A £4 MILLION refurbishment of York Theatre Royal is set to go ahead after the venue won vital backing from the Arts Council.

The theatre is likely to receive £2.9 million in lottery funding towards the cost of the project, which will include enclosing and glazing in the colonnade in St Leonard’s Place to double the size of the entrance and cafe areas.

The plans also involve major changes inside the auditorium – including the stage and stalls seating – to increase its intimacy and flexibility and change the audience’s relationship to the stage.

For example, it will be easier to switch to theatre-in-the-round for certain productions and the stalls seating will be higher than it is currently, allowing the existing raked stage to be replaced by a flat stage.

A new performance space will also be created in the De Grey Rooms, allowing a new range of work to be performed, and the theatre will have an expanded step-free foyer. A lift is also set to be installed to improve access to the dress circle and upper foyer.

A theatre spokeswoman said it had got through the first stage of the arts council’s application process for a large scale capital grant, so it could now develop the project in more detail to secure the £2.9 million grant from the council’s Capital Lottery Fund.

Chief executive Liz Wilson said funds had been granted to take the “exciting and much-needed development” on to the next phase. She said: “If all goes to plan, this will mean us working on the front-of-house areas of the theatre and the auditorium during 2015.”

The theatre would have to close for several months that year while the work was taking place.

The theatre will receive significant capital funding from City of York Council. Coun Sonja Crisp, cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, said: “The theatre has always been at the heart of the city’s cultural offer and these plans will help it to reach new audiences and enhance everyone’s theatre experience.”

Coun Crisp said that along with the investment in the Art Gallery, the Reinvigorate York project to redesign Exhibition Square and the refurbishment of St Leonard’s Place, this part of the city would be transformed, making it a “high-quality cultural hub.”

Cluny Macpherson, regional director of Arts Council England, said the theatre’s plans to create a 21st century performance experience would strengthen the theatre’s reputation as a home for innovation and high-quality theatre.

“More significantly, the transformation of the theatre and the greater diversity of activity will encourage even more people to enjoy the arts and ensure that York Theatre Royal will continue to flourish in the future,” he said.

The last piece in cultural jigsaw

THE Theatre Royal’s announcement completes an extraordinary jigsaw of cultural redevelopment projects in the area.

The City Art Gallery, on the other side of Exhibition Square, recently closed for a £8 million revamp, which will include the creation of a stunning new gallery in a “secret” room in the original Victorian roofspace.

The square itself is set to undergo improvements under the Reinvigorate York initiative. The ballroom at the De Grey Rooms has also been restored, the University of York has invested in historic Kings Manor and leading hotel operator Malmaison wants to move into the crescent of council offices just across the road from the theatre.

Professor Ron Cooke, who chairs Reinvigorate York and is vice-chairman of York Civic Trust, said the theatre announcement was “absolutely wonderful news,” coming on top of all the other related developments in the area.

These would also involve improvements to bus movements and waiting arrangements.