The theatre was built on the remains of St Leonard’s Hospital, one of the most important medieval hospitals in England. Prior to commencement it was thought that very little of the hospital foundations remained, but as the layers were unpeeled, the significant remains of St Leonard’s Hospital were the biggest find. The project was managed under an archaeological watching brief. The media interest in the finds was intense, and indeed there was also strong interest from members of the local and national theatre-going public.
The Theatre Royal project included works to a number of different areas around the Theatre building, but primarily the main auditorium and works to the front of house to improve leisure facilities for visitors. The existing front colonnade to the building was external, and has been glazed to complement the iconic arches and brought within the building complex to create seating and café/bar areas. Now complete, theatre goers will see the biggest changes in these areas, although there have been many more changes including a new and state-of-the-art stage, upgraded lighting and improved audio-visual equipment. New seating has been installed for several areas, along with improvements to the stalls to enhance performance viewing quality.
The Theatre Royal is a fascinating building on many levels, built up like a patchwork over different time periods. The logistics of accessing the building were challenging, sited where it is in York’s centre and in such close proximity to its neighbours.
Improving the performance area
The existing stage at York Theatre Royal has been levelled to improve the versatility of the space, enabling the theatre in future to be able to programme a wider variety of productions, and improve the sight lines from the stalls.
The theatre’s basement has also been lowered by 600mm. This was to allow a removable mid-section of the stage with head room and also pop-up stages as needed.
Work to the main upper theatre gallery has included a complete remodelling and reprofiling for better viewing angles, with significant structural and joinery work. The dress circle has also been reprofiled to provide disabled access. The back of the top two galleries now has new steel supports and specialist plastering to ensure it remains in keeping with the existing theatre.
The theatre’s main auditorium ceiling required some plasterwork repairs. There are new bars to the ground and first floor, new toilets, and even a new passenger lift.
Externally there has been a significant amount of work, with new masonry, repair and replacement of defective stone where necessary, as well as a stone cleaning and a huge reroofing programme.