The Lyceum, one of Sheffield’s much-loved pair of major theatres, is following in the footsteps of its younger sister, the Crucible, and having a big makeover this summer.
Popular children’s show Horrible Histories was the last show to take to the stage of the beautiful Edwardian building in Tudor Square before the builders moved in for the theatre’s first major overhaul in 24 years.
Dan Bates, Sheffield Theatres chief executive, said: “The theatre reopened in 1990 as part of the World Student Games legacy. Prior to that it was in a terrible state.
“All the gilt had been painted out in the auditorium and the seats taken out downstairs when it was a rock venue.
“A merry band of people rescued it and raised a substantial amount of money for the restoration. Then Sheffield Theatres took over the operating lease to run it.
“Over the years we’ve done quite well at maintaining the building but we’ve got to the point where there are things that need to be looked at.”
The work taking place at the moment is costing £2m. The Arts Council has given £1m, Sheffield City Council another £500,000 and fundraising has pulled together another £433,000 so far.
Speaking just before the work started on Monday, Dan was pretty confident that grant aid still coming through would take the total up to the full amount.
So what will the money be spent on?
Dan said that, from the audience’s point of view, the seats are being reupholstered, the carpets are all being replaced, bar areas are being refurbished, new lighting and air conditioning are being installed and there will be a new cloakroom area and more women’s toilets.
Dan said: “The balcony area particularly has never been refurbished since 1990.
“The stalls and circle have been gradually done.”
He added: “The theatre doesn’t have any cooling system in it, so people should feel a significant difference. It’s also not been very efficient at keeping warm in the winter up to now.”
From an environmental point of view, energy-saving measures include the new LED lights, an updated hot water system and photovoltaic units on the roof capturing solar energy.
All those changes will also mean big cuts in the theatre’s energy bills.
Dan said: “A lot of the house lights are going off and we are changing 750 light fittings to LED, which will save 37 per cent of the energy.
“It means that we don’t have to replace all that beautiful, ornate stuff and the bulbs will last for a long time.
“If we have to change the bulbs on the chandeliers, they have to be winched down from the roof to reach them. At present we have to do that every three to four years.”
The front of the building in Tudor Square is also getting a new lick of paint and the whole of the roof is being repaired.
A big boost for female audience members will certainly be more loos!
Dan said that the cloakroom, which is downstairs in the original rotunda part of the building, is being closed and moved.
That space is being used to extend the ladies’ to make room for five more toilets and a baby changing area.
Dan said that the toilet alterations were made as a result of feedback from consultation with audience members.
“This came from a really loyal group of customers, so we had to move it up the list of things to do,” he added.
The cloakroom in turn moves into the unused Grand Crush Bar on the ground floor, to the left of the foyer. It was last in use as a temporary box office when the Crucible was being refurbished.
As the room has an outside exit, customers will be able to make a quicker exit when they pick up their coats, said Dan,.
At the moment, queues often form down the stairs, blocking the way to the toilets.
Other big changes that audience members will notice are the refurbished bars and a new public address system to announce when the show is restarting after the interval.
Backstage, major upgrades include bringing in an up-to-date control system for the stage manager and repairs to the giant scissor lift that moves the entire floor area for the orchestra pit up and down.
If the orchestra pit isn’t being used, the floor is moved up and more front stall seats are added.
Dan said: “The lift’s a significant piece of machinery and at the moment it’s temperamental.
“It sounds like a whale in pain when it moves up and down!
“Not having it working if we’ve got a show like West Side Story coming in would be a big problem and cost us a big fine as well.”
All that work has to be finished by the autumn.
The Lyceum will reopen on October 9 with the musical This Is My Family, a show that was created at the Crucible last year.
It’s coming back to Sheffield Theatres before going off on a national tour.
* Dan Bates will be regularly updating us with a second tour of the Lyceum while work is in progress and a final peek at the finished job before the theatre reopens
* See www.thestar.co.uk for a video tour of the Lyceum with Dan Bates just before it closed for the big refurbishment.
* To help boost the restoration fund, text LYCM001 to 70970 to give £5.
History of the lyceum
The Lyceum was built in 1897 with a traditional proscenium arch stage and it is the only surviving theatre outside London designed by the famous theatre architect W G R Sprague.
It was built on the site of the former City Theatre with a grand auditorium built on three levels – – stalls, circle and balcony. The statue on top of the building is Mercury, son of Zeus and Maia.
On the opening night, the audience sang the National Anthem before watching a production of Carmen by the Carl Rosa Opera Company.
As the third act closed and the curtain fell, they clamoured for managing director John Hart to take the stage.
He told the audience that people had mocked the idea of a first-class theatre in Sheffield but the magnificent turnout proved that it would be a great success.
He then read out a telegram from Sir Henry Irving, the finest actor of the day, who sent “truest and heartiest good wishes for the success and prosperity of the new Lyceum Theatre”.
An embarrassed W G R Sprague was then made to take a bow.
Sir Henry Irving opened his 1905 farewell tour at the Lyceum and it was his last full week on stage as he died the following week after a performance at the Theatre Royal in Bradford.
The Lyceum and Theatre Royal were run jointly by John Hart until the Theatre Royal was destroyed by fire in 1935.
The Lyceum was one of Sheffield’s major theatres until 1968 when it was converted into a bingo hall. It went through the hands of several owners and was also used as a rock venue, eventually falling into disrepair.
The Mexborough-born actor Keith Barron, who helped to raise money for the restoration, remembers pigeons flying around the interior.
The theatre closed in 1969 and, despite being granted Grade II listed status in 1972, planning permission was sought for its demolition in 1975. The building was saved in part due to campaigning by the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society.
Sheffield City Council bought the building in 1985 and it was reclassified to Grade II* listed status. Between 1988 and 1990 the Lyceum was completely restored at a cost of £12 million.
The theatre reopened in 1990 and now presents a variety of theatre.