Best seats in the house

Sheffield Theatres chief executive Dan Bates showing what needs doing in �2m revamp of  Lyceum Theatre
Sheffield Theatres chief executive Dan Bates showing what needs doing in �2m revamp of Lyceum Theatre

Sheffield Theatres is to embark on a major refurbishment of the Lyceum after landing a £1 million grant from Arts Council England.

The upgrade of the Edwardian theatre will address three key areas - audience comfort, technical facilities and environmental sustainability. The total cost of the project is just under £2m and in addition to the Arts Council funding Sheffield City Council is contributing £500,000, leaving Sheffield Theatres to raise the remaining £433,000.

It is hoped £100,000 will be raised through donations and they will be appealing to ticket-buyers to contribute an extra small amount.

Changes which will specifically improve the audience experience include the installation of air conditioning in the auditorium (the top issue from audience feedback, evidently), the provision of more women’s toilets, the refurbishment of the Balcony seating (those in the Stalls and Circle have already been done) and a move of the downstairs cloakroom to ground level.

The technical equipment, some of which is more than 20 years old, will be updated and upgraded with the addition of a new sound system and improvement to the quality of the technical facilities available to touring companies.

Other additions and changes are aimed at reducing energy consumption and carbon footprint, including installation of LED lights, a new system offering more precise control of the heating and lighting and the installation of PV panels on the roof.

In 1990 a £12m restoration enabled the theatre to re-open after being derelict for 20 years.

“We are not dealing with the heritage aspects in the auditiorium which have lasted remarkably well,” says chief executive Dan Bates. “But over the past 25 years people have come to expect a higher level of comfort and they have become used to higher sound quality, for example.

“Since the upgrade of the Crucible it was important we didn’t have a poor relation next door, especially as the Lyceum is the leading driver of income. We need to maintain a high standard of how people are treated - both audiences and actors.”

The refurbishment will take place over a slightly extended summer break, between July and September. On reopening it is anticipated that the theatres will be in a stronger position to attract more major productions to the Lyceum; operate for more weeks of the year as maintenance time will be reduced, attract greater numbers of people through its doors and see a reduction in its operating costs as a result of the energy efficient installations.

Improved backstage equipment will also support Sheffield Theatres’ ambition to produce more of its own work in the Lyceum to tour throughout the country as The Full Monty did.

The stature of Dan Bates and Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans in the theatre world has been marked by being jointly ranked No 11 in the Stage 100 ‘Power List’ moving from Number 18 last year.

The Top 100 Award nominations by The Stage, the country’s leading publication for arts and entertainment, is regarded as one the industry’s most important accolades and Sheffield Theatres has once again been nominated as Regional Theatre of the Year, having won it last year.

Sheffield Theatres has been shortlisted alongside the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, and the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. The award winners will be announced at a special event in London on January 31.