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Grand Opera House


Used as a cinema for many years then closed after bomb damage. Re-opened as a theatre in 1980 after undergoing a splendid scheme of renovation and restoration. The magnificent auditorium is probably the best surviving example in the UK of the Oriental style applied to theatre architecture - largely Indian in character with intricate detail on the sinuously curved fronts of the two balconies and an elaborate composition of superimposed boxes surmounted by turban-domed canopies. The ceiling, which is divided into several richly-framed painted panels that have been exquisitely recreated by artist Cherith McKinstry, is supported on arches above the gallery slips, with large elephant heads at springing level. Proscenium 12m (39ft 8in), stage depth 13.71m (45ft), grid increased to 18.28m (60ft) from 15.84m (52ft). Large, new orchestra pit, the sharp single radius curve of the orchestra rail providing the only slightly jarring note in this superb auditorium.

The exterior, of brick and cast stone, is in a free mixture of Baroque, Flemish and Oriental styles - typical of Matcham’s earlier work. He made good use of the corner site by building up the composition of his design in stages, linked by strapwork scrolls, to the triangular-pedimented central gable which is flanked by domed minarets. The new projecting glass extension to the previously cramped first floor bar is quite in the spirit of Matcham’s architecture (cf Theatre Royal, Portsmouth). In 1982 it was made complete by the addition of the visually important column supports. In 1991 and 1993 the theatre was damaged by terrorist bombs. This necessitated considerable rebuilding of the Glengall Street dressing room block, stage door and get in. Fortunately the auditorium suffered only superficial damage.

In 2006 an extension, a striking addition to the listed Victorian theatre, introduced a range of front-of-house amenities – bars, cafes and function rooms. There were improvements to back-stage areas and a new stage ti encourage the popular large-scale theatrical and musical productions to Belfast.

For the venue's 125th anniversary a restoration and redevelopment project saw the auditorium’s paintings and decorative and ornate plasterwork painstakingly restored and conserved, as well as new seating, carpets, curtains and drapes installed. The design of the foyer and public spaces has been totally reimagined, with a new bar installed in the restored 1980 glass extension overhanging Great Victoria Street, as well as refurbished stalls and circle bars. As part of the project, the theatre’s technical infrastructure has been upgraded and a permanent heritage exhibition installed telling the fascinating story of the theatre’s 125-year history. Facilities for those customers with access needs have also been greatly enhanced throughout.

Now a touring theatre and Ulster’s only venue for major opera and dance companies.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1895 - 1972: Dates of use
  • 1980 : continuing
Current state
Current use
Great Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT2 7HR, Northern Ireland
Further details
Other names
Palace of Varieties
  • 1895 Design/Construction:
    Frank Matcham
    - Architect
  • 1895 - 1949 Owner/Management: J F Warden Ltd (owner of Theatre Royal, Belfast)
  • 1895 - 1972 Use: Dates of use
  • 1913 Alteration: cast iron and glass canopy extended
    Mugrave’s Foundry
    - Architect
  • 1914 Alteration: dressing rooms extended
    J St J Phillips
    - Architect
  • 1932 Alteration: seating and furnishings improved
    Samuel Stevenson
    - Architect
  • 1949 - 1961 Owner/Management: George F Lodge (Ulster Cinematograph Theatres)
  • 1950 Alteration: dress circle, bar and entrance remodelled
    Henry Lynch Robinson
    - Architect
  • 1961 Alteration: converted to cinema
    J McB Neill
    - Architect
  • 1961 - 1972 Owner/Management: Rank Odeon
  • 1975 - 1980 Design/Construction: Array
    John Wyckham Associates
    - Consultant
  • 1976 - 1992 Owner/Management: Arts Council of Northern Ireland
  • 1980 Alteration: completely restored and upgraded
    Robert McKinstry & Melvyn Brown
    - Architect
  • 1980 Design/Construction:
    Robert McKinstry
    - Consultant
    George Nichol
    - Consultant
    plaster mouldings
    John Hamilton Ltd
    - Consultant
  • 1980 Use: continuing
  • 1991 Alteration: & bomb damage repaired
    Robinson & McIlwaine
    - Architect
  • 1992 Owner/Management: Opera House Trust
  • 2020 Alteration:
    - Theatre Consulta
    - Architect
    Consarc Design Group
    - Interior design
    Sundara Design
  • Capacity
  • Capacity
  • Listing
Stage type
Proscenium raked 1:20 with forestage lift
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: 13.7m Width SL: 3.4m SR: 3.4m
Proscenium width: 12.1m
Height to grid: 18.3m
Inside proscenium: 13.7m
Orchestra pit: Flexible