WITH only months until its grand opening, the New Theatre Royal is on track to becoming a community hub.
And theatre executives want the people of the Portsmouth area to take part in its first production.
Around £4m has been put into the theatre in Guildhall Walk, to build two new sections and revamp the current stage.
When the work is finished and the stage lights are turned on, the theatre wants people from the community to grace the stage for its first production – The Mudlarkers.
Written by former mudlarker Margaret Foster, a Portsmouth city councillor, the show will tell the stories of the mudlarkers from the 1940s who would perform tricks and entertainment on the mudflats off The Hard.
Executive director at the theatre Caroline Sharman said: ‘We will be holding auditions for the production later in the year and we want people from the city to take part.
‘The show is very much about Portsmouth and it was written by a councillor so it makes sense to have Portsmouth residents in it.
‘We’re very excited to see the talent of people in the city.’
Full of history and stories of the mudlarkers, Cllr Foster is delighted to see her book turned into a play.
She said it is even better that Portsmouth residents are being invited to audition.
Cllr Foster added: ‘I’m so chuffed that they are putting on the show because it is such a big part of our history.
‘It makes sense to have local people in it because the book is about them and their heritage.
‘It’s great that the theatre considered it.’
The exact details of how to get involved will be revealed by the theatre later this year.
During the theatre’s revamp, £4m has been ploughed into the 19th century building. But the money has paid for more than improving the theatre space.
Working with the University of Portsmouth, the theatre will open a space for visual arts students and also an area where people can learn to make props, scenery and do theatre make-up.
Caroline added that the whole renovation has been a journey.
‘We can become something for the community and everyone in the community,’ she said.
‘It really has been a journey to see the transformation.’
Work on the stage will see the New Theatre Royal hold an additional 175 seats, increasing from 525 to 700.
Executive director Caroline Sharman said: ‘Having 700 seats makes us a more intimate theatre.
‘The Kings Theatre and the Guildhall seat over 1,000 so to have three massive venues in one area wouldn’t make sense.’
Along with the theatre space, the cafe and bar areas are also being revamped. The outside of the theatre will be repainted but the main focus of the works are on the backlot.
Caroline said: ‘We had to rebuild the New Theatre Royal to make it sustainable.
‘We were told to rebuild it or close it.
‘But with our partnership with the university, we can create a great community place where people can learn new skills and we can put on productions that are from the people of Portsmouth for the people of Portsmouth.’
The theatre is set to open with the production of the Mudlarkers and an audition call will take place in January.