10 years since City Varieties Regeneration Project

17/09/2021 10 years since City Varieties Regeneration Project

10 years on from the reopening of City Varieties Music Hall after its restoration work, we look back at the two year regeneration project.

During the refurbishment, a considerable amount of work was carried out with the following key changes:


Backstage areas were completely demolished and then rebuilt. Six modern dressing rooms, an access lift and a newly fitted green room, where cast and crew could relax, were created, making backstage life much more comfortable for visiting artists.

A computerised flying system with twelve fly bars was installed to ‘fly’ scenery for performances.

Experts carried out painstaking ceiling and plasterwork repairs (inspired by this 1900 design discovered during the restoration).

New carpeting and seating were fitted throughout the auditorium.

There were major excavations to re-establish the ancient cellar network.

The fitting of an external glass lift greatly improved access to the building.

The auditorium of City Varieties Music Hall before the 2009 regeneration. There are rows of red theatre chairs with some pulled out and piled up.

View of the stage and auditorium at City Varieties taken from the right-hand sideBalcony

Management Books

An open page of a management book featuring hand-written details about performers at the City Varieties. This one features Houdini's signature from his time performing.

Several management books came to light during the regeneration project that tell us a lot about the acts that performed at The Varieties in the past.

The Management Books are an amazing record of the life of the City Varieties from 1897 to 1902 – a time when music hall was thriving. They record the acts, their ‘business’ (or talent), their salary and any remarks the manager wished to make following their performance. The books record a trapeze artist called Onzalo, who fell on his first night, a comedian who was too drunk to perform and a comedienne who was ‘not worth the money’.

Whilst many acts were marked ‘good’ or ‘fair’, Harry Houdini is described as ‘extra special’ following his performance in 1902.

Time capsule

To mark the regeneration project, a time capsule was buried on the 15 March 2011 towards the end of the restoration.

The contents ranged from programmes and news articles to a genuine fragment of the original stage and a strip of the famous red flock wallpaper.

An empty grey metal rectangular box used as a time capsule with the lid balanced on top.
A person with a builder's hat and high vis vest crouched down by an exposed brick wall burying a box in a rectangular hole.
Playbills, magazines, photos and documents on a white table cloth. There are pictures of the City Varieties auditorium.


After being the final act to perform before our venue’s closing, it was fitting that much-loved variety performer Ken Dodd was the first act to perform on the City Varieties stage once it re-opened with a special gala performance on the 17 September 2011.

On Thursday 19 July 2012, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh officially reopened The Varieties post-regeneration as part of the Queens Jubilee Tour.

After greeting the crowds that had gathered on Briggate, the couple were treated to a performance by our Youth Theatre – who delighted them with traditional music hall routines, including The Laughing Policeman.

The Queen and Prince Philip are two of only three people to be gifted a plaque on one of our seats, the other being Russell Crowe.

After their visit, Edward Young, the Deputy Private Secretary to The Queen, sent a letter to thank Councillor Adam Ogilvie on behalf of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. It said: ‘It was a true highlight of Her Majesty’s and His Royal Highness’s visit to Leeds, as well as being a wonderful opportunity to meet staff members and to see first-hand a performance of ‘The Good Old Days’ for which the City Varieties Music Hall is so well known.’

The Queen wearing a cream dress and hat followed by a group of people in suits walked down a narrow road. The sign above her reads City Varieties Music Hall.