Entertainment and hospitality suffered more than any sector during lockdown, but Rotherham Civic Theatre took the opportunity to undergo a £350,000 revamp. Editor ANDREW MOSLEY and photographer Dave Poucher took a tour of the new facilities prior to its re-opening
“NICE To See You” says the sign as you walk through the doors of the revamped Civic Theatre.
It’s appropriate in a number of ways. It’s always nice to see an audience member but after 18 months of closure it’s even more special.
Theatre manager Jo Longworth says she has been attempting to teach staff to say “to see you nice” to those who repeat the wording of the sign. We’ll see how that goes...
The late Bruce Forsyth would have approved and he would certainly have been an admirer of the new-look theatre, which has undergone its £350,000 refurbishment — funded by people who donated ticket money from cancelled shows and financial support from Rotherham Council and the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund — since closure was enforced in March 2020.
There’s a brighter, cleaner exterior and entrance, behind which sits a new box office, a switch from its previous location in the visitor centre in town. A coffee shop has been installed in the foyer — with laminate flooring and new carpets — and where the ticket collection point used to be, which will be open for use by local groups for everything from music lessons to mother and toddler sessions.
Just above that, up the stairs in “The Den”, where people used to gather for an interval drink, there’s a relaxation area, meeting and performance space with digital smart screen on which future shows can be advertised and current performances streamed.
Jo says: “At every panto when the baddies come on there are always a number of kids who don’t want to see it or are frightened by the booing or the noise, so they can be taken out of the auditorium and come up here to watch the performance so they don’t miss anything.”
Works by local artist Rob Young will complete this area of the theatre, which has an altogether more modern, inclusive look and feel about it, with a bright bar separate from the coffee shop so queuing will be less complicated and the space can also double up as a small performance area.
Cllr David Sheppard, Cabinet member for social inclusion at Rotherham Council, said; “The closure of Rotherham Civic Theatre has left a huge gap in the lives of so many people — both audiences and the dedicated staff who work there — so we are absolutely thrilled to be welcoming them back and can’t wait to show off the new facilities.”
Leanne Buchan, Rotherham Council’s head of creative programming, said the refurbishment was one “silver lining” to the cloud of Covid. “We wouldn’t have ever closed for that length of time otherwise but it gave us the opportunity to see what we wanted the space to do and how we could engage with our audiences.”
The layout will enable groups to use the theatre for activities other than performances and hopefully audience members will turn up early and enjoy a drink before a show as well as in the intervals, so the future is looking bright.
Jo adds: “We had a full season booked and we have a season programme right through until panto, but it’s obviously subject to change because of the situation we are in, but the spaces we have created mean we can experiment a lot more with events outside the auditorium.”
Inside the main show area there are new house lights, fire alarms and doors and a few last-minute installations meant everything was ready for last Friday’s re-launch with a show from Rotherham singer-songwriter Lauren Housley.
Jo added: “We had Lauren booked in before the pandemic and then we rebooked her for our re-opening before we knew we were going to have all this work done, and next week we have a play about the miners’ strike called Undermined, so it’s really fitting that we have come back with shows with local connections.”
Nice to see you… to see you nice.