New theatre taking centre stage at Old Courts

Derek Eccleston working on the theatre at The Old Courts

Derek Eccleston working on the theatre at The Old Courts

Work is well under way to transform a former courtroom into an exciting new large theatre for Wigan.

The Old Courts has launched an ambitious project to turn the county court where divorce cases and small claims battles were once settled into one of the town centre’s biggest and most important space for arts and culture.

We want to be the catalyst for would-be producers and performers and also cement Wigan as a credible stop on the circuit

David Jenkins

A team led by the venue’s facilities manager Derek Eccleston has thrown itself into the task of refurbishing the room, with many original Victorian features being revealed once more by the work.

The Crawford Street arts hub hopes the new theatre, which will seat between 200 and 300 people, will be open in time for the next Wigan Arts Festival in March.

The Old Courts managing director David Jenkins said: “We are really excited to have begun work on the theatre space. When we consider both the support we’ve received from many theatre groups and our plans to reach into delivering high quality productions, it’s a no-brainer.

“We want to be the catalyst for local would-be producers and performers and also to cement Wigan as a credible stop on the circuit.”

The Old Courts is expanding its drama provision thanks to joining the Collaborative Touring Network established by London’s Battersea Arts Centre and hopes the new stage will tempt some of the country’s most acclaimed and cutting-edge companies to Wigan.

Capacity is yet to be determined but the theatre, which will also host film screenings, promises to be one of the borough’s largest cultural venues, with the original gallery being retained for extra space.

The ambitious project will hopefully restore the county court, which was built in 1897 but later divided by plasterboard and temporary structures into waiting areas and consultation rooms, to its former glory.

Derek is now ripping out the modern fixtures with the help of volunteers and is confident he will be able to include many of the beautiful and well-preserved late 19th century features in the finished design.

He said: “This is a big undertaking but it will be spectacular. Wigan hasn’t got anything on this scale and it is what the town needs.

“It’s still in the demolition stage of taking out the suspended ceiling and all the framework. Once that’s done the fun really starts creating what we want.

“We want to take it back to its original Victorian architecture. We’ve unearthed small test areas of the parquet floor and it looks to be in remarkably good condition, and there is also a huge ceiling rose up above.”

The arts hub has already restored the old magistrates’ court as an arts space and function room and put a cinema in the cellars as well as creating music venues, bars, an art gallery, studios and practice rooms.

The Old Courts director Jonny Davenport said: “The space is looking pretty grand already. As much as we want to have the theatre ready yesterday, we’re aware that it needs to be designed to be practical and flexible not just aesthetically pleasing.

“We’ve consulted a wealth of knowledgeable people and we’re happy that the finished product will be right. In line with everything else here it needs to feel like everyone has contributed and had their say because we want the theatre to be loved by everyone, not just the builders.”

The Old Courts hopes the new theatre will be ready by next March.

For more information about the venue visit www.theoldcourts.com