Construction work has started this week at Richmond’s Georgian Theatre Royal to replace the seating in the auditorium.
The auditorium development project is an ambitious capital works project that will provide more comfortable seating and improved views of the stage whilst maintaining the building’s heritage and authenticity.
It is being carried out at a time when the theatre is closed due to Covid-19 restrictions and has been made possible thanks to a £375,000 donation from the Hamish Ogston Foundation announced earlier this year.
Plenty of work has already taken place behind the scenes – including developing prototypes of the new seating – but now the Richmond-based building and construction firm Acomb Construction Ltd have begun the process of removing the old seating in readiness for the installation of the new benches and seats.
“It is incredibly exciting to see the transformation start to take place,” said Clare Allen, chief executive of the Georgian Theatre Royal.
“We have spent many months in the planning of the project – poring over every detail to make sure that we achieve the best possible solution – but now this is all becoming a reality and the progress is very visible.
“We have had one or two surprises already.
“When removing the benches in the centre boxes, we found some rolled up newspapers from 1961 that had been wedged into the void under the tiered floorboards.
“It’s amazing what you find when you start peeling back the layers.”
The project is part of the theatre’s longer-term development plan to achieve financial sustainability by satisfying the needs of modern audiences.
In recent years, customer feedback has repeatedly highlighted issues with uncomfortable seating with some people commenting that it had actually prevented them from booking tickets.
In 2018, a feasibility study took place to determine how the seating could be made more comfortable.
The seating that is being replaced dates from the 1960s and it is entirely possible to carry out significant improvements without affecting the original fabric of the Grade 1 listed building.
As part of the process, heritage impact assessments were undertaken by both Historic Theatre Consultant, David Wilmore, and RICS approved Certified Historic Building Professionals, Maddison James Associates.
The results of the study were then shared with Richmond Town Council, which owns the building, Friends of The Georgian Theatre Royal, volunteers, and Richmond District Civic Society.
Site visits were also conducted by Richmondshire District Council and Historic England, who both fully endorse the project.
Listed Building Consent was granted in April 2019.
Overall, the project aims to address the two main concerns with the seating – poor comfort and restricted views of the stage from parts of the auditorium. In order to increase legroom and improve sightlines, some of the new seating will be re-configured and elevated.
Where floor levels are raised to increase the rake of the seats, platforms will be laid over the original flooring.
This will not only ensure that the fabric of the building is preserved but it also means that all the renovations are completely reversible.
Improvements will also be made to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
This forms part of the wider Auditorium Development Project and has been funded by the Foyle Foundation, the Normanby Trust, and the Hamish Ogston Foundation.