GRAND REOPENING OF ONE OF THE NORTH EAST’S OLDEST THEATRES

A local theatre has undergone an extensive facelift.

The Darlington Hippodrome showed off £13.7m worth of renovations when it reopened in November.

The hippodrome from the outside

Once known as The Civic Theatre, it had been closed for nearly 18 months whilst the refurbishment took place.

Along with the refurbishments came a return to its original name given to the theatre when it first opened in 1907 by Signor Rino Pepi.

The opening was marked by a special ribbon cutting ceremony attended by representatives from the businesses that played important roles during the restoration.

The improvements to the venue were given a huge boost due to £5m worth of funding from the heritage lottery fund.

The refurbishments came in the form of enlarging the grade II listed building by 40% by incorporating two adjoining restaurant buildings making the public space much larger.

Perhaps one of the biggest improvements however was to the seating with an increase from around 900 seats to over 1000 and the addition of more leg room and better ventilation ensuring visitors are more comfortable when attending shows.

Before and After: The small cramped theatre is transformed into a big open luxurious auditorium

Existing dressing rooms were also improved and relocated to a new build section of the theatre which helped create three long gallery spaces along the front of the theatre never before available to the general public.

The venue has also been made more accessible by installing lifts to all three seating levels and a counterweight system has been installed to allow touring shows with more modern, heavy sets to be accommodated.

The theatre even has a brand-new entrance leading into the box office, hippo lounge and stylish new café.

The all new park gate foyer

Lynda Winstanley, theatre director, said: “It was evident that, in order for the venue to remain successful for another generation, many large-scale improvements were necessary in order to attract the kind of touring shows people want to see as well as improving the overall theatre-going experience for our audiences.”

The theatre has also worked hard to reach out and appeal to its young adult audience with the great mix of new design and architecture of the Edwardian theatre.

One of the gallery spaces has also been set aside to exhibit works of young adults and is currently showing an exhibition of graffiti works based on the historical elements of the theatre.

The brand new hippo lounge and cafe

Darlington Hippodrome has been a cultural heartbeat of the town for over 110 years and the survival of the venue was said to be vital to ensure that the people of Darlington and surrounding areas had access to culture and learning in the form of love for theatre.

It sees a wide range of audiences with people attending regularly coming from as far out as York, Harrogate, Newcastle and Carlisle.

Speaking about why people attend the theatre Lynda said: “Darlington Hippodrome is a truly magical venue, steeped in history. The atmosphere when there is a full house is spine-tingling. There is nothing like the experience of live theatre, knowing you are watching something completely unique that can never be replicated.”

Behind the scenes: Staff member Nick

As of December, the venue also saw the opening of the Hullabaloo theatre specially designed for children from the conversion of an old fire station.

The theatre even had a train renamed after it by virgin trains to commemorate the reopening.

Since reopening the venue has had their annual family pantomime in the form of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the theatre hopes to see even bigger shows in the future.

Busy: Audience members gather

It has seen a wide range of shows from comedy, drama, ballet, opera, bands and musical theatre.

Within the first six months of opening it will welcome shows for all audiences such as Blood Brothers, Awful Auntie, The Play That Goes Wrong, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Jekyll & Hyde, Peppa Pig, Brian Conley, BalletBoyz and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

For more details and a list of shows go to www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk

Trainee Journalist at Teesside University

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