Wanted: design team to turn Leeds’s West Yorkshire Playhouse into a world-beater

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The hunt has begun for a specialist design team to transform Leeds’s West Yorkshire Playhouse into a world-leading 21st century flagship arts venue.

A planned £12.7m makeover of the theatre could include spinning the building round, with a new entrance and a glass extension looking directly on to the new Victoria Gate and John Lewis development.

The restaurant would also be extended to include a terraced area.

It has now been revealed that a “multi-disciplinary design team” could be signed up and ready to start work early in 2016.

The news also comes as the city continues to prepare for a bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023.

However, crucial to the whole thing is the success of a £6.6m grant bid to Arts Council England, which will co-fund the project.

Dame Judi Dench, pictured in 1989 at the laying of the foundation stone for the West Yorkshire Playhouse building

Dame Judi Dench, pictured in 1989 at the laying of the foundation stone for the West Yorkshire Playhouse building

Coun Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council and executive member for economy and culture, said: “The appointment of a multi-disciplinary design team will allow the council and the West Yorkshire Playhouse to move forward with our exciting partnership as we work together to secure grant funding needed to transform the theatre into a flagship 21st Century cultural destination.

“Having this team in place will mean we will be on the front foot should the bid for Arts Council funding be successful, which will in turn allow detailed design work to start as soon as possible.

“The Playhouse is an integral part of our city’s rich cultural landscape and together we hope this appointment will be one of the first major steps on the road to redeveloping the theatre so it can continue to be one of the cornerstones of our city’s bid to be named European Capital of Culture 2023.”

Robin Hawkes, executive director of West Yorkshire Playhouse, added: “This appointment will be a crucial step in helping shape the Playhouse’s future. We look forward to working with Leeds City Council to find the right team.”

West Yorkshire Playhouse. l-r Mike Blackburn, Willian Weston and Councillor Bernard Atha

West Yorkshire Playhouse. l-r Mike Blackburn, Willian Weston and Councillor Bernard Atha

The council and the Playhouse have submitted a bid to Arts Council England for £6.6m grant funding towards the cost of refurbishing the building. The authority will contribute £4.9m if it gets the nod from the Arts Council.

The current West Yorkshire Playhouse building in Quarry Hill opened in 1990, born directly out of Leeds Playhouse. It was, at that time, Britain’s largest new purpose-built theatre.

Donald, later Sir Donald, Sinden had turned the first turf in November 1987 and Judi Dench laid the foundation stone in March 1989. Another acting icon, Albert Finney, performed the topping-out ceremony in September 1989.

But 25 years later, it is acknowledged that the building is in dire need of an update.

Lenny Henry in Othello at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Lenny Henry in Othello at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Speaking earlier this year about the project, artistic director James Brining said: “This is one of the most significant theatres in the North, but if we don’t address these issues now, the theatre won’t be sustainable.

“We want a building that Leeds can be proud of.”

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