Celebrating ten years since City Varieties regeneration project
As Leeds Heritage Theatres welcomes back audiences’ post-lockdown, City Varieties - Leeds’ oldest theatre and Guinness World Record holder for the longest running music hall - also celebrates a decade since its remarkable restoration.
The two-year regeneration project, undertaken to ensure the venue was made more accessible and fit for purpose, saw backstage areas demolished and rebuilt with six modern dressing rooms, an access lift and a newly fitted green room. In the auditorium, new carpeting and seating were fitted, and experts carried out painstaking ceiling and plasterwork repairs (inspired by a design dating back to 1900 which was discovered during the restoration). There were also major excavations to re-establish the ancient cellar network, and an external glass lift was fitted which greatly improved access to the building.
Costing £9.925 million, the work was funded by Leeds City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the remainder coming from the theatre’s own fundraising efforts, plus significant sums from the Friends of the City Varieties and The Monument Trust. The project was widely supported by many famous faces, including Paul Merton, Moira Stewart and Nicholas Parsons.
The regeneration also unearthed several management books which serve as an amazing record of the life of The Varieties from 1897 to 1902 – a time when music hall was thriving. Whilst many acts were marked ‘good’ or ‘fair’, Harry Houdini is described as ‘extra special’ following his performance in 1902.
Legendary funny man, Ken Dodd, was chosen as both the closing act in 2009 before work began, and the reopening act on 17 September 2011, but it was The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who officially reopened the venue as part of the Queens Jubilee Tour on Thursday 19 July 2012. After greeting the crowds that had gathered on Briggate, the couple were treated to a performance by our Youth Theatre, who delighted them with traditional music hall routines, including The Laughing Policeman.
A decade on and The Varieties is still entertaining audiences with the best of the day’s cultural entertainment. After a period of closure due to the pandemic, stringent COVID-safety measures ensure audiences can once again come back with confidence.
Chris Blythe, CEO, says; “Just like 10-years ago when she reopened her doors post-regeneration, it has been wonderful to see so many people returning to The Varieties post-lockdown.
“Whilst programming continues to be a challenge due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, with some shows still having to reschedule and some sadly cancelling, we have done everything in our power to make The Varieties COVID-safe and heartily encourage people to book tickets to come see the finest comedy, music and variety acts in the country.”
A selection of what’s on at City Varieties Music Hall:
Does The Future Have Enough Food?: Mon 20 September
What does the future hold for the production of food? Join a panel of experts led by critic Grace Dent to explore foods of the future, and the future of food.
The Good Old Days: Fri 17 – Sat 18 & Fri 24 - Sat 25 September
Relive the golden era of Music Hall with The Good Old Days as all-round entertainer, Bernie Clifton, and pianist, Bobby Crush, top the bill this September, joined by a range of acts from ventriloquists to vocalists.
Help I Sexted My Boss: The Boys Are Back Tour: Sun 3 October
William Hanson and Jordan North are unlikely best friends. William’s a posh etiquette expert and Jordan’s an expert in all things common! In this brand-new show, they take their hit comedy podcast on the road and help you navigate the everyday problems of modern life.
Ward Thomas: Wed 10 November
Following the release of their acclaimed UK top 10 album, Restless Minds, and being awarded the prestigious Global Artist Award at the CMA Awards earlier this year, country-pop duo Ward Thomas have announced an intimate acoustic tour for 2021.
Beauty and the Beast: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto: Fri 26 November 2021 – Sun 9 January 2022
Beauty and the Beast has been given the Rock ‘n’ Roll treatment (from the enchanted pen of Peter Rowe) and will be rocking The Varieties stage over Christmas 2021.
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