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Curtain up on the new-look Sheffield Lyceum Theatre

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 December 2014 | UPDATED: 01:36 24 October 2015

The previously tired balcony seating has been given a new lease of life

The previously tired balcony seating has been given a new lease of life

James Stewart Photography

It’s taken 190 builders, 14 specialist contractors, 66 solar panels, 11.5 miles of cabling, 900 square metres of carpet, 1,100 reupholstered seats, 1,000 litres of paint and £1.93m, but Sheffield Lyceum Theatre now looks considerably younger than its 177 years.

The Lyceum Theatre after its nine-week, £1.93m makeoverThe Lyceum Theatre after its nine-week, £1.93m makeover

After an intensive nine-week makeover, which stuck firmly to the script by running to time and on budget, the theatre looks like a much sprightlier version of its former self. The refurbishment, funded by Arts Council England, Sheffield City Council and the company itself (which raised £430,000 in just nine months), focused on three main area: improving the audience experience, increasing production capability and boosting the building’s operational efficiency.

A grand chandelier now greets guests in the refurbished foyerA grand chandelier now greets guests in the refurbished foyer

‘The theatre has been beautifully restored, renovated and reinvigorated,’ said Sheffield Theatres’ chief executive Dan Bates, ‘creating a more comfortable experience, allowing us to attract, create and tour more world-class productions and ensuring our long term sustainability thanks to a variety of energy efficient systems.

The new colour scheme and design have been specifically chosen to enhance the theatres heritageThe new colour scheme and design have been specifically chosen to enhance the theatres heritage

‘Our audiences are at the heart of this project and we are incredibly grateful for the way they have supported the fundraising and made this refurbishment possible.’

The foyers have been decorated, fully re-carpeted and the ornate plasterwork beautifully re-gilded in a colour scheme and design aimed at drawing attention to the building’s heritage.

In the auditorium, an air cooling system offers greater control over the temperature, and the balcony seating has been refurbished and reconfigured to offer more

leg room.

The lower ground floor has been remodelled creating five additional ladies’ toilets and improved family-friendly facilities including additional baby changing as well as space for pram and pushchair storage.

Backstage, a new sound system offers a premium audio experience and the house lighting deck is now more sophisticated, giving the theatre greater flexibility and control as well as reduced maintenance time and costs, allowing it to operate for more weeks each year.

There have also been improvements across the board in terms of energy efficiency and financial sustainability, including the installation of 66 photovoltaic panels allowing the theatre to actually generate its own electricity.

Councillor Isobel Bowler, cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure at Sheffield City Council, welcomed the much-applauded makeover, adding: ‘I am thrilled to see the wonderful work that’s been carried out on the Lyceum, which is such an important cultural landmark in the city.

‘The city council was able to invest in the scheme because our capital allowed the project to attract significant funding from Arts Council England and because the scheme is ‘invest to save’ as it reduces the overall subsidy required by the theatres in these challenging times for public finance.

‘We also know how many people in Sheffield value the Lyceum and all the great theatrical entertainment on offer there. We are very proud of Sheffield Theatres and the quality of work it produces across all three of its venues.’

In the spotlight

:: Sheffield Lyceum Theatre was built in 1897 with a traditional proscenium arch and is the only surviving theatre outside London designed by the famous theatre architect WGR Sprague.

:: It was built on the site of the former City Theatre and, in case you were wondering, the statue on top is of Mercury, son of Zeus and Maia.

:: On opening night, the audience sang the national anthem before settling down to Carmen by the Carl Rosa Opera Company. As the third act closed and the curtain fell, John Hart, the theatre’s managing director, read out a telegram from celebrated actor Sir Henry Irving, who sent ‘truest and heartiest good wishes for the success and prosperity of the new Lyceum Theatre’.

:: Sir Henry actually opened his farewell tour at the Lyceum in 1905. It was to prove his last full week on stage as, the following week after a performance at the Theatre Royal in Bradford, he died.

:: The Lyceum remained one of Sheffield’s major theatres until 1968 when it was converted into a bingo hall.

:: It closed in 1969 and, despite being grade two listed, was scheduled for demolition in 1975. Thankfully, it was saved due in no small part to campaigning by Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society.

:: Sheffield City Council bought the building in 1985. Between 1988 and 1990 the Lyceum was completely restored at a cost of £12 million; the stage was rebuilt, the main entrance was moved, dressing rooms were improved and the auditorium was completely revamped.

:: The theatre reopened in 1990 and now presents a varied bill including touring West End productions, opera, contemporary dance and locally produced shows.

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