Theatre stages a remarkable comeback
IT has taken 354 days, a lot of sweat and heartache and a good deal of money but last night Derby finally got back its theatre.
A new broom has swept away not only the Derby Playhouse name but also past troubles for a venue that might not have survived financial meltdown.
Over the last two years there has been far more drama off the stage than on it but, as the newly-renamed Derby Theatre reopened its doors to a grateful public, there was a strong sense that this was a genuine rebirth, not another false start.
For the University of Derby, which bought the lease and rescued the building, and Derby Live, which is now planning and producing the shows that will make or break the venue, it was a key moment.
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University vice chancellor Professor John Coyne took to the stage to welcome back theatre-goers – a greeting that earned joyous applause from the opening night crowd.
Derby Live director Peter Ireson then urged members of the audience to act as ambassadors for the theatre.
"It's a thrilling night," he said. "We have been working so long and hard to get this theatre open. I have worked in theatre 20 years and the first night is always a buzz but a venue reopening is something even more special. But a theatre is nothing without its audience. We need everyone here tonight to go and tell their friends, their family, their work colleagues that Derby Theatre is open for business. Amateur theatre is back where it ought to be and top quality professional theatre is being produced in Derby as we speak and will be back here shortly."
University pro vice-chancellor Professor Michael Gunn said: "It's amazing we have got this far this quickly, given the fact that we were only involved from last December. Students came in the middle of September and now we have our first show. It's fantastic. There's a lot to do still but it's going well."
The very fact that the opening show was by a Derby group, returning after a six-year absence, perhaps also signalled that, for once, the entire theatre community is on the same hymn sheet.
Andrew Nicklin, who directed last night's opening show, The Gondoliers, for Derby Gilbert and Sullivan company, said: "It's terrific to be the first show. When it became clear amateurs could not be accommodated any longer here it was a great loss. The fact that we now have the theatre restored to us is fantastic."
Pete Meakin, the creative producer at Derby Live, knows the hard work must now continue.
"The amazing thing is I have had so many people coming up to me saying, 'Isn't this great' and that really is the key. The people of Derby are celebrating the fact that our theatre is back open again. It doesn't matter who you are, it has to be good news for Derby.
"And we now have two professional productions in rehearsal in the city with casts you would die for. The quality and expertise we have assembled couldn't be better. But the message is, 'Don't believe what I say – come judge it for yourself'."
Read what theater-goers thought of the show by clicking here.