EXPERTS have warned that one of the region’s oldest theatres is in need of major refurbishment if it is to compete with other venues in the coming years.

Often described as the “jewel in the crown” of Darlington, the town’s Civic Theatre was saved from closure last year by Darlington Borough Council and attracts a wide range of local, national and international productions.

But a report produced for the borough council’s cabinet by historic theatre consultants, Theatre Search, has warned that the grade II-listed building is no longer fit for purpose and needs significant expenditure and modernisation if it is to attract theatre companies in the future.

The restoration plans are at an early stage, but it is hoped that any work could be carried out by 2016 if a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which could provide up to 90 per cent of the funding, is successful.

The council brought in Theatre Search earlier this year with a view to making short to medium-term improvements to the theatre, which is based in Parkgate, but the report from the consultants has made clear that the council must take a more radical approach.

Among the list of issues to be considered are the theatre’s mechanical and electrical services, toilets, technical aspects backstage, employee facilities, disability compliance, seating, decoration and sustainability.

The Theatre Search report said: “It is clear that the Civic Theatre is now in need of urgent attention if it is to continue to attract high quality performances and significant attendances.

“Other competitors such as the Empire Theatre Sunderland and the Theatre Royal Newcastle have had significant capital investment in recent years and this inevitably reflects poorly upon the Civic Theatre.

“The theatre is at a crossroads and needs to take urgent remedial action in order to stem an imminent downward spiral.”

On Tuesday, councillors will be asked to spend £50,000 to cover the first stage of an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which would include conservation plans, surveys and digital drawings.

A report prepared by council officers said: “The key priorities of the refurbishment project is to ensure that the Civic Theatre continues to attract high quality performances with significant attendances.

“To do that, significant refurbishment is required to ensure that the back-stage facilities remain attractive to producers, directors and performers into the medium and long term.

“An attractive, strong Civic Theatre can play an important role in ensuring that the borough has good cultural life.”

Any businesses which would be prepared to sponsor part of the refurbishment are asked to call 01325-388962 or email communications@