Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Fallen Regent

The coverage of the impending closure of the Regent Theatre in Brisbane’s CBD, has thousands ill-informed, but still lobbying against the cultural and historical implications of the building's impending redevelopment.

The Hollywood style picture palace, having celebrated its 80th birthday in November last year, is one of only two left in Australia and deeply rooted in Brisbane’s history.

The iconic Regent theatre, erected in 1929 has been a glamorous reminder of years long since past and a memorable fixture in Brisbane’s CBD.

The land on which it stands and the theatre itself was originally owned by Dr James Mayne.

“Mayne didn’t want it sold, he didn’t want the theatre closed. It actually said in his will that unless it was absolutely necessary. He said ‘I don’t want the theatre to be closed’” says spearhead of the Save The Regent campaign, Brett Debritz.

“In a way it is kind of disrespectful to him as someone who gave Brisbane so much,” he said.

“This is one of the last theatres of its kind. The Melbourne Regent has been restored recently and the one in Sydney is gone. So this is one of only two left,” he said.

There are concerns that coverage of the issues surrounding the Regent’s history and the development have been lacking, therefore leaving the people of Brisbane ill-informed.

“The problem is some of the people don’t quite get what it’s about. There are a few people who think they’re going to knock down the whole building, which they’re not. They’re going to knock everything down beyond the marble staircase,” say Debritz.

The initial plans for the $800 million redevelopment, proposed two years ago, originally protected the four theatres and the foyer.

Lord Mayor Campbell Newman voiced his opposition to the proposed closure of the Regent, and Labor’s Lord Mayoral candidate Greg Rowell started a petition.

The greens also oppose the plan.

The development plans according to law must also preserve those elements of the Regent Theatre that are currently entered on the Queensland Heritage Register.

“The original directive protected the whole building, including the cinemas and the bar. It protected everything. The second directive only protected the foyer,” said Debritz.

In May 2009 the Brisbane City Council approved the redevelopment of the Regent Theatre, Wintergarden Shopping Centre and the Hilton Hotel.

“The Queensland Government used rarely applied call-in powers to protect the Regent Theatre’s heritage features and ensure its continued use as a cinema.” said the Premier and Minister for the Arts, Anna Bligh.

“The theatre will remain a cultural hub, whilst performing a more practical function” said the Premier.

The resulting space from the development will be used for the new Queensland Film and Television headquarters.

“The cultural role of the Regent Theatre will be further strengthened as the Queensland Film and Television Centre will be housed within the heritage listed areas of the development,” she said.

“The redeveloped venue will also house the offices of the Pacific Film and Television Commission, the Brisbane International Film Festival and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards,” said the Premier.

Closing on June 6, the theatre confronts a devastating facelift in the coming months.

The four movie theatres which are not heritage listed, including the showcase cinema, and will be “remodelled” into three smaller auditoria.

These three multipurpose auditoria will play films at the weekends and during public holidays.

“Movies will be screened on weekends and public holidays. During the week the facility will be a vibrant artistic centre,” she said.

“The three new multi-function auditoria will be suitable for cinema and live performance and will be accessible via the original Heritage-listed foyer to preserve a vital link between the old and the new Regent,” the Premier continued.

“Our focus now really is to try and save the showcase and the bar area if we can. But the reality is that the developers have all the approval they need.” Debritz said.

There have been suggestions of alternate plans to refurbish the theatre to contribute to Brisbane’s artistic lifestyle.

Following the bypassing of Brisbane by the tour of the British production of Waiting for Godot in March, some feel that another venue could be beneficial.

“There are a significant number of people who believe that the Regent should be converted back to a multipurpose theatre to supplement what happens at the Lyric Theatre.”

“You’ve got the world premier of a play starring one of Australia‘s best television actors, John Wood and written by David Williamson the most significant Australian playwright of our generation, in a 300 seat theatre.” Debritz said.

In an interview in February with Spencer Howson the Premier, Anna Bligh, acknowledged the cultural significance of the theatre although maintained the demolition of the theatre was necessary, leaving only the façade staircase and foyer.

“The development application already proposes to save the façade, which is really a very remarkable part of Brisbane, but to not include the theatres anymore.”

“I think we need to understand the cultural significance of the Regent is not just it’s beautiful foyer, it is a working theatre …This is one of the earliest parts of what makes us a city and if we can save it I think we should make an effort to do so,” the Premier said.


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