Sheffield theatre set for £600,000 refurbishment to help venue produce more stage hits

The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield is poised to undergo a major upgrade costing more than £600,000.

By Richard Blackledge
Monday, 11th November 2019, 1:26 pm
Sheffield Theatres Chief Executive, Dan Bates. Picture: Chris Etchells
Sheffield Theatres Chief Executive, Dan Bates. Picture: Chris Etchells

The venue – which has enjoyed big successes with the cinema-bound musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and its innovative staging of Life of Pi, about to transfer to the West End – will have its front of house areas, including the café, refurbished and its technical equipment upgraded.

The improvements will be backed by £385,250 in capital funding from Arts Council England. A fundraising campaign will also aim to raise £25,000 towards the overall total.

Sheffield Theatres, which runs the Crucible, its Studio space and the neighbouring Lyceum, recently won five UK Theatre Awards for Life of Pi – a staging of novelist Yann Martel’s story that incorporated an impressive puppet tiger – and Standing At The Sky’s Edge, the musical by Richard Hawley and Chris Bush inspired by the Park Hill estate.

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Louis Gaunt, Alastair Natkiel, Deborah Tracey, Damian Myerscough, Nicole Deon, Fela Lufadeju and Johanne Murdock in Standing at the Sky's Edge, Crucible Theatre

Bosses say work of this quality and scale demands state-of-the-art technical support, and because the Crucible’s own in-house equipment is ageing this often means increased costs to hire suitable lighting and sound gear. The capital investment will reduce hire fees and the time spent repairing and maintaining outdated equipment, as well as giving theatre-makers better resources generally.

Making the front of house more comfortable for audiences is a central ambition. The foyer space is home to community events such as dementia-friendly tea dances and the Fun Palaces activity days. Post-refurbishment, the aim is to expand this programme as well as encouraging more people to visit to meet, study or work. The revamp will also benefit visitors to the World Snooker Championships, held at the Crucible for more than 40 years.

Inside the Crucible’s main auditorium, the ‘twinkle light’ sky in the ceiling will be replaced with more energy efficient LED fittings.

Video conferencing is to be offered too, for staff and artists to collaborate nationally and internationally while reducing costs and the environmental impact of travel. New captioning equipment will be bought to boost the range of performances accessible to those with impaired hearing.

Owain Gwynn as Richard Parker the Tiger and Hiran Abeysekera as Pi in Life of Pi

Dan Bates, Sheffield Theatres’ chief executive, said: “We are very thankful that the Arts Council has awarded us this funding.

“As the Crucible nears its 50th birthday in 2021, we’re committed to it remaining a place that welcomes everyone, as well as a building that’s equipped with the technology to create brilliant work on our stages.

“I’m excited that we’ve been supported by this funding to refurbish the Crucible’s front of house, offering a more vibrant and comfortable environment where everyone can create, work and play throughout the day.

“We’ll also install new lighting, sound and captioning equipment which will help us continue to create ambitious and fantastic productions as well as improving our accessibility, our financial resilience and our environmental sustainability.

John McCrea in the 2017 production of Everybody's Talking About Jamie at The Crucible in Sheffield (pic: Johan Persson)

“This funding will make a huge difference to Sheffield Theatres, to our audiences, to artists and to our city.”

The refurbishment is planned to take place in summer 2020 when there is traditionally a break in the schedule. The venue underwent a £15 million overhaul 10 years ago that took two years to complete. The Crucible is currently gearing up for its Christmas show, a production of Guys and Dolls, and Sheffield Theatres is opening a ‘creative hub’ next door to the building in a former bank.

Pete Massey, Arts Council England’s director for the north, said: “The Crucible has always been such a fantastic space for theatre-makers and audiences from Sheffield and across the country, so we're thrilled to be supporting them with our small capital grants programme, which allows organisations to be more resilient and sustainable.

“The Crucible will use its award for a number of exciting developments. We look forward to seeing these plans come to fruition.”

Fela Lufadeju and the company of Standing at the Sky's Edge, Crucible Theatre

Nine arts and cultural organisations in Yorkshire have benefited to the tune of £2,275,585 in the ACE funding round.

Nationally, £12.3 million has been awarded throughout England to 46 arts and cultural organisations working across visual arts, dance, literature, music, theatre and more. London and the South East were allocated £4,485,762, while places in the North were given £3,262,135.

Elsewhere in South Yorkshire, the children’s literacy charity Grimm & Co has been awarded £499,999 by Arts Council England to buy and convert a Grade II listed former church in Rotherham town centre.

Museums Sheffield has been given £150,000 to make digital improvements to Weston Park Museum and Millennium Gallery, and the Higher Rhythm recording studios in Doncaster have received £115,571 to develop their sites.