Theatre Royal Wakefield's mission statement is: To develop new creative opportunities and experiences both within the theatre building, throughout the wider community and on tour, encouraging high quality engagement across a broad sector of the Performing Arts.
Theatre Royal Wakefield has a programme which is engaging and accessible to all members of our local community, and which maintains our reputation as a leading producing and receiving house. We cater for all audiences, programming a wide range of live performances from professional companies. Our live programming strands are Music & Musicals, Drama, Stand-up Comedy and Dance. In addition to this we have a commitment to programming high quality Family Friendly shows, providing engaging and entertaining productions all year round. We present approximately 260 performances per year in our Matcham Auditorium and we are building a performance programme in the Walker Studio.
We produce our own work including our hugely popular Pantomime each year and our celebrated annual Wakefield Youth Music Theatre productions, which consistently receive rave reviews. Our Creative Director is John Godber, award winning writer of plays such as Bouncers, Teechers, and Up ‘n’ Under, and together with the John Godber Company we have co-produced seventeen plays – and regularly tour nationally. Our productions have been described as ‘Socially relevant comedy with riveting acting’ (The Stage).
We are also immensely proud of being able to support community performances, regularly programming productions and dance showcases from local companies.
As well as a vibrant and varied programme of produced and touring work, the Theatre runs a busy Learning and Participation programme. Bespoke learning projects work across a number of identified at-risk groups including young people from low-income families, socially isolated older people, and adults working to improve their mental wellbeing. Many projects are free for participants, or offer bursaries to ensure that participation is not restricted by economic means. 25% of participants in our youth training programmes and youth productions benefit from a bursary scheme, which is directly funded by the local business community, through individual giving and through grant funding. In 2017-2018 our outreach work engaged with over 2,100 unique learners, providing over 13,000 instances of participation. In summer 2018, we opened our new Centre for Creativity - containing the Walker Studio. This new extension provides modern facilities to complement the historic Frank Matcham-designed, Grade II* listed building, which has stood on the site since 1894. The Centre for Creativity has improved accessibility, increased hospitality facilities and added a flexible performance and rehearsal space transforming the way that artists and audiences experience the performing arts in Wakefield.
Theatre Royal Wakefield - The Matcham building
The theatre opened in 1894 as the Wakefield Opera House, and was built for a price of £13,000.
Theatre Royal Wakefield, the jewel in Wakefield’s crown, was the design and vision of famous architect Frank Matcham. Matcham was born on 22 November 1854 in a small village in Devon. He did his architectural apprenticeship and then went on to work in Wakefield and the surrounding area on a number of occasions. In 1893 Matcham starting to work on the design for Theatre Royal Wakefield, and the following year the theatre opened to the public on 15 October 1894 as the Wakefield Opera House, and was built for a price of £13,000.
Theatre Royal Wakefield is one of the smallest remaining Matcham theatre auditoriums; it is a shining example of his work and demonstrates his incredible ability to deliver a beautiful theatrical environment within a very tight space. Matcham made what were ground-breaking changes, as he dispensed with the idea of public boxes flanking the theatre stage and utilised the concept of boxes at the rear of the dress circle seating area.
The auditorium displays all the artistic elements of a Matcham composition of workmanship; he expected a high standard of work and used various skilled practitioners with whom he worked on a regular basis to ensure his standards were maintained.
Did you know?
- Matcham was well known for reusing a useful piece of an older building – at Theatre Royal Wakefield he reused part of the rear stage wall.
- The theatre was built with a special ventilation system which used the building’s architecture to circulate warm or cold air.
- Under the stage there is a medieval well which pre-dates the first theatre on this site. Constructed of local stone and still full to the top with ground water, it would appear that Matcham excavated to the absolute limit of the water table in order to accommodate all the elaborate Victorian substage machinery.
Theatre Royal Wakefield was built along the traditional lines of the 19th century, whereby different seating and ancillary areas within the building were segregated from other areas, responding to the social strata of the time. For instance it was not possible within a Matcham theatre for audiences to move between different areas. This impacted on the way the foyers were arranged, and although now guests can move about freely through the Matcham theatre, they need to navigate around staircases, arches and corridors - all part of the Victorian theatre experience!