Plans to turn a Tyneside theatre into a leading cultural centre have received a massive £1.8m European funding boost.
The Newcastle Playhouse is home to Northern Stage
Facilities at the Newcastle Playhouse will be updated to create the European Centre for the Performing Arts.
Work on the £8m project gets underway next month and is expected to be completed in autumn 2005.
It will include a new auditorium with state-of-the art technical facilities, including lighting, sound and backstage communications systems.
Along with the European Regional Development Fund grant, the project will be supported by £3m from Arts Council England, £2m from Newcastle City Council and almost £500,000 from voluntary organisations and trusts.
Bosses hope the centre will attract the best in theatre from the UK, Europe and beyond while continuing to provide a home for the resident Northern Stage ensemble.
John Rundle, from the Government Office for the North East, said: "The current facilities which make up the Playhouse and Gulbenkian Studio are becoming outdated and by replacing these with a new auditorium we hope to attract even more visitors into the area to participate in theatre.
"This project is just one part of exciting plans to create a cultural centre in the heart of Newcastle.
"In years to come, the area around Haymarket in addition to the regeneration of Gateshead Quays will further strengthen Newcastle-Gateshead's name as a world class cultural venue."
Northern Stage chief executive Alan Lyddiard said the European grant was fantastic news for the centre.
"It will be a place where the local meets the international and where people from the region can participate in a variety of projects, enriching the cultural life of the north east."