Following an 18-month interval, the curtains at Rotherham’s Civic Theatre have finally reopened as the iconic venue welcomes back live audiences once again.
To open or not to open: that has been the question for the performing arts industry which has been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Staff, performers and volunteers have been waiting in the wings for when the time was right to safely reopen the Civic.
But it has been worth the wait as, during lockdown, Rotherham Theatres has been given a brand-new look with sparkling new facilities for visitors to enjoy.
Thanks in part to financial backing from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, the front of house and hospitality areas have been refurbished to improve the customer experience.
One major change is that the box office is back within the theatre building, having previously relocated to High Street in the town centre. It is now at the entrance to the theatre and will be open throughout the day.
Where the old box office was at the far end of the foyer, a new coffee shop has been created. This will be open in the daytime Thursday to Sunday, serving hot drinks and cakes with plenty of seating available.
For show nights, the existing bar area has been completely overhauled with new seating, new flooring and a new layout to reduce queuing times at the interval.
And even the front of the building has had a makeover, with the old red steel frames having been painted black, with plans to install electricity so the outdoor space can also be used.
A major part of the redevelopment project was to inspire people to use the theatre in different ways. There are now two new performance spaces to encourage engagement with the local communities: one within the bar lounge, and another in the old gallery bottle bar above the foyer.
These can be used for things like children’s workshops, comedy or open mic nights, or quieter spaces for younger guests to watch the shows on a screen away from the loud and busy auditorium. But the theatre team want the public to approach them with any ideas as they can accommodate everything from craft or knitting classes to creative writing workshops.
As we usher in a busy season of live performances, the stage is set to welcome back a variety of well-loved amateur and professional theatre companies.
The diverse autumn schedule includes tributes to Roy Orbison and Whitney Houston, tongue-in-cheek comedy nights, and scores from hit West End musicals. There is also a poetry night with Barnsley bard Ian McMillan and Olympic composer Luke Carver Goss, a ghostly drama by Rumpus Theatre Company, and a feel-good children’s show all about a koala.
If you’re in need of a laugh, then there are plenty of comedy nights to fill your boots including the tongue-in-cheek Dirty Dusting. The popular Grin and Tonic is back with a host of sharp witted, infectiously funny performers. And Civic legend, Tommy Cannon, will also be giving his first performance without his late comedic partner, Bobby Ball.
Of course, it wouldn’t be theatre without the annual Christmas panto which this year is Aladdin – oh, yes it is! Tickets are selling fast so be sure to book in early.
As well as ticketed events, this October Rotherham Theatres will be taking part in three cultural campaigns to celebrate our diverse communities. Throughout Black History Month, the new performance spaces and hospitality areas will shine a light on black history in Rotherham and the communities who forged those histories.
On Saturday 2nd October, the theatre will transform into a Fun Palace for the very first time. This national initiative encourages local people to come together to take part in free arts, craft, science, tech, digital, heritage and sports activities.
As part of Off the Shelf literacy festival, the theatre will then be offering a free poetry workshop for young people aged 14-19 on Wednesday 20th October, with a chance to perform their creative writing at a special Poetry Live! Event on Friday 22nd October.
For more information about any of the events, visit the website
Looking back at 60 years
For over 60 years, Rotherham Civic Theatre has been firmly in the spotlight of society, welcoming millions of visitors through its great doors since that initial opening night in 1960.
Sadly, during its diamond year in 2020, the doors were forced to close for the first time in its history. But while we might be 18 months late, we’d like to wish the Rotherham Theatres team a big belated birthday with a 60th anniversary tribute.
In March 1960, the 100-year-old congregational chapel on Catherine Street was converted to a theatre by Rotherham Council for civic use. A 356-seat proscenium arch auditorium was installed in front of the large stage. Additional alterations were carried out some thirty years later in 1992, and further redevelopment works have just been completed to bring the theatre’s offer in line with the 21st century.
Over its 60-year history, Rotherham Theatres has continued to hit the mark with a varied calendar of events that appeal to the masses. Professional theatre companies and some famous names have trodden the boards over the years, from Ken Dodd and Joe Pasquale to Suranne Jones and Penelope Keith. Even you may have broken that elusive fourth wall, either as a cast member of a production or having been invited on stage while watching the festive pantomime.
As a theatre used by the community, the team are fortunate to have been supported by very loyal amateur dramatic groups from across the region who continue to use the theatre every year. Rotherham Rep, who were the first ever performers in 1960, are still going strong, and they are joined annually by the Phoenix Players, Rotherham Musical Theatre Company and Rotherham Theatrical Student Academy who all put on eclectic shows with music and drama.
Throughout it all, the ensemble behind the scenes continue to go above and beyond to ensure all visitors have a fabulous time. Supporting the eight paid employees are a fantastic group of volunteer stewards, many of whom have been part of the theatre for decades.
So, thank you Rotherham Theatre for continuing to bring love, light and laughter to our lives. Now, let’s get this show back on the road!