BOSSES at a revamped theatre have said their new venue has become a place of national significance for entertainment after less than a year of thrilling the crowds.

It is almost 12 months since Darlington Hippodrome opened its doors following a name change and a multi-million pound refurbishment that turned the Grade II listed Civic Theatre into a 21st century entertainment venue.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, theatre director Lynda Winstanley confirmed shows are already booked in the diary as far ahead as 2021, and they have become a "significant national theatre".

Almost £12m was spent over an 18-month period on the theatre to include a three-storey glass atrium, a new box-office and café bar area, as well as a number of displays illustrating the heritage of theatre in Darlington.

Ms Winstanley said: "I can't really believe it has been nearly a year since we opened – it has surpassed expectations.

“The building itself has really turned out fantastically well to support the vision that we had for the new theatre, and I also feel we have honoured the past in the way in which we have conserved the historic character of theatre in how we tell the story of the theatre’s history everywhere throughout the building."

Zoe Birkett as evil Queen Sadista

Zoe Birkett as evil Queen Sadista

Improvements have also been made to dressing rooms, offices, circulation space and backstage areas to accommodate larger touring shows, which Ms Winstanley said visitors have "really enjoyed".

"Everyone would like to be the best. I think there are very few historic theatres remaining in the country so we are one of a very few probably from the Edwardian era that are still operating largely unchanged.

"I think we are a significant national theatre and we remain a very popular venue for touring companies."

Ms Winstanley said the Hippodrome's success has proved it was the right decision to spend so much money on such a major refurbishment.

"Mostly people been incredibly supportive of the capital fundraising appeal and the changes because the theatre was very much loved, but it was succeeding in an atmosphere of faded magnificence.

"I think it was obvious to people we had some things that were holding us back a little bit.

"We needed to do that work and the theatre now is well positioned to take theatre forward to new generations of theatre goers that is for sure and to play a role in the cultural life of the Tees Valley."

Looking ahead to the future, Ms Winstanley said the theatre is working on more daytime activities and work with the neighbouring Theatre Hullabaloo, £2.7m venue specially designed for young people which opened just weeks after the Hippodrome.

"We are not the finished article, it has only been a year.

"It is almost like moving into a new venue – it isn’t the same as running the Civic theatre and that has been very exciting."