THESE are the foundations where the stage will be set for theatregoers to enjoy pantomimes, plays and performances for generations to come.

The shell of the former Darlington Civic Theatre is in the midst of an £11.7m transformation to restore the Edwardian theatre’s glamour.

Alongside 21st century facilities being installed as part of the 18-month project, the venue has been rebranded as the Darlington Hippodrome to honour its original name.

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More than a century on from its official opening, construction staff working to restore the building’s interior and exterior are confident that the multi-million pound project is on course to be completed this year.

Sean McNichols, operations manager for construction company Willmott Dixon, said: “It’s all still on track for a pre-Panto handover and we’ve got about 30 weeks left to work with.

“The project has been full of hidden challenges and gems that we keep uncovering, which means we’re very much dealing with the unexpected on the job.

“We’ve found staircases that we didn’t know about and doorways that lead to nowhere.”

He added: “It’s important to try and preserve what we can and make use of anything we come across by incorporating it into our plans.

“The original intention was to demolish part of the building, but we’ve found many parts of it to be in a condition that we can work with so we’ve kept them and it feels like the right thing to do.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility, but it keeps the original 1907 feel.”

The Edwardian theatre will be fitted with 1,000 more seats for theatregoers to accommodate larger audience numbers and touring companies who will be able to use all levels of the building, both front and back of house, with lift access.

The Hippodrome’s iconic steeple that was used as a water tower for elaborate stage stunts in the theatre’s early days will also be converted into a vaulted function room.

A dedicated website and new box office number for the theatre have also been launched as part of the building rebrand.

Theatre director, Lynda Winstanley, said: “I am thrilled to have launched the Darlington Hippodrome website as this marks the beginning of a brand new chapter in the history of our beloved theatre.

“With our new name, branding and website, Darlington Hippodrome has a vibrant identity of its own which will be carried through to an exciting season of productions in 2018 following our family pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”