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Theatre is going back to its roots
Komedia, Brighton's theatre, music and comedy venue, unveiled its million-pound makeover last night.
But while it now has four bars and three stages - and will soon have a sister venue in Bath - two of Komedia's founders believe the revamp will take the place back to its roots.
The first act to perform at Komedia, in May 1994, was a Malaysian troupe who got the audience doing the conga around the original Manchester Street venue, now known as Joogleberry.
After small beginnings at the Grade II-listed former billiards hall in Kemp Town, Komedia moved to the old Jubilee market in Gardner Street in 1998 and has now recreated itself again.
The entrance and box office have been moved to Regent Street, where there is a bar and stage area for small music and comedy events.
At the old entrance there is another caf-bar and the upstairs theatre and downstairs cabaret bar have been redesigned, both with their own bars.
There is now room for nearly 600 spectators in the various spaces and there will be more than 700 performances a year, creating a turnover of £2.5 million.
Komedia bosses say the new look is a return to their original vision. Co-founder David Lavender, 66, said: "It has long been a wish for us to have a venue with a caf-bar again. We wanted people to wander into a caf and then decide whether they wanted just a drink or to see a show as well.
"We had that set-up in Manchester Street but when we moved to Gardner Street there was no room for a central bar on the ground floor. Now we are back to our beginnings again."
Komedia was born when David met Colin Granger in the Sixties when they were drama students in Wales. They set up a touring company called Umbrella Theatre and were joined by Marina Kobler, who later married Colin.
After putting on a show at the 1993 Brighton Festival, the trio looked for a permanent venue and settled on the derelict 18th Century building in Manchester Street.
David said: "We were popular very quickly. We were taking a chance putting on lots of new international theatre and weird and wacky things but Brighton audiences were prepared to take risks and embrace the new, different and strange."
Plays, comedy gigs and shows from future stars such as Graham Norton, Al Murray and Johnny Vegas followed. David said: "We realised quite quickly that we were too small."
Once in Gardner Street, Komedia branched out and developed regular comedy club the Krater, which opened the venue up to a wider, more mainstream audience and became one of its biggest money spinners.
A separate cabaret bar was built and by 2000 there were several nights of stand-up a week compered by rising star comic Stephen Grant.
The venue has branched out to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, developed a worldwide music programme and built a strong relationship with Brighton Festival and Fringe Festival.
For Colin, though, one of the most appealing things about the new-look venue is it has the spaces to be intimate again.
He said: "We had lost some of the informal, basic performances we had at the beginning and I miss that.
"I am really looking forward to putting on small, embryonic acts on the small stage in the bar area. It is really exciting to be able to do that again."