LOTTERY cash to finally restore Portsmouth’s most historic theatre will change the face of the arts in the city, it was claimed today.
And the £1m grant for the New Theatre Royal from the Heritage Lottery Fund will also help form a new creative hub in the city centre.
Champagne corks popped as the news was broken to the theatre’s staff and its dedicated band of volunteers who have been fundraising for three years to help breathe new life into the 127-year-old building.
In 1972 a fire destroyed the back of house facilities. The splendid auditorium was saved, but it has taken decades to bring the theatre back to its one-time splendour.
The £939,900 grant will mean £4m of work will now start by the end of the year to repair and restore the Grade II* listed Victorian building in Guildhall Walk.
Work will include:
· restoration of the stage house or loft from which scenery can be lowered and raised
· a new orchestra pit
· new offices and dressing rooms, and
· a new creative learning centre to be used by groups from across the city and dedicated in memory of Oscar-winning writer and director and former Portsmouth schoolboy, Anthony Minghella
Theatre director Caroline Sharman said: ‘This is wonderful news for us and I hope for the people of Portsmouth who have worked so tirelessly over the past 40 years to keep this beautiful theatre alive.’
The University of Portsmouth and the city council are partners in the scheme.
Councillor Lee Hunt, the council’s cabinet member for culture, was thrilled by the news. He said: ‘This is a tremendous step forward for the city, one which changes the face of the arts as we strive to become a major artistic and literary destination.’
Oscar winner to be honoured
Anthony Minghella, the Portsmouth schoolboy who won an Oscar, would have been ‘thrilled’ to have a new arts space named after him, his sister said.
Gioia Minghella said naming the New Theatre Royal’s creative learning centre after him was a ‘huge honour’.
She said: ‘He loved Portsmouth. He went to St John’s College, was a Pompey fan and he believed passionately that everyone had an artistic side to them which should be encouraged and brought out. This centre will be able to do just that by encouraging young people to take part in the arts.’
Minghella, whose family run an ice cream business in the Isle of Wight, won his Academy Award as director of the 1996 film The English Patient. He died in 2008 aged 54.