Stage is set for Ilkley Playhouse's future success

Ilkley Gazette: Yvette Huddleston gets a fitting from wardrobe mistress Pat Wildman and Joan Durkin. Buy this photo Yvette Huddleston gets a fitting from wardrobe mistress Pat Wildman and Joan Durkin.

A theatre run by volunteers has raised the curtain on its vision for the future.

The 78-year-old Ilkley Playhouse invited members of the public to take a behind-the-scenes look at normally hidden areas of the Weston Road venue last the weekend.

It coincided with the announcement of the Wharfeside Development Project which will see the main 144-seat Wharfeside Theatre extended and facilities improved for the benefit of the audiences and members of the wider community.

Long-established amateur theatrical group Ilkley Players own the Playhouse, mounting eight main house productions a year, plus several other studio and fringe performances in the Wharfeside and the newer Wildman studio space.

The Playhouse is also one of the central venues for the visits of top authors and personalities during the acclaimed Ilkley Literature Festival each autumn, and serves as a venue for community groups and public meetings.

The Players’ £150,000 ‘vision’ for the Wharfeside Theatre includes major building work in the auditorium to raise the seating and provide a better line of sight to the audience – and in doing so, raise the capacity of the theatre to seat 180 people.

Better disabled access will also be a part of the redevelopment.

Well attended performances and the sell-out Literature Festival events have pointed towards the need for expansion. Fundraising events get under way soon, although the formal launch of the development project will take place later this year. It is hoped the work can be done, in phases, within two years.

Publicity director Yvette Huddleston said: “It means a lot, not just to the Players and to audiences who come to Playhouse, but also to the community as a whole.

“We will improve the facilities. It will mean that more groups will be able to hire these facilities, and it will be more useful for big public meetings.

“It’s already a great community asset but I think it’s going to be a fantastic community asset.”

She said some disruption to the usual annual calendar will be inevitable during the building work, but several productions will still take place a year, and Literature Festival events will be hosted. The shows went on while work on the Wildman studio extension took place in the late 1990s.

The Players will be seeking lottery funding and money from other sources for the project. They already have a £1,000 contribution from Ilkley Parish Council towards improvement work.

Ilkley Playhouse is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Almost all the work at the Playhouse is done by volunteers.

The main theatre building dates back to the later 1800, when it was a Liberal Association club.

Ilkley Players began to meet and perform there in around 1928 to 1929, and the players purchased the premises in 1938. The stage and dressing rooms were built after this date, and more improvements were added over the years.

The open day on Saturday saw visitors given backstage tours looking at the lighting and sound box, props department and wardrobe.

The Players have built up an impressive wardrobe – ranging from Victorian ball gowns to First World War uniforms, and 1920s flapper dresses.

Visitors on Saturday were also given the chance to see the stage set for the current production, Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana, depicting a 1940s Mexican hotel and exotic surroundings.

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