Celebrating a decade since Leeds City Varieties was returned to her beautiful best

It was a multi-million facelift which saw the grand old girl of the Leeds theatre scene return her to her beautiful best.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 11:30 am
Comedian Ken Dodd on stage at the newly-refurbished Leeds City Varieties in September 2011. PIC: Simon Hulme
Comedian Ken Dodd on stage at the newly-refurbished Leeds City Varieties in September 2011. PIC: Simon Hulme

City Varieties - Leeds’ oldest theatre and Guinness World Record holder for the longest running music hall - is this month celebrating a decade since its remarkable restoration.

A galaxy of stars - including Paul Merton, Moira Stewart and Nicholas Parsons - lent their support to the £9.925 million regeneration project undertaken to ensure the Swan Street venue was made more accessible and fit for purpose.

And more than 5,000 people signed a YEP campaign petition launched to secure lottery funding to help restore the cultural gem which is a Guinness World Record holder for the longest running music hall.

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The Queen unveils a plaque in the reopened and restored Leeds City Varieties during her visit to the city in July 2012. PIC: Tony Johnson

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Go behind the curtain at Leeds City Varieties down the decades

Work included backstage areas being demolished and rebuilt with six modern dressing rooms, an access lift and a newly fitted green room.

In the auditorium, new carpeting and seating were fitted, and experts carried out painstaking ceiling and plasterwork repairs (inspired by a design dating back to 1900 which was discovered during the restoration). There were also major excavations to re-establish the ancient cellar network, and an external glass lift was fitted which greatly improved access to the building.

The refurb was funded by Leeds City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the remainder coming from the theatre’s own fundraising efforts, plus significant sums from the Friends of the City Varieties and The Monument Trust.

The regeneration also unearthed several management books which serve as an amazing record of the life of The Varieties from 1897 to 1902 – a time when music hall was thriving. Whilst many acts were marked ‘good’ or ‘fair’, Harry Houdini is described as ‘extra special’ following his performance in 1902.

Legendary funny man, Ken Dodd, was chosen as both the closing act in 2009 before work began, and the reopening act on September 17, 2011, but it was The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who officially reopened the venue as part of the Queens Jubilee Tour in July 2012.

After greeting the crowds that had gathered on Briggate, the couple were treated to a performance by the venue's Youth Theatre, who delighted them with traditional music hall routines, including The Laughing Policeman.

A decade on and the Varieties is still entertaining audiences with the best of the day’s cultural entertainment. After a period of closure due to the pandemic, stringent COVID-safety measures ensure audiences can once again come back with confidence.

Chris Blythe, CEO, said: “Just like 10-years ago when she reopened her doors post-regeneration, it has been wonderful to see so many people returning to the Varieties post-lockdown.

“Whilst programming continues to be a challenge due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, with some shows still having to reschedule and some sadly cancelling, we have done everything in our power to make the Varieties COVID-safe and heartily encourage people to book tickets to come see the finest comedy, music and variety acts in the country.”

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