Heritage Open Day’s top 25 theatre events – What will you discover?

From 10 – 19 September across the country you can access and learn about a huge number of buildings you can’t often get in to.

The popular annual Heritage Open Days event embraces a very wide mix of events and activities, and this year it returns with a mix of in-person and online activities to enjoy wherever you are in the country.

Here’s my Top 25 events that will be most of interest to theatre-lovers. See what’s near you-or online!

IN-PERSON The Stables Theatre Building Tour
The Stables Theatre, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK17 8LU Tour and behind the scenes look at the building that is one of the UK’s most successful music venues, led by the original architect. Details here

IN-PERSON People’s Museum
Hippodrome Bingo, 27 Railway Street, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, DL14 7LR Memorabilia of Bishop Auckland on display at the Old Hippodrome Theatre. Details here

IN-PERSON AND ONLINE Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ Visits
North East Theatre Organ Association, New Victoria Centre, High Street, Howden Le Wear, Crook, County Durham, DL15 8EZ Find out the amazing story of the only remaining Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ in the North East (& one of the largest in Europe) – and hear it in action (online option via information on the page with details). Details here

IN-PERSON Exeter’s Northcott Theatre – opening the archive
Northcott Theatre, Stocker Road, Exeter, Devon, EX4 4QB For the first time, the Exeter Northcott Theatre will be sharing items from its archive and launching a fantastic new mural. Details here

IN-PERSON The Rescue of the National Picture Theatre -Speaker Hilary Byers
Stepney Station, Beverley Road, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, HU3 1TY The National Civilian WW2 Memorial Trust has for over 20 years been working towards saving the remains of the National Picture Theatre on Beverley Road in Hull. Hear about the history and recent strides forward. Details here

IN-PERSON Royal Hippodrome Theatre Tours
Royal Hippodrome Theatre, 108-112 Seaside Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN21 3PF The Hippodrome Theatre opened in 1883. Catch a behind-the-scenes look at the stage and backstage areas through guided 30 minute tours and take a look inside the Victorian auditorium! Details here

IN-PERSON Mercury Theatre Tours
Balkerne Gate, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1PT Colchester’s Mercury Theatre has recently undergone a major redevelopment. Be amongst the first to see inside -and backstage! Details here

ONLINE Wivenhoe and the Theatre
Wivenhoe, Essex. A film looking at the homes of two of Wivenhoe’s most famous residents: Sir John Martin-Harvey, a successful actor and theatre manager, and Joan Hickson OBE, best known for her portrayal of Miss Marple. Link available from Sept 10th. Details here

IN-PERSON Cheltenham Playhouse Tours
Playhouse Theatre, 47-53 Bath Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL53 7HG Guided tours around the ground floor of the grade-II listed building including scenery workshop and stage, while learning about its pre-theatre past as salt works, slipper baths and swimming pool – which you will descend into! Details here

IN-PERSON Stockport Plaza Super Cinema and Variety Theatre Open Day
Plaza Theatre, Mersey Square, Stockport, Greater Manchester, SK1 1SP The beautifully restored 1932 Stockport Plaza throws open her doors at 11.00am for a full day of FREE to attend events, including performances of the mighty Compton Theatre Organ. Details here

IN-PERSON Watford Palace Theatre
20 Clarendon Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, WD17 1JZ As part of Heritage Open Days, we will be opening up our home to you for a day of fun, facts and fabulousness. Details here

IN-PERSON Playhouse Theatre Whitstable Tours
Playhouse Theatre, 104 High Street, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 1AZ This is an opportunity to see how a theatre operates. Tours of all backstage areas are on offer as well as demonstrations covering the many aspects of how we put on a show. Details here

IN-PERSON AND ONLINE Lancaster Grand Theatre Heritage Weekend
Lancaster Grand Theatre, St Leonardgate, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 1NL Offering a Tour of the Grade II listed, 237 year old theatre. If you can’t attend in person – there is a virtual tour of the public areas of the theatre on their website. Link available from Sept 10th. Details here

IN-PERSON AND ONLINE Pavilion Theatre Gorleston – Backstage Tours
Pavilion Theatre, Pier Gardens, Gorleston, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR31 6PP The Pavilion Theatre in Gorleston celebrates its 120th birthday this year and to celebrate we’ll be running informative tours of the building including to areas that are usually closed to the public, including backstage! As part of their commitment to making the tour accessible to all, they’ll be live-streaming at least one of our tours for people to access online. Details here

IN-PERSON Tours of De Grey Rooms and York Theatre Royal
Entrance to De Grey Rooms, St. Leonards Place, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 7HD Learn about York Conservation Trust and take a guided tour of the De Grey Rooms and York Theatre Royal. Details here

IN-PERSON Tours of The Old Savoy – The home of The Deco Theatre
Abington Square, Next to The Press Restaurant, Northampton, Northamptonshire, NN1 4AE The Deco Theatre, Northampton’s hidden gem, is host to a wide variety of shows, the Christmas pantomime, and many training events. Explore its spaces and history on a guided tour. Details here

IN-PERSON Palace Theatre Centre Stage
Palace Theatre, Appleton Gate, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1JY Visit the pop-up exhibition about Newark Palace Theatre’s first 100 years. Details here

IN-PERSON Tours of The Majestic Theatre, Retford
Retford Theatre Trust, Majestic Theatre, Coronation Street, Retford, Nottinghamshire, DN22 6DX Part of Retford Heritage Open Day 2021. The Majestic Theatre will be open for free guided tours between 10am and 2pm, of both front of house and backstage. Details here

ONLINE Virtual Tours of Blakehay Theatre
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, BS23 1JZ Virtual Tour of Weston-Super-Mare’s Blakehay Theatre, a 207- seater converted from an early Victorian Baptist church in the 1980s. With this online tour, you will be guided around the Front of House, Auditorium, the Upper Studios and also the backstage areas including one of the Juliet balconies and two Dressing Rooms. Links available from Sept 10th. Details here

IN-PERSON A Brief History of Professional Theatre in Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre , Tudor Square, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 2LA A linear walk round the city centre, visiting sites of the surviving and former theatres and concert halls of Sheffield. Details here

IN-PERSON Marina Theatre Lowestoft Tours
Marina Theatre, The Marina, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR32 1HH Take one of our guided heritage tours and learn more about the Marina Theatre’s history. Details here

IN-PERSON Tyne Theatre & Opera House Tours
Tyne Theatre & Opera House, 109-119 Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE1 4AG Narrated guided tour of the Grade I listed Victorian Theatre which was built in 1867. The Theatre houses a fully restored stage machinery, a rarity in the UK. Tours last approximately 60-70 mins. Details here

IN-PERSON Sunderland Empire Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, 4-5 High Street West, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, SR1 3EX Join the Creative Learning Team at Sunderland Empire Theatre for a free tour inside the Edwardian theatre building, exploring its architecture and rich history. Details here

IN-PERSON Tours at the Lawrence Batley Theatre
Lawrence Batley Theatre, Queen Street, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD1 2SP Join us for a special backstage tour, taking in the stories of our historic building and a look behind-the-scenes, guided by one of our expert team. Be the first to see our redeveloped spaces following our A Theatre For Tomorrow campaign this summer. Details here

IN-PERSON Yvonne Arnaud Theatre events
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Millbrook, Guildford, Surrey, GU1 3UX A rare opportunity to see behind the scenes at this grade II listed venue. Celebrate theatre food and snacks through the ages with our fun and family friendly activities. Details here


“Persistent” buildings and persistent people – How heritage buildings can revive our High Streets

Those concerned for the future of the nation’s historic high street buildings were treated to a lively and informative online presentation from Heritage Trust Network and Locality on July 1st.

Can historic buildings save England’s High Streets?

In a lively discussion, expert panelists discussed the potential new uses of historic high street premises and the role of culture in town centres’ revival.

Speakers were David Tittle – CEO of Heritage Trust Network, Owain Lloyd-James – Head of Places Strategy, Historic England, Carol Pyrah – Executive Director, Historic Coventry Trust, Joe Holyoak – Trustee, Moseley Road Baths, Diane Dever – Chair, Urban Rooms Network and Claire Appleby – Architecture Advisor, Theatres Trust.

The mainly heritage-based audience were treated to much impressive factual information from regeneration projects around the UK, together with practical steps and advice when furthering their own high street heritage projects.

The discussion put the High Street in context, starting as a community focus, then often rebuilt to become more retail-focused, and now as retail is on the decline, accelerated by Covid, towns need to find new creative offers to encourage people back to their High Streets.

Owain Lloyd-James of Heritage England reminded us that High Streets are areas of greater footfall, which is why so many theatres, cinemas and other cultural buildings are on them or very nearby. He also noted that retailers were waking up to the idea that they had to offer “something extra” for people to visit High Street stores. This new form, dubbed “experiential retail”, has prompted awareness amongst retailers that historic and heritage buildings can add something special to a shopping trip. This has fueled an increasing amount of interest in repurposing older buildings to create stores with character and interest, as opposed to the bland Lego boxes that infect most of our Hugh Streets today.

Carol Pyrah of Historic Coventry Trust told us about the successes achieved by her group including participating in City of Culture this year, and how they have positively shifted visitors expectations of the appeal of the city through their many placemaking and arts-based projects.

Joe Holyoak, a Trustee of Moseley Road Baths, told us of this historic building’s impressive plan for renovation and renaissance as an arts centre and studios. He also, helpfully, reminded us that the word “monument” stems from the word for memory. And finally, he reached back through time to remind us that buildings which survive down the ages have often been called “persistent” buildings, which seemed a very apt title; and he celebrated not only the persistent buildings but also the persistent people who help to bring them back into life.

Diane Dever discussed the projects arising from the Urban Rooms project in Folkestone. Sadly, for me, her presentation slides were so dense that they became unreadable and undermined the detail of what she was trying to tell us. It was, however, heartening to see Folkestone’s creative quarter emerging, and to hear that the income from shop and flat rentals in the area were helping to fund creative events.

For me, the best was saved till last, as Claire Appleby of the Theatres Trust brought out the convincers – the financial figures. As well, Claire underlined the architectural importance of theatres, their memory-link to the local communities around them, and the wide social benefits of theatres and the activities that can be housed within them. Also highlighted was the flexibility with which theatre companies had lead the way in Covid help, being outreach workers, community hubs, food banks, vaccination centres, and so much more- theatres really showed their value to their communities.

An Arts Council of England survey found that theatres were highly valued, with respondents stating that they were willing to pay £13 a year per person to retain their local theatre.

Theatres’ effects on the local economy were great, with people coming into the area to see a show and usually spending more while they were in the locality. In the last, non-Covid year of research, UK Theatre found there were 34 million visits to theatres across the UK bringing a value of over £1.38 billion, that figure without the extra benefits of restaurants, bars, hotels, etc.

As mentioned on this blog, another survey found that theatre’s wellbeing impacts on audiences contributed to a saving of over £102million to the NHS annually, with 60% of theatregoers more likely to report good health than non-theatregoers.

Finally, Claire quoted a number of recent or nearly-completed projects, with Chester’s Storyhouse (a redevelopment of their old Odeon cinema) bringing a million visitors in their last year. Bradford’s newly refurbished ex-Odeon cinema is projected to bring over a quarter of a million visitors in the first year, with a projected boost to the local economy of £10million. The newly-refurbished Globe Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees projects 170,000 visitors in their first year, bringing an £18million boost to the local economy. (And just another example from my own experience- Walthamstow’s refurbishment of their Granada cinema into a mixed-use theatre space is projected to bring over £100million into the local economy over its first ten years of operation.)

A lively Q&A followed, and the event was brought to a close by David Tittle. Thanks to everyone involved for a highly informative, positive and optimistic view of heritage buildings’ futures on our High Streets.

Watch a recording of the event, which you can find here


Historic Buildings can boost cultural and High Street revival- join an online discussion

An online discussion not to be missed is happening tomorrow, July 1st.

Could historic buildings save England’s High Streets?

Join this lively discussion with expert panelists to explore new uses of historic high street premises and the role of culture in their revival.

Speakers:

David Tittle – CEO of Heritage Trust Network

Owain Lloyd-James – Head of Places Strategy, Historic England

Carol Pyrah – Executive Director, Historic Coventry Trust

Joe Holyoak – Trustee, Moseley Baths

Diane Dever – Chair, Urban Rooms Network

Claire Appleby – Architecture Advisor, Theatres Trust

Attendees will leave this event with an:

• awareness of the range of potential uses that can be accommodated in historic high street/centre settings and the strengths and challenges associated with them

• understanding of how different uses contribute to wider regeneration goals

• appreciation of how to assess the feasibility and overall financial contribution of different uses

• understanding of how to reach out to different types of user and engage them in projects

This is an online event using the Zoom platform and joining details will be sent to you ahead of the event

Book your place at www.heritagetrustnetwork.org.uk/events Free for Heritage Trust Network and Locality members , £5 for non-members

Accessibility: The event will feature live speech-to-text transcription using Otter.ai.

You can book your tickets here too


VIEWS: Theatres – the unseen costs of closure

Gary Donaldson, founder of Unrestricted Theatre, shares his thoughts about the health of our precious theatre buildings

London’s – and the UK’s- theatres have been uniquely silent for over a year now. Their gradual reawakening is something to be hugely thankful for.

In many of the countless discussions about theatre and its value in these troubled times, people initially- and rightly- pick up on the human costs of these closures – theatre staff, actors, musicians, technical staffs all thrown out of work, and the human cost has been undeniably high- as well as badly mismanaged by the current government.

What is often overlooked is the “health” of the bricks and mortar. Theatres do not just magically close and open one year later just as they were. Time does not stand still for our priceless theatrical magic boxes.

You can’t just lock the doors and expect them to look after themselves. These are most often historic buildings, and an irreplaceable part of our history and heritage, and they deserve to be cared for whatever the situation outside their doors.

Our theatres are often old, often delicate constructions which demand ongoing care and attention. Its worth bearing in mind that the majority of London’s theatres are over 100 years old. With a major disruption to the usage of a theatre, maintenance needs to continue unabated. Buildings still need to be heated and ventilated to stop problems with damp and decay. Even the most well-maintained buildings have an ongoing program of works to ensure that they remain in tip-top condition to receive both shows and audiences in a way which will respect all users of a theatre space.

The cost of maintaining our country’s theatrical jewels is not cheap. Cameron Mackintosh says that it costs him half a million a week to maintain his group of theatres. With no money coming in that needs deep pockets. Although I cannot comment on his business practices, one can understand that this comprises a pretty alarming balance sheet.

Lets not also forget that it’s not just the ticket money that has been lost. It’s the Restoration Levy too. Until March last year £1.50 on each ticket sold was put into a pool to maintain each theatre visited on that ticket. With over a year of no attendances, that’s a huge loss of maintenance income. How much, exactly?

Let’s take London’s West End’s last full year that it reported, when over 15.3 million tickets were sold to West End theatres, according to The Box Office Data Report 2019 . Multiply that by £1.50 and that’s more than £23million annually – money that has now been missing for over 15 months from an assumed income stream. And that money is needed- so when it’s not coming in, someone has to find that money- and it’s always the theatre owners. You could say “well, its their theatre, they aren’t hard up”. And I wouldn’t disagree with you. However, it’s important to remember that most of their income streams dried up, along with so many others, back in March 2020. And for theatre owners who are also producers, like Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber, much of their cash flow is tied up in ongoing deals at various stages of progress, many of which were postponed, others collapsed – its not easy. The sad reality is that Covid-19 has thrown an enormous spanner in the works of every part of our fragile theatre infrastructure.

As we slowly start to bring our theatres back into use, let’s be grateful for all the hard work which goes into making them safe and keeping them national treasures to be proud of.


VIEWS: “So great to be back!” – West End theatres first audiences report…

If there’s anyone reading this who is feeling a little unsure about returning to theatre, let me assure you that you are not alone. Many people have contacted me over the last few weeks asking about how it’s all going, are the protocols in place working, how do people feel, etc. So this seemed like a good time to take a survey some of those who have already made their way into our West End theatres. So I did. And here are the major takeaways from what they all said. Respondents visited a sample of all the West End theatre groups which are currently open and showing work, and the feedback is intended to give you a general overview, as opposed to a theatre-by-theatre approach.

Did you have instructions when to arrive on your tickets? All respondents said that their confirmation email containing their e-tickets outlined when doors would open, where to enter, and what time they needed to be seated by.

What were your feelings of anticipation of returning to the theatre? The general response was that they were really looking forward to returning, particularly supporting the industry and enjoying a night out after so many months away from live theatre.

What were your feelings upon arrival at the theatre? One respondent responded they felt a little cautious, but the rest said they felt absolutely fine, and were eagerly anticipating their show.

Were there temperature checks/bag searches/any other entry processes? If so, were they conducted well? Anything they could improve upon? All respondents reported that Front of House processes were very well managed, and that there were separate queues, depending on where in the theatre one was sitting. There was unanimous praise for the helpful staff on hand to guide patrons to the correct queue. At all venues surveyed, our respondents were asked to scan the NHS Covid check-in QR code, but there were few temperature checks reported. All of the surveyed theatres were operating bag searches before entering the theatre, and hand sanitisers were noted as being widely available throughout all the theatres surveyed. Audiences were specifically instructed to keep masks on at all times when not drinking, and staff were reported as wandering the aisles throughout to ensure compliance. Some were reported as carrying signs to remind people about wearing masks.

Did you have any ticket issues? One respondent mentioned having trouble accessing her ticket PDF on her phone, and so she was redirected to the Box Office where paper tickets were made available. Respondent noted that the staff were very helpful and unflustered by this.

Re scanning the NHS QR code, did you each have to scan or could one person do it for your party? Each person had to scan separately. Patrons who didn’t have the app were asked to manually complete a form which were readily available on entry to the theatre.

How were the staff? Were there more than you expected or less of them? Staff were very friendly and helpful and clearly delighted to be back – but also very vigilant with ensuring mask compliance throughout. It was noted that staff were doing a great job, being firm but friendly and helpful. It was also noted that there were significantly more Front of House staff than previously seen around venues.

Any issues around queuing? One respondent had to queue to buy a programme, but was not fazed by this.

How was navigating your way around the building? Very easy, with clear signage. One respondent noted that “Pre-pandemic there was always a sense of rushing in the foyers, but this was all well-ordered and good-humoured”

Any problems? None reported

Any issues with your seats or surroundings? No issues, with appropriate seats blocked off to ensure social distancing at all venues surveyed.

How full was the theatre? Very mixed reactions to this one. The lowest was from a respondent who reported around 35% of socially-distanced capacity for their performance, albeit in the first week of reopening, on Friday. Several more mentioned varying percentages, up to 100% of socially-distanced capacity for a Saturday matinee in week two of reopening.

What was “the buzz” like? Several people noted the reduced numbers affected the “buzz” in the auditorium, but for several that was compensated by the excitement of those who were there. Very few reported any feelings of nervousness or anxiety, perhaps a sign that the Front of House teams are succeeding in helping people feel comfortable, by being so vigilant and friendly. All respondents described a level of “comeback high” at the end of their performance, a step towards normality that all were grateful for.

Did your show have an interval? Was it well-managed by the staff? Several shows had an interval and overall it was reported that they were well managed, with staff and patrons being mindful and kind.

Any issues around loos/queuing/bars/etc ? No major issues, with all mentioning that patrons were bring sensible and considerate, especially in queuing for the loos, still sadly an issue for the ladies. One respondent noted an issue at the bar – “restrictions meant only one person in each party could buy drinks from the bar to prevent crowding. A gentleman went to the bar to buy 3 mini bottles of wine/bubbly and was told he couldn’t take glass back into the theatre, and had to pour these into glasses before returning, however the glasses themselves weren’t big enough to hold the volume of liquid in each bottle, and he struggled to physically carry these back”.

Another respondent noted the strict queuing system for the bars at her show’s interval. “It was just like going to the bank!” she said, “personally, I think this is a brilliant idea that should be kept.”

Were there any issues with leaving the theatre? None reported.

What was your overall impression of the theatre’s handling of the safety processes and procedures. Overall we would say staff had been very well briefed and protocols were good

Would you recommend a theatre trip to others? “Yes, absolutely!” was the unanimous response from all those surveyed. One respondent mentioned “Although the theatre was relatively empty we more than made up for it in encouragement and appreciation of the performers, and it was such a lovely evening.”

Any tips on what to look out for? Issues to avoid? Nothing specific was noted by any of the respondents.

Conclusions My thanks to all the respondents for giving me their views and sharing them with all of us. It certainly appears that West End theatres are doing a splendid job of welcoming audiences back, taking sensible measures and enforcing them with a professionalism and warmth that the West End is famous for. I hope that these responses will help you make up your own mind about when and how you return to the West End – it has certainly helped me to feel much more confident about getting back to theatre, and Seeing It Safely!