A set of buildings re-purposed for theatre and previously named the S.S Empire, this theatre (now run by ATG) has been through a range of revamps and reincarnations over the years. Now, from hosting touring productions to offering its own panto each year, the Grand Opera House York is a pretty fabulous theatre. Here’s five things to love about it…
1. The team (this will be a theme of course – any theatregoer will know the real value of the fantastic theatre folk running the shop). From the nice chap checking bags at the door to those touting programmes and checking tickets, you won’t find a bad egg amongst them. I got chatting to Marketing and Communications Officer Celestine Dubruel (along with local York journo legend Charles Hutchinson) at the launch of Sting’s musical The Last Ship over in Leeds way back in 2018… and I’ve never looked back! Celestine and her jolly Box Office bunch are always a cheery delight and the entire team are of course absolute winners.
2. The building. As a Grade II listed building which opened as a theatre in 1902 (thanks, TheatresOnline), the Grand Opera House takes a special standing in the heart of York. I really love the intimacy of this theatre; although it hosts big touring productions, the auditorium is relatively small, meaning your sight lines are generally great and the stage never feels too far away. To see huge shows in a venue like this always delivers great value for your money. With lots of ornate carvings and original features (or at least original-looking features, I’m not entirely sure…) to boot, there’s a lovely sense of history throughout the building and it’s a pretty darn great venue to visit.
3. The programming. In its early years the theatre hosted the likes of the great Charlie Chaplin and even Laurel and Hardy in the 50s. These days it offers itself up to everything from touring West End hits to touring ballet and opera to tribute acts and local theatre company performances. For a large-scale ‘grand’ brand of theatre, it is very well embedded in the community and embraces the work of local theatre companies as much as it does the titan shows. I will for ever love this theatre for giving me my first experience of Hairspray, the sound of Sam Bailey’s vocals live and more recently the sounds of hit musical Once – all undoubtedly benefiting from the incredible acoustics. I also have to mention the fantastic evening I spent being introduced to York Stage Musicals and their superb production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – there’s such fantastic talent both local and touring to be found on this stage.
4. The Box experience. I was invited to take a spin in the Ambassador Box to review the The Ambassador Box Experience at the theatre. I’d always wanted to know what the ‘royal view’ might be like in a theatre and now I know… Read the full review here.
5. The ice cream stock. Yes, really. It’s worth an entire slot because they stock all the best flavours here and interval ice creams will never not be a perk. Bored of the usual trio selection or Magnums at a stretch? These guys stock Loseley Ice Cream; Eaton Mess, Treacle Toffee and Honey and Stem Ginger…heaven. Yes, Treacle Toffee ice cream is most definitely one of the best things about a visit to the Grand Opera House York!
So there you have it. The Grand Opera House has given York years of great theatre and great times – roll on the time when it re-opens say I!
Hungry for more theatre appreciation? Take a look at some of these other love letters to cracking theatres: Leeds Playhouse, Leeds City Varieties, The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds, York Theatre Royal, Harrogate Theatre and Nottingham Theatre Royal. And watch this space – there’s plenty more to come!