First disabled arts champ named

First disabled arts champ named

The arts producer and strategist Andrew Miller has been appointed the first champion for the disabled in arts and culture.

New reports show how Brexit will hit the arts

New reports show how Brexit will hit the arts

English cultural organisations stand to lose £40m a year with Brexit, with 64% oif them currently working inside the European Union. The report from EUCLID, commissioned by Arts Council England, shows that between 2007 and 2016 the EU contributed £345m to England’s arts, museums and creative industries, or £40m a year.

Boost for Banbury Museum expansion

Councillors have agreed plans to double the size of Banbury’s museum in a £5m expansion scheme.

Creative Scotland apology over funding row

Creative Scotland apology over funding row

Archer promises review of funding process

Books by the Ocean

Books by the Ocean

A ‘crazy’ notion to bring a literary festival to Sri Lanka has proved an astounding success. Patrick Kelly reports

Cultural kids' programme reaching out

Cultural kids' programme reaching out

An Arts Council programme devised to help young children from deprived areas through involvement in the arts is working, according to an evaluation report published today.

Call for arts support in Northern Ireland

Call for arts support in Northern Ireland

Arts sector representatives and tourist companies in Northern Ireland have called on politicians to recognise the important role the arts plays in the economy of the region.

Music venues survey shows third ‘under threat’

Music venues survey shows third ‘under threat’

But Scotland embraces ‘Agent of Change’ principle.

Hockney is critics' choice

Hockney is critics' choice

David Hockney is to receive the Critics’ Circle Award for 2017, only the second time a visual artist has been selected for the prestigious prize in the Circle’s 105-year history.

Photojournalism's art gallery

Photojournalism's art gallery

A new website at last gives Fleet Street’s photographers a showcase for their work as art. Simon Tait spoke to its founders, Fleet Street veterans Alan Sparrow and Bret Painter-Spanyol

Museums' collecting frozen by funding cuts

Museums' collecting frozen by funding cuts

Britain’s museums are being increasingly excluded from the art market by cuts in funding, stifling the acquisitions that are the life force for public collections.

Creative industries on track to create 1m local jobs - Nesta

The creative industries are driving the UK’s economic growth, expanding twice as fast as any other sector, according to new research by Nesta.

BAFTA/BFI set harassment zero-tolerance rules

BAFTA/BFI set harassment zero-tolerance rules

Film and television organisations led by BAFT and the BFI have set a series of principles and guidelines to deal with bullying and sexual harassment in the industry.

Tax deal takes early Freuds back to Lakes

Tax deal takes early Freuds back to Lakes

Two really portraits by Lucian Freud have been left to the nation in lieu of tax and allocated to the Abbott Hall Gallery in Kendal.

Mary Beard to front Front Row

Mary Beard to front Front Row

The classics professor Mary Beard is to anchor the revamped television version of the arts review magazine Front Row when it returns in the spring.

17c mystery painting still baffling experts

17c mystery painting still baffling experts

This large picture of 1665 by an anonymous artist is one of the great mysteries of the art world, and is the centerpiece of a forthcoming major Norwich Castle Museum exhibition.

London goes Underground

London goes Underground

Photographs of some faces and places associated with the capital go on display at five London Tube stations this week.

British Art Fair goes to the Saatchi

British Art Fair goes to the Saatchi

Celebrating its 30th birthday this year, the 20/21 British Art Fair has changed ownership and will move to the Saatchi Gallery.

Re-entering the stage

Patrick Kelly reports on the reopening of one of the UK’s most venerable theatres

 The title of Britain’s oldest theatre is a contested one – but there’s no doubt that the Theatre Royal in York, which has been around since 1744, occupies a special place in the city’s heart. How else could you explain the way in which regular bulletins on the the- atre’s year-long refurbishment were awaited by theatregoers like anxious relatives at a hospital bedside? Will it reopen in time for the Christmas panto? What will be discovered un- derneath the Georgian façade or the Victorian stage? Will the £6m resto- ration project do justice to this iconic part of the city’s historical landscape?

In the end, the saga carried on for 406 days, reported the local paper, which was keeping count, and on April 22, York’s much loved theatre reopened officially with a clever adaptation of Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. And the building looks fabulous.

The redevelopment, paid for by grants from Arts Council England, York City Council and a host of other donors, stemmed from an urgent need for repairs to a building which had largely been untouched for 50 years. Major changes were needed to the roof, to the auditorium and to the backstage facilities. But there was also a need, says YTR chair Ann Green, to create a building which helps boost the commercial income of the theatre at a time when public finances were constrained. This required a refur- bishment which would match the “audacity and ambition” of the playhouses which had occupied the site for nearly 300 years.

Help came in the form of the York Conservation Trust (see box) which negotiated a £1 handover of the building from a cash-strapped city council and provided the £2m needed for the completely new roof, and a third of the £6m budget.

Access throughout has been im- proved, with a spacious open plan foyer replacing the cramped box office, a new modular stage, better sightlines in the auditorium and much improved disabled facilities, from toilets to seats, throughout the building. A brand new roof makes the best use of the lightwells that had been constructed in 1967 when the theatre added a new entrance area. That concrete and glass extension, award-winning and now Grade II* listed like the Victorian audito- rium, now has a new lift giving full disabled access, a new restaurant, doubled cafe and bar space, many new toilets, restored rooflights and a colour changing lighting scheme. Much of the extra space has come from enclosing the Victorian gothic colonnade with glass, and creating an intimate café/bistro layout.

Inevitably, in a city where his- tory pokes through on every street corner, on a site which originally housed a medieval hospital, archae- ology was going to be built into the timetable. But the discovery of an ancient cobbled street and medieval well beneath the main stage meant that even the best laid plans were upended.

As a team from York Archaeo- logical Trust dug in for the long haul, the money-spinning Christmas panto had to be hastily rescheduled in the National Railway Museum. In York, this is no easy matter as traditional audiences, not to mention panto producer and veteran dame, Berwick Kaler, believe their antics are as embedded in the proscenium stage as the plasterwork in the boxes. But like the hardened profession- als they are, Wilson, artistic director Damian Cruden and Kaler moved Dick Whittington and his Meerkat to the 1,000 seater temporary theatre originally built for a touring production of The Railway Children, a move which prompted a handful of people to cancel, but ended up selling more seats than ever.

“When you shut a theatre that hasn’t been closed in 270 years you know that there is a lot at stake” said lead architect Angus Morrogh-Ryan, from De Matos Ryan Architects. “When you’re dealing with a building which is part medieval, part Georgian, part Victorian and part 1960s there is even more that could go wrong.

Theatre Royal chief executive Liz Wilson admits that the discovery of an original floor surface which had sur- vived for more than 800 years was not the best news for a theatre executive attempting to ensure a programme got started on time, but it demonstrated just how much the theatre’s story was part of York’s. “The Theatre Royal is much more than a theatre” she said. “It’s a place where people meet, learn and explore.”

Changes to the stage to a modular form will improve flexibility, enabling traps and level changes to be provided with ease. It will also allow YTR to attract dance companies which were turned off by the previous raked stage. “This season will see a performance from Birmingham Royal Ballet and, in future, will give us more options for the programme”.

The medieval well remains intact and parts of the street have been incor- porated into the terrazzo floor of the café, while the stone arch and tower built into the back wall of the stage, the remains of a Georgian garden folly, will feature in backstage tours. But for £25 tickets theatregoers can get a seat- ing either in the wings or from high above the stage on the fly floor – easily the best vantage point to see not only the show, but the remarkable building in which it’s taking place.

 

THE YORK CONSERVATION TRUST

The York Conservation Trust is a charity dedicated to preserving the built heritage of the city. It was formed by former city mayor Dr John Bowes Morrell and his brother Cuthbert in 1945. The trust buys and restores significant historical buildings in the city and then makes them available to rent. it now owns and runs over 85 buildings, consisting of 79 residential and 66 commercial lets. “Restoration and conservation has to be balanced with the need to put the building to its best use, both from the point of view of its tenants and in the life of the city” says the trust’s chair Philip Thake.

 

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