Plans have been unveiled to upgrade Hull’s New Theatre allowing it to host bigger West End productions like War Horse.
Up to £4m could be invested in the theatre, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, in time for City of Culture in 2017.
One of the region’s most successful touring venues, it hopes a range of improvements, including adding an extra 200 seats, allowing it to take up to 1,400 theatregoers, will attract some of the bigger productions.
It comes as North Hull MP Diana Johnson asked Culture Minister Ed Vaizey in the Commons how the council was expected to deliver City of Culture when a quarter of its funding had been cut in the last four years, and London was getting 15 times more public funding for the arts than in the regions.
Coun Terry Geraghty, who was at a function yesterday celebrating the anniversary, said it was a “new era” for the theatre. Plans include raising the height of the stage 5m to give more room to fly actors and extending it back another 5m, creating a rehearsal space so actors don’t have to use one of the bars, and improvements to the orchestral pit.
A feasibility study is also looking at using the space provided by Central Fire Station when it relocates for loading bays, rather than having to unload in the street, and workshops.
Ongoing work includes installing a new infrared hearing system and disabled toilets. Coun Geraghty said it wasn’t all about 2017: “To me 2017 is a year; we need to think now and beyond 2017.”
Pete Haslam, who has reviewed productions at the theatre for 25 years, said the plans didn’t go far enough: “What we really need to do is increase it to 2,000 because we have to compete with Leeds.
“I know of people who regularly go to shows in London but won’t come down the road because there are more shows in London and they are physically bigger productions.”
A spokeswoman for Humberside Fire and Rescue said a land swap had been agreed with the council for a piece of land on Spring Street, where they will be building a new fire station. She said: “We are still in the feasibility stges but hope to be in the new station in two years.”
Arts Council England has already invested £3m in City of Culture.