Outside, it looks like your typical disused Neepsend factory.
Inside? Inside, right now, there are a couple of acrobats swinging about the ceiling, a chap performing tricks in a giant wheel and a bloke downstairs practising – we kid you not – a custard pie routine. The host showing us about is dressed in a top hat and cravat. He’s a fire-eater.
“Welcome,” he says, “to Sheffield’s newest theatre and circus space.”
So, that’s where The Diary is: Victoria Works, a vaudeville-y venue which, when it officially opens in January, will almost certainly become the UK’s only theatre based in the roof of a 19th century steel factory.
Circus shows, gigs and dramas will all be held here. Then on August 31 the space, in Rowland Street, will shut once more.
“It’s a pop-up theatre,” says host and man behind the transformation, Micky Bimble. “What better way to bring alive one of Sheffield’s old unused buildings?”
The owners of the plant – Rinus Roofing Supplies – have leased it for one year to Sheffield Performing Arts Collective, aka SPARC. They, in turn, have renovated the downstairs into nine studios and the upstairs into the theatre. A stage was already in place because, bizarrely, at one point while the building was still a working factory, this space was converted into a mini Wesleyan chapel.
There’s a green room too (painted orange) and aerial equipment has been installed. There’s nothing so sophisticated as seating but it’s envisaged the audience will stand to interact with the shows.
“There’ll be lots of promenade performances where the full room is used,” explains Micky who initially tried to do something similar in the old Salvation Army citadel in Pinstone Street. “What we want is this to be a completely unique venue that offers something different from your sterile space selling over-priced lager.”
Laura Cork, one of those acrobats, agrees: “It’s quirky,” says the 30-year-old of Heeley. “I’ve performed everywhere from Dubai to London but nowhere quite like this.”
The capacity is still being agreed with Sheffield City Council but should be about 200, while Sheffield band Bison will perform at the opening show – pencilled in for the first week of January. After that SPARC will stage shows but the space will also be available for hire.
“If it goes well,” says Micky, who performed across Europe before settling in Page Hall in 2005, “Who knows? Maybe when we leave here we’ll try it again in another building.”