It is with a heavy heart that we have learned of the passing of our good friend Kay Mellor. Leeds born and bred, Kay was a pioneer of northern drama and real-life stories, going where no other female writer, director, or actor had gone before. We’re deeply proud and humbled to have been chosen as the home venue for her two stage premieres, Fat Friends The Musical (2017) and Band of Gold (2019) – both of which were huge success stories, as was everything that Kay turned her hand to. The hearts and thoughts of our theatre family are with her family, who we are also blessed to call friends of our theatres.

City Varieties auditorium from the stage.

City Varieties Music Hall

A hidden gem. Leeds’ oldest working theatre and the Guinness World Record holder for the nation’s longest running music hall. Not bad for a once smoke-filled room above a pub, where the working class of Leeds would drink and be merry, shout vulgarities at performers and sing-along to pithy ditties.

Established in 1865, The Varieties is a living, breathing homage to the music hall era. You can feel it, touch it, smell it.

If you stop, take a breath and listen, she’ll tell you the story of the stars who have performed on her stage, from Houdini to Russell Crowe; the prince who hid in her balcony to secretly court a music hall queen; the baby that was born during pantomime and gifted free admission for life; the schoolchildren who would fire pea-shooters at the striptease acts; the renditions of Down at the Old Bull and Bush to close BBC TV’s The Good Old Days; the funny man from Liverpool with his tickling stick; and the army of volunteers who have welcomed the people of Leeds through her front doors for over 155 years.

And still the stories are being made. Barring a pandemic in 2020-21, and much-needed facelift in 2009-11, The Varieties has never closed her doors. Audiences from far and wide still flock to see the brightest stars from comedy, music, variety and pantomime perform on her stage, indeed Mr Dara O’Briain said she is: “Steeped in history… still regarded as the best venue for stand-up in the nation.”

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Photo shows an off-white canvas tote bag with the City Varieties Logo on it in cherry red and dark blue.

A brief history of City Varieties Music Hall