South Scotland

Dumfries Theatre Royal reopens after major renovations

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Media captionThe first performance in the new theatre will be the pantomime Beauty and the Beast

Scotland's oldest working theatre is staging its first performance following a major renovation project.

The £2m overhaul of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries received planning permission a little over two years ago.

Work has been completed in time to allow for pantomime performances of Beauty and the Beast.

The theatre has been extended into neighbouring buildings with a specialised rehearsal area and a more welcoming foyer created.

Enhanced bar and food facilities were also part of the upgrade.

The story of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries

The original theatre on the Shakespeare Street site was built in 1792 and included Robert Burns among its patrons.

Improvements to the stage were carried out in 1830 followed by a "radical renovation" in 1876 by architect CJ Phipps which increased capacity to over 1,000.

In 1902, early forms of moving pictures were screened alongside music hall acts until 1909 when the theatre was purchased by P Stobie & Son, who installed a flat maple floor to take advantage of the late Victorian craze for roller skating.

Image caption The condition of the theatre in recent years had prompted closure fears

That proved short-lived but films were screened in the building until the 1950s.

The Guild of Players bought the site in 1959, when it appeared likely it could be demolished, and it has run the facility since then.

A £7m plan to demolish and replace the building was approved in 2006 but that bid failed due to funding issues.

Concerns of possible closure surfaced again because of the decaying condition of the theatre but it was saved by a contribution from the Holywood Trust in 2011.

The latest overhaul was approved in 2013 and has now been completed.

(Source: Theatre Royal website)

Theatre manager Mark Alexander said it had been "absolutely marvellous" to see the theatre's transformation.

"The Guild of Players have saved the theatre, not just for themselves but for Dumfries," he said.

"It is making it back as the leading theatre in the leading town of the region.

"It is marvellous to be part of that tradition which goes right back to Rabbie Burns, one of the original subscribers."

Image caption Work has been ongoing until the very last minute ahead of the first performance

Guild Master, Anne Aldridge, said the theatre refurbishment programme ensured that an important part of the town's cultural heritage was preserved for future generations.

"The history of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries goes back to 1792 and it has had a fabulous history," she explained.

"It is Scotland's oldest working theatre, it is unique to Scotland, it is unique to this area and we just felt we wanted to preserve it.

"We are very fond of it - the Guild of Players have been custodians since 1960 - so there is a lot of effort been forged into that."

Analysis: Giancarlo Rinaldi, South Scotland reporter, BBC news website

It has sometimes felt like a drama fit for the stage itself.

The story of the Theatre Royal, in recent years at least, has been one which has sometimes looked like having a tragic finale.

However, in a twist which any playwright would be proud of, it has grabbed triumph from the jaws of defeat.

The newly refurbished and expanded premises finally look set to have a solid future.

It is something which generations of Doonhamers with childhood memories of the theatre - and those further afield - can only welcome.

Share your memories of the Theatre Royal or your hopes for its future with us.

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