'I'm so proud of Victoria Theatre facelift'

The revamp of Halifax's historic theatre is almost complete. In the first of a two-part series, Virginia Mason reports on the new look.

WE are all guilty of it. We visit the theatre and often we only ever notice what is on the stage. All too often we forget the backstage work that has gone on to support the production.

And the theatre itself is no different.

But anyone who may have been in the audience recently at Halifax's Victoria Theatre might have noticed that there's a new shine and sparkle to the place – a welcoming glow that starts well before the curtain rises.

That's because a major modernisation and refurbishment, funded by Calderdale Council, is finally coming to a close – perhaps the biggest facelift since the theatre first opened its doors in February 1901.

The place has been rewired, new VIP facilities have been created, all the toilets have been modernised and completely refurbished, online ticketing has gone live, a new studio space has been created and the dressing rooms are looking more dapper than they have ever done – something to please visiting acts.

Even the latest street-to-stage lift (custom made for the Victoria in Sweden) has been installed meaning equipment can be unloaded from trucks within minutes and bigger shows can be brought to the venue as a result.

"I cringe when I remember how all this expensive equipment used to have to be carried in up the cobbled side street. My heart used to be in my mouth," said manager Tim Fagan.

All that remains now is to refurbish and reorganise the stalls area with new fixed, raked seating which means even more of us will be able to enjoy future productions.

Understandably, Tim is feeling just a little proud of the building's new facelift.

"There was a time when I hated coming in to work. I loathed it," he confesses.

"The roof leaked, the decor was shabby and the whole place just looked tired and unloved."

He is referring to almost a decade ago when he first arrived in Halifax but fortunately he and his team had the foresight to realise that the gradual changes would ultimately make a huge difference.

"What we have been determined to do is to remain open throughout - which obviously hasn't always been easy," he laughs.

"But closing was not an option so therefore you have to get things done as unobtrusively as possible and so this has meant it was a case of doing things piecemeal over the past 10 years," he says.

"The summer has seen a lot of work being done during the quieter part of our programme and of course it's work that on the whole people don't see such as the plumbing, lighting and so on."

But nevertheless it is there and it all adds up to making the Victoria a place Halifax, Calderdale – and even beyond – can be proud of.

"Our job is to encourage people to come here, to sit comfortably, to see something wonderful on the stage, to have a great time. I want that experience to start the minute they walk through those doors, to give them a sense of expectation, that they are in for a real treat," he says earnestly.

And all the hard work is paying off. Tim and his team are getting positive comments from the acts appearing on stage and ticket sales are showing that the audiences are flocking in their droves too.

But exactly how do you keep today's audience entertained - and while we're about it, who is today's audience?

"You just have to keep your ear to ground and you have to always try to be a step ahead, trying to second guess what will go down well. But then sometimes you just have to take a gamble," he says with a laugh.

"Originally of course this place was built as a concert hall for orchestral performances and over the years it has become a curious hybrid venue."

He adds that he is hoping to see more drama on the stage of the Victoria.

"People have asked about a good old Agatha Christie and I agree that would be great or what about the National Theatre company or the Royal Shakespeare Company, why not?

"I also want to bring more rock and pop and be able to support more local musicians and bands because there's a lot of talent in this area."

A decade ago he felt miserable arriving for work but how about now?

"I absolutely love it. The whole place has a different air to it and we have to thank Calderdale Council for that. It's not often the council gets a pat on the back but they truly deserve it in this case."

And doubtless audiences would agree with him.

* Part 2: Remembering the days of the Bay City Rollers, Nazareth, David Essex and Hot Chocolate.