TOMORROW is the day.

For the first time since Old Mother Goose closed on January 31 2015, artistic director Damian Cruden will have one of his productions taking to the York Theatre Royal stage when Brideshead Revisited opens.

A much changed Theatre Royal stage, mind you, with the rake gone, the auditorium painted in muted grey livery and the auditorium seating upgraded with a new stalls configuration that rises to the dress circle above, and much better high-backed seating in the gallery too.

All part of the £6million redevelopment designed by architects De Matos Ryan and built by Willian Birch and Sons, since the theatre closed on March 16 last year after the Schools Shakespeare Festival production of The Head That Wears A Crown.

The head that wears the Theatre Royal crown – not a title Damian would bestow on himself – returned to the guts of the building on Monday for tech week for Brideshead Revisited after conducting rehearsals with his cast of nine at the London premises of co-producers English Touring Theatre.

York Press:

Artistic director Damian Cruden: "a theatre fit for a city of the standing of York in the 21st century". Picture: Anthony Robling

"It's great to come back and see the finishing touches being applied, coffee being made, food being cooked, the set going up on the stage," he said, over lunch on Monday, in the new glazed colonnade that fronts on to St Leonard's Place.

"Even though it's been testing and at times it's been complicated, we now have this theatre how we want it to be. It starts being a lived-in building again, and it's so much better now; it feels like a 21st century building but with all the grace of the buildings that have stood here, and you can now appreciate that better than ever before. We now have a theatre fit for a city of the standing of York in the 21st century, and it spurs us on to look at how best to present theatre and the arts in this city."

This is not the end of the journey, Damian stressed. "Instead it feels a very clear and positive statement that this is what the community wants; that's very heartening for those who work in the creative industries and great for those who use the theatre, whether to make theatre, see theatre, join the youth theatre, or enjoy the café and bistro," he says. "For young people to see that money is being spent on York's cultural resources like this is fantastic for the future."

While the Theatre Royal's commercial brief will be to expand its portfolio still further beyond the stage, nevertheless the quality of productions will remain its number one calling card. The year's residency at the National Railway Museum drew 90,000 people to the community railway play In Fog And Falling Snow, a revival of Mike Kenny's The Railway Children, the TakeOver Festival and Dame Berwick Kaler's pantomime, Dick Whittington And His Meerkat, keeping the theatre's name in lights while the redevelopment project over-ran.

"Welcoming 90,000 people was no mean feat," said Damian. "We had a great time in the Signal Box Theatre at the NRM and it reinvigorated us in lots of ways; it gave us lots of challenges, but we'll always remember how our audience loved being that close to David Leonard, even if he stole their sweeties. He gets away with murder, but then a good panto villain should be able to get away with murder. That's the point."

York Press:

Damian Cruden in rehearsal with Brideshead Revisited cast member Caroline Harker. Picture: Helen Maybanks

Now the focus falls on Wakefield playwright Bryony Lavery's new stage adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's wartime novel Brideshead Revisited, the story of middle-class narrator Charles Ryder and Roman Catholic aristocrats Sebastian Flyte and his sister Julia, already transformed into a television series and film, both filmed over the hills at Castle Howard.

"Above all it's a family saga, with its fair share of whimsy and is definitely not to be taken entirely seriously, but it's wonderful telling of a tale that does have something to do with defining the nature of Englishness, and undoubtedly it was one of the defining novels of the 20th century," said Damian.

"Not that Waugh was completely happy with it, as he revised the book for the American publication in the 1950s because he had some issues with it. He was concerned it was too pastoral or over-saccharine, but I don't agree with that. It might not be as cutting or as sharp as Vile Bodies, but what Waugh does is take a story that stretches a long way back in time and also looks a long way forward.

"He looks at how the Roman Catholic Church and the aristocracy sit in England, between the wars, as Charles Ryder recounts his memories of this aristocratic way of life and this family that seemed to have everything but in fact have nothing. The one thing the Flytes end up with is their faith, which is stronger than anything else. For Charles too, he wants to be able to believe; he wants faith."

Have faith in the new Theatre Royal too, starting tomorrow.

York Theatre Royal and English Touring Theatre present Brideshead Revisited at York Theatre Royal, tomorrow until April 30 and June 21 to 25. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Cast picture: Nigel Holland