Wigan’s Royal Court, which has not been in use as a theatre for more than 40 years, is being brought back to life by a local arts organisation.
The grade II-listed theatre was built in 1886 and has been a bingo hall and nightclub since it closed in 1974. It has now been bought at auction by the team behind the nearby Old Courts arts centre in Wigan, who plan on returning it to theatrical use and hope to make the town a destination for touring theatre.
Much of the theatre remains intact, especially in the dress and upper circles, as only the stalls were converted for alternative use, meaning the venue could have a viable future as a theatre.
In its original form, the venue could seat 3,000, however it is thought that once redeveloped it will have a capacity between 1,500 and 1,750.
Dave Jenkins, managing director of the Old Courts, said the team wanted to restore the Royal Court to its former glory as a cultural centre for the town and intended to preserve the heritage of the building while making it fit-for-purpose for contemporary audiences.
He told The Stage local audiences have long had to go outside the borough towards Liverpool and Manchester to access theatre, but said he felt the town’s appetite for the arts was strong.
“The Old Courts, which opened in 2014, has been embraced by the community, but we were lacking a large space. The capacity of our music venue and theatre was keeping us out of the loop of regional touring theatre and larger-scale music events so we were looking for something that we felt there was a need for,” he said.
The Old Court is self-funded, however Jenkins said the organisation – which is in the process of becoming a charity – would be looking for public funding to redevelop and run the Royal Court.
He said the charity would be looking for funding from bodies such as Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as trusts and foundations. A crowdfunding page will also be set up.
The purchase has been welcomed by the Theatres Trust. Director Jon Morgan told The Stage: “This is exciting news and marks a new chapter in the life of this theatre which dates back to 1886.
“The Theatres Trust will offer support and advice to the team as they make plans to restore this grade II-listed theatre and bring it back into performance use for the people of Wigan. This building is part of the history of the town and it takes a passionate local community to recognise its value, re-energise it and protect it for the future.”