A dramatic light show and a performance of T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy - celebrating 25 years of The Ipswich Regent

Ipswich Regent Open Day on Sunday, to celebrate 25 years of being part of Ipswich Borough Council. R

Ipswich Regent Open Day on Sunday, to celebrate 25 years of being part of Ipswich Borough Council. Robin and Ann Potter. - Credit: Archant

Twenty five years ago, The Regent Theatre in Ipswich was reborn after being taken over by Ipswich Borough Council.

And on Sunday the theatre marked the anniversary with an open day.

In a twist on the usual theatre-going experience, visitors stood on stage nervously waiting for the curtains to open.

Then the band, made up of Regent and Corn Exchange staff, launched into a lively performance of T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy - with the visitors acting as their backing dancers.

It was one of many experiences visitors to the St Helen’s street theatre enjoyed at Sunday’s open day, which also included a dramatic light show to the theme of Pirates of the Caribbean, displays and backstage tours.

The council took over the theatre after previous owners the Rank Organisation wanted to turn it into a five-screen cinema complex, prompting a petition signed by more than 30,000 objectors.

The council brokered a deal and has owned and managed the theatre, East Anglia’s largest entertainment venue with a capacity of just under 1,550, to this day. Nearly four million people have seen shows there since 1991.

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Councillor Bryony Rudkin, Ipswich Borough Council’s portfolio holder for culture and leisure, said: “The fact all the guided tours on the open day sold out almost immediately speaks for itself. It’s hard to imagine Ipswich without the Regent – no top comedy acts, no musicals, ballet extravaganzas, great live music appealing to all ages and, of course, no panto. The council was right to step in 25 years ago and hundreds of thousands of people are still feeling the benefit.”

Among those greeting visitors was Beth Crowder, the new theatres manager for the Ipswich Regent and Corn Exchange. She said it was very exciting for people young and old to go behind the scenes and see the hard work staff go through each day to bring a show to the stage.

“It’s a beautiful venue, something people are really proud of and I want to build on that and make it as good as I can for Ipswich.”

Exactly 25 years after providing the opening performance at the Regent, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra return on September 21 for a gala concert celebrating the music of acclaimed film composer John Williams.

Mark Whiting, the council’s events manager, said: “This is going to be another great moment in the ongoing history of the Regent. For a theatre that always attracts the biggest names it is only right that we have the best to celebrate our 25th anniversary.”

Email us your memories and photos of the Ipswich Regent.The history of the Regent Theatre

1928: The Directors of Provincial Cinematograph Theatres bought a Georgian house and garden which had outlived its use at Major’s corner. Plans were submitted to the Corporation which gave approval to start building a month later. Messrs McLaughling and Harvey of Highbury, London, started work in November. Some 850,000 bricks, 500 tons of cement, 3,000 yards of sand and gravel, 440 tons of steel, 16,000 cubic feet of timber, tons of plaster and a good deal of paint were needed. The electrical installation required miles of cables and thousands of lamps.

1929: The Regent, managed by Albert Crabbe, was opened on November 4 as a cine-variety hall by then mayor of Ipswich, Dr James Hossack. Nearly 2,000 people listened to resident organist Frank Newman play music including the Merry Wives of Windsor on the new Wurlitzer. Among the first UK theatres to play films with sound, they then watched The Last of Mrs Cheyney starring Norma Shearer and Basil Rathbone. A front circle seat cost 2s/4d and stalls 6d. The 18-piece Regent Orchestra, under the direction of Louis Baxter, frequently entertained audiences up to the mid-1930s.

1939-1945: The theatre stages continues staging concerts, civic events, ballet and opera.

1950s onwards: Renamed The Gaumont. Hundreds of internationally known top acts like Buddy Holly, Status Quo, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix entertained thousands. It was also home to local musical and dramatic societies like the Ipswich Operatic Society and the Co-op Juniors.

1987: Renamed the Ipswich Odeon.

1991: Closed in March.

1991: Ipswich Borough Council bought the theatre from the Rank Organisation. Reverting to the Ipswich Regent, it was reopened by the then mayor of Ipswich, Ken Wilson, on September 21. Among the first shows that year were Ken Dodd, T’Pau, OMD and Elkie Brooks. Over the years acts have included the likes of rock band Foo Fighters, comedian Sarah Millican and West End tours of Cats and Calendar Girls.

2014: The theatre undergoes a £566,000 refurbishment which includes modernisation and returning the original foyer, crush hall and vestibule ceilings to their 1929 glory.

What happened in 1991

• Top of the charts on September 21, 1991, was Bryan Adams with Everything I Do.

• John Major was Prime Minister and Michael Irvine was the Ipswich MP.

• Ipswich Town beat Bristol City 4-2 in the old second Division. Scoring for the Blues were Thompson, Lininghan, Kiwomya and Goddard.

• The Ford Fiesta was Britain’s best selling car.

• A pint of beer would’ve cost £1.40.

• The average price of a house was around £55,000.

• Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union.

• Leeds United were on their way to glory in the last year of the First Division.

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