LEEDS GRAND THEATRE HISTORY
The Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House was built in 1878 in a backlash to the music hall tradition which was thought by ‘polite society’ to lower the tone of entertainment via the sort of humour presented in these pub-based establishments.
The theatre was built on a site of approximately three quarters of an acre with a frontage on New Briggate of 56 yards, including the Assembly Rooms.
The theatre cost a total of £62,000 and took 13 months to build. The architect, George Corson, was heavily influenced by his assistant James Robertson Watson who had undertaken a tour of Europe’s churches and theatres.
Many of the design inspirations came from these continental influences, in particular the gothic, ecclesiastical spires. The exterior is in a mixture of Romanesque and Scottish baronial styles, while the interior has such gothic motifs as fan-vaulting and clustered columns.
Only those sitting in the best seats were allowed to use the theatre's main entrance. All other patrons were ushered through side entrances in order for the class-conscious Victorians to remain separated from people below their ranks. However there was a ‘transfer staircase’ which enabled any member of the audience to better his or her position by paying more. Only the Orchestra Stalls had conventional seating.
The Dress Circle and Boxes were furnished with free standing chairs, and all other parts of the house had benches. They ranged from upholstered, in the Upper Circle, to plain wooden and back-less in the Gallery which cost a shilling admission. ‘Packers’ were employed to maximise the number of people sitting on these wooden benches making the experience all the more cramped…and hot!
The Grand Theatre celebrated the 125th anniversary of its opening in 2003. It is widely regarded as a major milestone in Victorian theatre building. The scene dock has one of the most complete Victorian scenic paint shops left in Great Britain. This is extremely rare and still in use.
The first performance at the theatre was Much Ado About Nothing on 18 November 1878 and stars that have trodden the boards over the years have included Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Julie Andrews, Felicity Kendal, Morecambe and Wise and Laurence Olivier.
Seating 1550 at full capacity, the auditorium provides a home for performances of all types.
An enormous range of notable dance, drama, comedy and music productions have been seen at the Grand.
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