The atmosphere was electric at Darlington Racecourse when the first full house returned after months of lockdown closures and restricted performance.

Julian Cound describes “the huge release” when Rumors of Fleetwood Mac took the stage in Darlington for the first live performance with barely an empty seat in the auditorium in over a year.

The journey has not been easy for the Edwardian Theater – which underwent a massive renovation and had reopened for just over two years before the pandemic struck.

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“In the last 18 months it’s been such a tough time, it’s such a big industry – when producers aren’t putting on shows, lighting designers aren’t used, sound engineers, crews from costume designers, prop teams. It’s a huge industry and it’s just great that it’s slowly coming back to life, ”said Julian, director of sales and marketing at the theater.

“When we were able to get a full house for Fleetwood, it was just another level. I think as long as people are safe and sane, make sure they are feeling any of the symptoms of covid so they don’t. not attending. It was as close to back to normal as it gets. “

The £ 12.3million restoration and rebranding of the racecourse, formerly known as Darlington Civic Theater, completely transformed the Edwardian Grade II listed building.

For those who haven’t set foot in the theater for five years, the Hippodrome lounge and the theater’s completely transformed bar and public spaces make it completely unrecognizable.

And with an increase in the number of seats exceeding the 1,000 mark, plus the huge changes behind the scenes, the Hippodrome has reached a new level in the entertainment world.

After the theater doors reopened, as well as hosting cinema screenings, the Hippodrome offered a socially distanced heritage tour that includes all of the building’s public spaces as well as the auditorium and backstage (where possible ) and explains how the theater has changed in the recent restoration.

Julian Cound at Darlington Racecourse

“We’re never going to have the big guns – Les Misérables or Wicked on tour – just because we couldn’t adapt the set on stage, but also the fact that the producers will always go to bigger theaters like Sunderland Empire and the Theater Royal in Newcastle, Julien said.

“But it was absolutely clear that once we reopened and the capacity was increased, we get some of the greatest touring shows.

“We had Grease lined up before the pandemic, Sister Act lined up and now we have Rock of Ages coming up, we’ve just announced Blood Brothers and there are a few more shows in the works – some of the great shows that people should normally go to. to Sunderland, Newcastle or York to go and see. Now it’s coming to Darlington, that can only be a bonus. “

After two weeklong shows – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rock of Ages – scheduled for November, the theater will soon heat up for panto season.

And with pantomimes unable to move forward across the country last year due to lockdowns, tickets for this year’s Cinderella performance are “already selling like hot cakes.”

Julian, who has been performing in the theater himself for about 16 years, said: “People missed Christmas last year and I think families just want to make Christmas even more special.

“The panto we lined up is the best panto ever, you can’t go wrong with Cinderella. It’s one of the nicest pantos.

“Crossroads has been producing their pantos and bringing them here for over 25 years, so we know their team very well.

“We have Faye Tozer headlining, it will be a win-win.

From the stage at Darlington Racecourse
From the stage at Darlington Racecourse

“Panto is when the theater really comes to life.”

The pantomime – which stars Faye Tozer, Patrick Monahan, Peter Peverley and Phil Corbitt – will run from December 10 to 31.

“For a lot of people, it’s the only theater you come to see, which is totally okay. This is where kids are potentially introduced to theater for the first time,” added Julian.

“You have people of all ages coming to panto – from young kids to great-grandparents – it’s really true getting together as a family for a laugh.

“It’s often the first, if not the only time people come to the theater, so we have to make it as special as possible.”

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