Built in 1900 and now featuring both main stage and studio performance spaces alongside an impressive array of beautiful finer details, Harrogate Theatre is definitely a favourite of mine. Here’s five things to love about it…
1. The team. Rachel Auty departs next month but she’s been an amazing contact as Press Officer and has shown endless passion for both the theatre and the Harrogate community (take a look at her latest beer-centred venture here). For a relatively small theatre, this venue seems to have a large staff pool which only serves to show just how eager Harrogatians are to volunteer for ushering duties alongside bar and Box Office folk. It’s a theatre which carries that ‘it takes a village’ vibe and there’s certainly an inherent warmth in that.
2. The building. It took me a good while to look up and notice the decorative panelling in the foyer and to look way up on the way in to appreciate the detail of the mini tower which bears an earlier name: Grand Opera House. It doesn’t take quite so long to be struck by the gorgeous stairways and those famous carved and painted ceilings throughout the foyer, Circle Bar and first floor (it’s also worth tracking down the Stalls bar which has a more spacious, modern feel but is easy to miss as its a little more tucked away). And all that’s before you even venture into the auditorium!
The theatre does hold a 60 seat studio space which hosts the more avant-garde and daring works to be found at the venue but the real star is of course the main auditorium. Seating 500, this theatre has the rather unique benefit of having that classic plush, ornate Victorian aesthetic combined with lovely intimate dimensions. You will not find a bad sight line (as far as I am aware) because it’s such a neat space. Look up inside the auditorium and you’ll see another winning feature at ceiling level – and as you head out of the auditorium at stalls level, keep your eyes peeled for a charmingly intact sight of bygone times; a beautiful cigar tray embedded in the wall. There’s certainly beauty in the detail almost everywhere you look at Harrogate Theatre.
3. The programming. With shows taking to two stages, Harrogate Theatre is quite a versatile host. Head to the Studio space and you’ll find solo fringe shows from physical theatre companies and experimental artists programmed alongside comedy gigs and recurring, much anticipated events like Best of Be Festival. I’ve seen some great obscure work in this studio space, with a home grown show called 100 Ways to Tie a Shoelace taking the top spot for my 2018 Best Regional Fringe Production.
Head to the main stage and you can see everything from big touring names like Jason Donovan and Jimmy Carr to family shows and bigger touring productions. You can then enjoy the fruits of the Youth Theatre Group and the annual panto which always promises a cracking recurring cast, big laughs and plenty of charm come Christmastime. The theatre goes further of course, also hosting a Pride Fringe Festival and Harrogate Comedy Festival while reinstating the Harrogate Rep Company recent years (full details for the upcoming Rep Season here).
4. The outreach. Harrogate Theatre hosts a variety of outreach projects. From Story Circle and Youth Theatre to Open Days and a Theatre Club inviting audiences to pop along to the bar to chat about the show they’ve just seen, there’s plenty to get the local community engaged. Harrogate Theatre also works with Supported Artists each year to develop new work with up and coming theatre makers. The aforementioned 100 Ways to Tie a Shoelace is actually the product of Harrogate Theatre’s Supported Artists Forget About the Dog – you can find the full list of this year’s companies here.
5. Alice. Now, rumour has it that this Victorian gem is home to an ambiguous wee lass named Alice who brings a slight chill to proceedings now and again and brings with her the vague scent of peppermint. According to the Yorkshire Post, Alice is ‘the victim of a terrible love affair, and is said to haunt the stalls at Harrogate Theatre. She has been linked to ghostly spirits, orbs of hovering light, sudden chills…’ Surely no theatre escapes rumours of ghosts but I think the team at Harrogate Theatre do take particular pleasure in the limited details of the tale of Alice – it was one of the very first snippets of information I was given about the place and I think this Harrogatian apparition certainly gives the theatre a quirky, unique claim to local mythical fame…
It comes as a surprise to none that Harrogate Theatre, like so many others, is facing an uncertain future as a result of the current theatre closures. The Harrogate Theatre Emergency Appeal has been set up out of necessity and if you are in a position to do so, you can support this fantastic theatre in a range of ways – details here. 2020 brings 120th Birthday celebrations to the theatre so let’s make sure the coming years are happy ones when we’re all allowed back in!
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, York Grand Opera House and Nottingham Theatre Royal. And watch this space – there’s plenty more to come!