Citizens Theatre will not reopen this year as projected costs treble

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The Citizens Theatre in the Gorbals has dropped plans to reopen later this year due to protracted delays on the project to extensively overhaul the Victorian-era venue. Opening activities were expected from autumn this year. An announcement seven months ago said the first full production on stage would the Christmas show in Nov/Dec 2024.

The venue is not now expected to fully reopen until the autumn of 2025 at the earliest after a restoration and refurbishment of its historic auditorium proved more complex than expected and a sub-contractor working on the project went into administration.

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The Scotsman reports that the final cost of the project, which was estimated at £10 million when it was first announced in 2013, is expected to top £30 million by the time it reopens.

The theatre last hosted shows in the summer of 2018 and the redevelopment work was originally projected to take two years to complete.

However the project has been significantly held up by delays caused by Covid restrictions, as well as the complexity of work to “wrap” the historic auditorium in a new three-storey building.

The new-look “Citz” will have an expanded foyer, a new 150-seater studio theatre, a hugely expanded foyer, a new cafe-bar, improved backstage areas, new spaces for set-building, costume-making and rehearsing, and better sightlines in the revamped main auditorium.

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However the theatre still has to raise around £3 million to pay for the completion of the project, which is being funded by the Scottish Government, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Glasgow City Council and Creative Scotland. A planned bid for UK Government funding had to be postponed when the General Election was announced.

The project was instigated amid growing concern about the condition of the venue, which dates back to 1878. The planned revamp, designed by leading Scottish architects Bennetts Associates, was estimated to cost £19.4m in 2017 when its temporary closure was announced, but the bill had risen to £21.5 million and additional public funding had been secured for the project by the time work started in 2019.

The latest cost estimates were kept under wraps last December when it was announced that the theatre had reached an “important milestone” and was planning to reopen by November 2024 for a Christmas show.

The Citizens has now admitted the planned timetable has had to be significantly put back, but insisted the project has not been scaled back in any way.

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Executive director Alex McGowan, who previously announced he would be stepping down from his role this summer, said: “Building works are expected to complete by the end of December 2024 at which point our contractor, Kier Construction, will hand over the building to the Citizens Theatre for fit-out.

“This is anticipated to take around six months and involves a wide-range of work as we gear back-up to be a fully functioning theatre.

“Reopening activities are therefore anticipated to start by the summer of 2025 and a full season programme will begin from the autumn of 2025.”

Mr McGowan said “large areas” of the new building were expected to be completed by this summer, including foyer “back of house” spaces.

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The last two years have seen milestones on site achieved, including the installation of a new fly tower and the return of the theatre’s original stone sculptures to the building’s roof. Describing the ambitious redevelopment plan, the theatre said: “Like the many old and new traditions that make up the identity of the building, the design will continue to marry heritage with a contemporary look and feel, delivering spaces full of character.

“It also delivers new rehearsal, participation, and studio spaces supporting expanded activities for the community and offering Scotland’s rich ecology of theatre companies new spaces to rehearse and perform in. This includes a new 150 seat Studio Theatre which can have in the round or end on seating configurations.

“New bar facilities and social spaces will encourage audiences to linger and explore the building while improved backstage facilities and artist accommodation will be transformative for performers, creatives and visiting companies. 

“The delicate work of upgrading the building while preserving its unique heritage has also resulted in several challenges during the rebuild, with various unforeseen on-site discoveries, some structurally critical, affecting overall progress to completion.“

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