CREWE'S Lyceum Theatre is closing down following the shock discovery of hazardous asbestos in the roof of its historic auditorium.
Specialists are being drafted in to rid the 1911-built theatre of the banned substance, which has been detected in the area above the main stage.
A box office smash season, featuring celebrities like EastEnders star Leslie Grantham and film actor Simon Ward, will have to come to an early close.
The discovery has forced the curtain to go down on the popular Charles Vance murder mysteries and a July charity fundraiser for Leighton Hospital.
Closure is scheduled for May - months before the traditional 'dark' season for normal maintenance work
Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council, which runs the theatre, has put the job out to tender.
Borough councillor Howard Curran, portfolio holder for local activities, said the work was a 'necessary evil.'
He added: 'It is well known that the theatre has to be subsidised but it remains an asset to the borough.
'But it was built in the days when asbestos was used everywhere and now it has been found we have to take action for health and safety reasons.'
In the 1990s millions were spent on restoring the Edwardian theatre to its former glory. New front-of-house facilities including restaurant, cafe and bar, created a community facility used day and night.
But over the years leading councillors have criticised the money it loses - at one point a staggering £400,000 a year.
A change from high-brow drama to more family-friendly shows put its finances back in the black.
General manager Jayne Ashcroft said: 'The financial position of the theatre is stable and we don't envisage these works lasting longer than the summer. Meanwhile the box office and restaurant bar will remain open.'