Heritage funding kick-starts a new era for city’s Theatre Royal

Murray Edwards, Managing Director of Wakefield's Theatre Royal.
Murray Edwards, Managing Director of Wakefield's Theatre Royal.

A multi-million pound project to restore the Theatre Royal Wakefield will kick-start a new era for the Westgate landmark.

The theatre has secured £152,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is is line to secure a further £2.6m to restore the 19th century building to its original state.

Executive director Murray Edwards said the project had been a long time coming and was expected to be complete next year.

He said: “Since the trust bought the theatre in 1981 it has needed renovating but there was no such thing as the heritage fund then.

“It’s ready for a change. We want it to look more like it should, and to give the performers and audience a better experience.”

As well as refurbishing and redecorating the building, which was the masterpiece of Victorian architect Frank Matchem, Wakefield Theatre Trust plans to build a more flexible stage floor with ‘trap’ openings.

And a ventilation system will be reopened to make the theatre cooler in the summer and save on energy costs.

But Mr Edwards said it was just as important to look at ways to improve productions and attract new audiences.

He said: “We’re not a museum so this is not just about the hardware – we’re interested in engaging with more people.”

Mr Edwards said there were plans in a future project to bring an adjacent building back into use as an extension to the theatre, featuring a new foyer, bar and rehearsal areas.

And said he was confident that the projects would fit nicely into wider plans to regenerate the Westgate area.

He said: “It’s great that we are getting a new station and Unity Hall will reopen next year. There’s a concept that we could end up with a ‘cultural quarter’ in Westgate around Drury Lane, with the Art House and Orangery.

“We want to give people a better excuse to stay living and working here.”

People have been invited to look at the project plans and have their say at two events at the theatre, on Saturday, April 20 and Monday, April 22.

A decision on the full funding is expected in September.