Leeds Grand Theatre turns 140-years-old on Sunday 18 November and is celebrating this major milestone with a series of events spanning two weeks, including ‘Oh What a Night’ a red carpet event in collaboration with hit Broadway and West End musical, Jersey Boys.
Built in 1878, reportedly following an off-the-cuff remark by Prince Albert that Leeds needed a good theatre as“nothing was more calculated to promote culture and raise the tone of the people”, Leeds Grand Theatre or The Grand Old Lady of Leeds (the staff universally refer to the Grand as ‘she’) is an intriguing mix of Romanesque and Victorian Gothic styles and a major milestone in Victorian design; famed for its sumptuous interior, plasterwork and other decorative features.
The brainchild of architect, George Corson, the build took 13 months to complete at a cost of £62,000. The overall scheme embraced six shops, Assembly Rooms, a Supper Room and large cellars; this magnificent Grade II* listed building was deemed ‘ahead of its time’ and once described as ‘probably the finest of its size in Britain’.
Opening night featured Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing starring the then actor-manager and playwright, Wilson Barrett (several function rooms within The Grand have since been named in his honour). Stars that have since trodden the boards include Julie Andrews, Ken Dodd, Bruce Forsyth, Elton John, Peter Kay, Morecambe and Wise, Laurence Olivier, Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele. In more recent years, The Grand has welcomed Fern Britton, Dara O’Briain, Jake Bugg, Andrew Flintoff, Nigel Havers, Jane McDonald and Sting.
Seating 1466 at full capacity, the auditorium provides a home for performances of all types, including its resident companies Opera North and Northern Ballet. Since its Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council supported ‘transformation’ in 2006, the theatre has hosted the best of the West End and other touring productions, including large musicals, drama from the National Theatre, comedians and music. The theatre provided a venue for the world premieres of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s, The Girls (2015), and Fat Friends The Musical (2017) which was penned by Leeds’s own award-winning writer, Kay Mellor.
Chris Blythe, CEO, says: “Leeds Grand Theatre is a stalwart in a city famed for its cultural offering; a jewel in its crown. It has welcomed an incredible number of diverse entertainers and shows over the past 140 years and will continue to do so for many years to come; we hope at least another 140!
“Thanks to the overwhelming and enduring support of the people of Leeds (not forgetting the significant financial support from Leeds City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund) the theatre has weathered substantial challenges throughout its 140 years. From a planned demolition in 1969 to make way for new office blocks to the discovery of a significant risk to the roof holding up the ornate plaster ceiling in the auditorium which almost closed the venue in 2016, the theatre remains true to the old motto that ‘the show must go on’. It is a tribute to the staff, both past and present that this ‘grand old lady’ of Leeds continues to bring entertainment and joy to the city and the region.”
To celebrate 140 years, Leeds Grand will have a popup exhibition of images and ‘fun facts’ in Victoria Gate on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 November. A gala event, in collaboration with Jersey Boys will be held on Wednesday 21 November and an afternoon tea for past and present staff will be held in the Emerald Grand Hall on Sunday 25 November.
Patrons of Leeds Grand are being encouraged to share their stories on social media tagging@grandtheatreLS1 and using the hashtag #LeedsGrandAt140 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The best stories will be shared on The Grand’s social platforms.
“We should all be so very proud of the Grand Theatre, right through the country, the world and of course here in Yorkshire.” Dickie Bird OBE.