Curved staircase takes centre stage in dramatic restoration work
The design brief was to create drama from the moment theatre-goers walk through the doors of the new-look Grand Opera House in Belfast.
And the £12.2 million restoration project — which marries the historical auditorium with the 2006 extension — certainly brings the wow factor to the 125-year-old building as it prepares to reopen for performances in autumn.
Ahead of the full reopening, the theatre will host a series of bookable tours throughout July to unveil the massive refurbishment to the public. Tours will be subject to the Covid-19 public health guidance at that time.
The restoration project includes a redesign of the foyer and public spaces, with a sweeping, helical staircase now the centre-piece of the front-of-house. The area has been refurbished in dark wood and white and grey tiled flooring, with mirrors, glass and large lighting installations, helping to create a more spacious feel.
The auditorium’s opulence has been preserved with its paintings and decorative and ornate plasterwork painstakingly restored. New seating, carpets, curtains and drapes have also been installed as well as easier access for wheelchair users.
A new Art Deco style bar situated in the restored 1980 glass extension provides views over Great Victoria Street. Stalls and circle bars have also been refurbished.
As part of the project, the theatre’s technical infrastructure has been upgraded and a permanent heritage exhibition installed telling the Grand Opera House’s remarkable back story. Photographs of world-famous actors who have stood on the theatre’s stage, including Laurence Olivier, Liam Neeson, Vera Lynn, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Derek Jacobi, adorn the walls.
Ian Wilson, Chief Executive of the Grand Opera House said: “The brief for the redesign was to create drama once you walk through the doors, even before curtain up, and we believe we have done this with this stunning refurbishment.
“The restoration of the iconic and unique 1895 auditorium maximises the beauty of the original architecture. Alongside the transformation of the public areas and facilities within the building, theatregoers will have a much-improved experience from the minute they walk through our doors.
“The installation of the first ever permanent heritage exhibition to tell the theatre’s story over its 125-year history is also a welcome addition and is expected to attract thousands of visitors each year.”
The Grand Opera House, which was last restored 40 years ago, was closed for over a year while work got underway. The project was delivered by specialist construction firm, Tracey Brothers Ltd, and more than 60 sub-contractors. John Tracey, director of Tracey Brothers, said: “It was a project of two halves. The focus of the work was the extensive restoration of the 1895 listed building and the installation of state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems to meet modern-day theatregoer expectations.
“Alongside this was the reimagination of the 2006 extension to make it more sympathetic to the Matcham building, complete with a stunning helical staircase, enhanced bar and hospitality facilities, and the installation of new interpretative spaces telling the story of the Grand Opera House.”
The restoration project was supported by several organisations, including The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Department for Communities and Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Theatre Tours are now available for booking at goh.co.uk