THE curtain finally came up on major improvements at one of the most important Georgian buildings in the country as it emerged from lockdown to a more comfortable future.

The 230-year-old Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond is the oldest surviving original theatre in Britain. Built in 1788 by Samuel Butler, its three tiered auditorium had also been renowned for its uncomfortable hard seating and problematic views.

Over the lockdown thanks to a £375,000 donation from the Hamish Ogston Foundation, the theatre carried out an ambitious overhaul providing comfortable seating and better views of the stage. The auditorium has also been completely re-decorated, with new lighting and a mural showing a lively Georgian audience. New heating and ventilation replaced outdated boilers.

Mr Ogston attended the official reopening along with Richmond MP and Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Lord Crathorne, whose mother Lady Nancy Crathorne was the driving force behind the original re-opening in 1963.

Theatre Royal Trust chairman Mac Bryant said: "We are hugely grateful to Hamish Ogston whose foundation gave us the substantial grant that enabled us to complete much of our celebrated auditorium project. In addition, Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme and other Government initiatives enabled us to retain our dedicated staff and meet the day-to-day running costs during the closure.

"It is thanks to them and everyone that has supported and donated throughout the pandemic that we are now able to welcome audiences back and look forward to a glorious season of live entertainment."

Starting the autumn season with a recital was international pianist Albert Lau playing on the theatre's recently restored Steinway grand piano

Mr Sunak said: "I am delighted the Government’s economic support packages helped this special venue weather the last 18 months. This is a glorious re-awakening of a unique theatre which is not only renowned nationally and internationally but loved locally."