THE New Theatre Royal is on the brink of reaching the £4m target needed to radically redevelop part of the fire-damaged playhouse.
Portsmouth’s oldest theatre is to be awarded a £750,000 grant from Arts Council England – one only four places in the south to receive money in the latest round of grants.
This means work can finally start on restoring and expanding the areas of the Guildhall Walk playhouse’s backlot that were destroyed by fire in 1972.
The £20m joint project with the University of Portsmouth will also feature a modern accommodation block for 110 students built above it.
A new Creative Learning Centre dedicated to the late Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella will also be included in the hope of creating a thriving ‘theatre quarter’ in the city.
Portsmouth City Council’s planning committee approved the project last year – despite some councillors not entirely approving of the proposed look of the redeveloped backlot.
Theatre director Caroline Sharman said the grant was a huge step forward and she hoped the project could now be completed by the summer of next year.
She said: ‘We are very pleased – it is good news for us and good news for Portsmouth.
‘It gives us what we need to start the regeneration of the theatre properly.
‘A lot of the drive from the arts council was so that we could rebuild our backlot, so that we can then become a creative hub.
‘Not just receiving but actually creating, that has always been my goal – creating the Made in Portsmouth brand.
‘In real terms this means we can get building.
‘We can go ahead with the project and that is the important thing.
‘We still have to get final confirmation but I would love to be digging tomorrow.
‘We will be able to start as soon as that confirmation arrives.’
The listed building has also received money from the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (Push), Portsmouth City Council, Arts Council South East and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Sally Abbott, the south east director of Arts Council England, said: ‘We have announced that four organisations in the south east now have allocations in our new capital programme.
‘The south east has a reputation for nurturing and producing locally-important and world-renowned art and culture, and participation in this programme will mean these organisations will have the best facilities available to help them continue to do this.’
The ambitious proposals to improve the New Theatre Royal also have the support of the Theatres Trust, English Heritage and the Portsmouth Society.