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Honouring The Past, Securing The Future*

Site plan of the old [dark shape] and new [light grey] theatres, illustrating the insignificance of the "minimalist" changes

Conservationists and theatre historians pronounced themselves "relieved and well-satisfied" last night as the recently renovated Embassy Theatre, Ensbury Park opened for business after a 12 week closure. Many had feared that the new developers - the thrupiecemedia-owned thetrulyuselesscompany - would take liberties with the Grade II listed building which has stood as a symbol of Ensbury Park's cultural heritage since it was first erected in 1883. Designed by famous theatre architect Frankyn Matchless, it has long been the home of live theatre, opera, ballet and marionette performance, serving the local community and nurturing a love of the arts on a more or less continuous basis for over 120 years.

BEFORE and AFTER - Those unfamiliar with the environs are "hardly likely to notice much difference", say triumphant local conservationists - especially as they will have no clue what the building looked like before.

Closing its doors only after the great fire of 1926 and [for 3 days due to "staff shortages"] during the Second World War, the recent hiatus has been as notable for its rarity as its longevity. Greater Ensbury Park Metroplitan Council had insisted on improvements following a health and safety inspection late last year which found "significant cosmetic and some minor structural damage [especially to the usherettes's cigarette vending trays]", all of which required immediate remedial action.

Interior of the old building where "shabby chic" met insanitary and unsafe with "startling aplomb".

thetrulyuselesscompany's original design variation submission - successfully opposed by conservative elements in the community which argued retention of as much as possible of the fabric and character of the Embassy "as we know and love it" was absolutely essential - had proposed a more radical refit during which much of the old fabric would have been demolished/removed and replaced by a post-modern structure pre-fabricated in Corfe Mullen and assembled on the Embassy's city centre site. However, pressure from conservationists and considerable opposition from traffic-watchers led to the decision to make only modest changes and to carry out all the construction work in situ.

Those attending last night's re-opening [a gala performance of We Will F**k You, the rock opera based on the songs of former-Boner lead singer/songwriter Ziggy Osmington] declared themselves more than happy with the results of their sustained opposition to the original plan. Spokesperson Minnie Malchange said that the "almost recognisably different but fundamentally familiar aesthetics and aura of the re-opened theatre was a triumph of good sense and a vindication of the minimalist principles on which those who loved the old building had campaigned". Well-known minimalist Philippe Glass-Blowë, was amongst those in the first night audience. "Maximalism has it's place", he conceded, "but it's so much easier to write an arpeggio and the instruction 'repeat for 2,758 bars'; and speaking of bars, are the drinks complimentary?".

The Restored Theatre: appropriate, intimate and organically connected to its inner city context

* Wasn't this the Development Campaign motto of Alma Mater College once upon a time? [Ed]. Yes before it was changed to "Your money or your wife [we don't care either way]" [Cambridge Colleges' Financial Editor]

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