of patron packages are available, offering seat dedications, invitations to exclusive patron events and various other benefits. The cost of every theatre ticket purchased also includes a contribution to the fund. For more information, visit

Page 3 - Man behind site >>

Man behind site

FRANK Matcham is regarded as one of the most eminent theatre architects of all time.

Born in Devon in 1854 to a brewery clerk, he was apprenticed to a builder and architect.

In the mid 1870s he moved to London and when his boss died suddenly, 24-year-old Matcham took over the architect’s firm.

His first job was to complete the Elephant and Castle Theatre.

Matcham never qualified and was snubbed by many in his profession. But he went from success to success and over 30 years became the most prolific theatre architect of all time.

He designed at least 80 theatres and refitted or worked on at least as many again. He also designed pubs, cinemas, hotels and Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom. Despite his vast output, each theatre was unique

Sadly only a handful survive.

Changing face

THE original Theatre Royal was opened on January 21, 1788, and was on Mosley Street, next to Drury Lane.

But its final performance was in June 1836, and a new theatre was built in Grey Street.

This opened on February 20, 1837, but in 1899 it was destroyed by fire following a performance of Macbeth.

The structural walls of the theatre remained but the auditorium and stage were devastated.

Yet a new Theatre Royal rose from the ashes and was splendidly re-designed by Frank Matcham, the eminent theatre architect. The theatre re-opened on December 31, 1901, with a pantomime, The Forty Thieves.

During 1986 to 1988 the Royal underwent a £6.5m refurbishment which saw the theatre close for 20 months.

In 2006 to 2007 a further £7.2m development extended the stage and technical facilities as well as extending the theatre into the old Barclays Bank building on Market Street.


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