Any Brit in their Fourties upwards knows what “The Good Old Days” was, a BBC nostalgic recreation of 19th Century Music Hall that ran for thirty years, from 1953 to 1983. It featured well known acts, strange variety turns, audience participation and, undupitably, irrepressably, enlightenedly (and other big, sometimes made up words) the verbal linguistics and the accentuating gavel of Leonard Sachs, the presiding Chairman.
Inevitably, the programme was a pastiche, but the venue was not. A very rare survivor in England, the Leeds City Varieties started life as Thornton’s Music Hall and fashionable Lounge, a rebuild of the White Swan Pub singing room. The present interior date from later in the Century and it became known as the City Varieties in 1894. It is essentially a rectangular flat floored room upstairs with a stage at one end and two small balconies elongated down both sides. There are five small two-seat Boxes each side of the Circle and by the thirty year Music Hall tradition they are jokingly known as the Ashtrays.
Something I was told a few years ago was a bit of an eye opener- only the right hand side of the auditorium ever appeared on the TV (the Cameras were all to the left) so only that side of the theatre ever got decorated towards the end when money was tight. After nearly being lost, it was saved by Leeds City Council but the saga of lack of investment continued.
When you visit today, it has the something of the interior of an Indian restaurant, flock wallpaper everywhere, except where it has been removed for electrical rewiring. Chunks of plasterwork are missing on the balcony fronts and the ceiling is in a terrible state. It is cramped, uncomfortable and makes a lousy theatre with a tiny, obstructed stage, a horrible get-in and squalid dressing rooms. What it does have, however, is buckets of atmosphere.
£8m has now been earmarked for a serious refurbishment, restoration and accessability improvements. When I was taking snapshots, I braced the camera against a structural pillar- and it moved. Yikes! Things can only get better…
(You can also watch a short video of how crummy it is backstage here and also see some tantalising glimpses of its former glory).