Leeds’s theatrical sister act is a dazzling cultural gem

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LEEDS has a grand variety of cultural gems - and two beautiful heritage theatres in the heart of the city are just two examples.

Sister venues The Grand Theatre and the City Varieties Music Hall are steeped in the city’s theatrical and musical history.

That’s why they are a vital part of our wider cultural jigsaw, and will play a key role in any bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

The Yorkshire Evening Post is championing the possible bid, talks for which are now reaching an advanced stage, and beating the drum for #YesLeeds.

And to help build the city’s case, we are profiling some of the many dazzling jewels in the city’s brimming cultural crown.

Victorian theatre The Grand remains a magnet drawing worldwide stars to Leeds.

Legendary stars gracing its stage in the past have included Julie Andrews, Morecambe & Wise and Laurence Olivier to name just a few.

It recently welcomed the world-wide hit Wicked to its stage and was chosen as the first venue outside London to host Shrek the Musical.

This year it is set to welcome Jason Donovan in The King’s Speech, and comedians Alan Carr, Milton Jones and Dara O’Briain.

The National Theatre is a regular to The Grand and its resident companies, Opera North and Northern Ballet, are internationally renowned.

City Varieties Music Hall, meanwhile holds the record for the longest running music hall in the country.

Hidden up a cobbled side street just off Briggate, it began life 150 years ago as a room above a pub for the working people of Leeds to be entertained.

Its affluent sister venue The Grand Theatre was meant only for the higher classes!

In its early years the Varieties welcomed many weird and wonderful acts including the world-renowned escapologist Harry Houdini - and a woman who hypnotised alligators!

In 1953 City Varieties became home to the BBC TV Series The Good Old Days – a variety show based on ‘old time music hall’ which encouraged its audience to dress in Victorian garb. They duly obeyed and it was a hit, putting Leeds on the map nationally as a centre for popular entertainment.

The show welcomed a host of TV stars and launched the careers of many more.

Les Dawson, Barbara Windsor, Bruce Forsyth, Eartha Kitt, John Inman and Barry Cryer are only a few of the big names starring in the TV programme that ran for 30 years until 1983.

Today the venue, staying true to its heritage, plays host to a variety of acts.

This year’s big names include Simon Amstell, Tim Vine, Andy Parsons, Katherine Ryan and Richard Herring and more.

And the Good Old Days still runs at the theatre across seven weekends a year, with dressing up still encouraged though by no means compulsory!

The man at the head of the company that manages both venues is Theatres Director Andrew Macgill.

He is deeply passionate about the city’s theatrical sister act - and hugely enthused about having the chance to show them off as part of Leeds’s huge array of cultural and artistic credentials.

Putting his backing firmly behind the YEP’s #YesLeeds campaign, he said: “This is an opportunity that should not be lost.

“The journey towards the bid is, in many ways, as important as the bid itself.

“As we have seen with the Tour de France, great benefits come when putting on a spectacular event.

“Leeds is excellently placed to make the strongest case for the Capital of Culture.”

>What is your favourite cultural asset in or from Leeds? The YEP has launched a poll to find readers’ most beloved cultural jewel, as the city prepares for a potential bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023. Vote via the box on the right.

Join the wider debate via our Facebook page or by following @LeedsNews on Twitter and using the #YesLeeds hashtag.