Duke's @ Komedia

First published in Events by

Just looking at general manager Jon Barrenechea’s face one can tell he can barely believe that Brighton’s newest cinema will open in two weeks’ time.

“There have been lots of things to do for so long it feels like it would never happen,” he admits, while giving The Guide a sneak preview of the two new screens and new cafe spaces in the long-awaited sister venue to the country’s oldest working cinema.

“Every two weeks a whole new revolution happens. The whole shell is now complete, there are just a lot of photos, fittings and mirrors and all that stuff to do.”

The two screens themselves look amazing, with brand new seating – grey for the 144-capacity screen one, and red in 97-seater screen two – all upholstered in the same way as the original Duke Of York’s Picturehouse in Preston Circus, with plenty of cup-holders.

But there are touches that make the two cinemas in the roughly half-a-million pound project completely their own.

As one might expect, both rooms are dominated by the massive screens, which are unadorned by curtains to ensure the biggest screen-size possible for the space. There is also a stage for live events.

And both screens feature special rows of two-person seats, so couples can cuddle up without the pesky armrest getting in the way.

“The thing is 90% of cinema audiences are couples on dates,” says Barrenechea. “Brighton is a young city, there are lots of dating couples and married couples going out for a night, so we are creating an environment for that.”

Added to that is the fact the cinema will be living the European dream of Pulp Fiction’s Vince Vega, serving wine and beer in proper glasses – no paper cups.

When The Guide visits, the cinema is undergoing its sound checks, making sure everything is perfect. The spaces have been soundproofed to ensure nothing leaks out, or in, from the still-existent Komedia venue below.

“We are sitting on top of a live venue that has gigs, club nights and comedy shows,” says Barrenechea.

“There are acoustic panels on the walls to keep the sound inside the room and stop sound coming from outside. And the whole cinema is sitting on a little rubber cushion so vibrations from downstairs that would otherwise reverberate through the structure are isolated.”

The walls and doors are also layered with isolating material so as not to disturb the cinema experience.

Duke’s @ Komedia will be using state of the art second generation digital projectors, in isolated soundproofed booths, one of which is suspended from the ceiling of screen one.

With films such as The Hobbit being shown in the latest 48 frames per second format, it means the equipment at the Duke’s is cutting edge – and has the capacity to store up to 300 movies in its hard-drive should a certain film prove popular and require a second viewing slot.

All can be controlled from a central management system, meaning there is no need for a projectionist to be in the same space as the projector more than a few times a year. The projectors, which are linked to a satellite to broadcast live events, can even switch themselves on in the morning and off at night.

That doesn’t mean Duke’s @ Komedia is stinting on staff – an extra 20 new jobs have been added to the existing 30 at the original Duke Of York’s, with employees moving between the two buildings.

In terms of what Duke’s @ Komedia will be offering cinemagoers, Barrenechea is determined to stick to the same eclectic programming as its older sibling.

“We can react to what people are interested in,” he says. “It’s about having fun. We’ve not got a cultural remit like the BFI, we aren’t publicly funded. It’s about making the audience happy. We are lucky in Brighton as people like edgy and adult things.”

The opening week, from Friday, December 7, is set to feature recent CineCity opener Seven Psychopaths and Brighton-based director Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, but the following week will see the first part of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit take over.

The Duke’s will be offering around ten shows a day from 11am, split between the two screens.

Old favourites in the Duke Of York’s Picture-house programme, such as the Big Scream for mothers and babies, Silver Screen for pensioners, kids’ club, and autism friendly screenings, will all be available at Duke’s @ Komedia too.

But with screen two offering a much more intimate viewing experience, there will also be the chance to hire out rooms, either for private shows, conferences, or cast and crew screenings.

“Screen two is a big screen for the size of the room,” says Barrenechea. “Normally when you think of small cinemas, the screen is no bigger than what you might get in a home cinema system. This would be the home cinema set-up I would dream of...”

Outside the screens are two open spaces. The ground floor cafe-cum-ticket booth opens out on to the street, taking over the old Komedia cafe and allowing people to buy tickets and snacks without having to queue up twice.

And on the first floor is an airy new cafe bar with room to sit 25 people, and the option to buy tickets as well as treats. Both were being fitted out as The Guide visited.

“We will have a kitchen with a chef offering twists on traditional cinema food,” says Barrenechea. “It’s not going to be old, stinky hot dogs, it’s more in line with what you would find in North Laine – locally sourced, organic and really delicious.”

He is hoping to include local beers from Dark Star and Harvey’s, as well as food from the nearby Brighton Sausage Company and bakers Sticky Fingers, who already supply cakes to the Duke Of York’s.

Many of the finishing touches are yet to be added, such as Jamie McCartney’s take on the original cinema’s iconic kicking legs, which are being put up, weather permitting, on Monday.

“Jamie installed some polystyrene legs a few months back and the reaction was incredible,” says Barrenechea. “The proper fibreglass ones will be red and white, to match the motif throughout the cinema and Komedia’s colours.

“Andy Doig at Fishtail Neon, in Madeira Drive Arches [creator of the original Komedia sign], is making us an amazing custom neon sign in blue for the cafe downstairs, and we’re going to have an old-fashioned marquee sign with all the listings on it – we’re going really old-school.

“We wanted to employ local people – even the upholsterers are local. It’s not like the multiplexes where if they build a new cinema, it’s all flatpacked and comes together like something in Transformers with no local help.”

The cinema is designed to be a haven from the chaos of North Laine, especially at weekends, and Barrenechea is expecting a lot of walk-up custom as people drop in to watch a movie.

“Everyone wants to go to movies,” he says. “In any other cultural area people will say they’re not into music or books but everyone is into movies – they cross all barriers, races and religions.”

  • Dukes @ Komedia, in Gardner Street, Brighton, opens to the public on Friday, December 7. For the full programme, visit www.picturehouses.co.uk or call 0871 9025728

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