Happy birthday to Komedia!

Photo:Komedia at night

Komedia at night

Photo by Matthew Andrews

Photo:The original Jubilee Hall c.1997

The original Jubilee Hall c.1997

Photo:A birthday cake to die for!

A birthday cake to die for!

Celebrating 20 years 1994-2014

On Thursday 1st May 2014 Komedia celebrated its 20th birthday with a big party! Regular supporters were treated to a free evening’s entertainment, with drinks and canapés, live music from Barbarella’s Bang Bang and Kalakuta Millionaires, a preview of comedy cabaret show 'MC Cashback: Lasagne', and of course a birthday cake (a to-die-for chocolate confection).

In the beginning

So how did it all start? Colin Granger, Marina Kobler and David Lavender had been touring Europe with Umbrella Theatre and when they returned to Brighton in 1993 they decided they wanted to open a new arts venue: Komedia.

Their vision

Inspired by some of the theatres and cabarets they had played in Europe they wanted Komedia to offer a wide choice of arts and entertainment, good service, bars and food, where everyone could enjoy a night out.

They started in Manchester Street

They first found a derelict Regency building in Manchester Street, in the Kingscliffe area (that most people wrongly call Kemptown!). It had been built in 1810 as a billiard hall and now needed considerable renovation. Colin Granger funded the project using the royalties from his best selling English textbook!

It opened in May 1994

Komedia needed to be self sufficient as any significant public funding was deemed unlikely. Komedia opened its doors in May 1994 for the Brighton Festival. Its opening programme included two productions from abroad: Wyang Wyang from Singapore and Wierszalin Theatr from Poland, as well as a young British theatre company Ridiculusmus.

Bill and Agnes

Some local people may remember Bill and Agnes Buglass, who become the venue’s theatrical landlord and landlady. They were fervent supporters of Komedia and became legendary in the comedy world for the generous hospitality they provided in their large Norfolk Square home.

A lot of young talent available

In the period 1994–1998 there was a lot of young talent available and eager to perform at Komedia, including Omid Dialili, Graham Norton, Mel and Sue, Armstrong and Miller, Matt Lucas, Al Murray, and many others. At the same time Komedia’s regular Sunday morning shows introduced a new generation of Brighton children to theatre.

Jubillee Hall identified as a larger venue

By 1997 the Manchester Street venue had become too small for Komedia’s growing audiences and the directors managed to identify a building which would make a perfect replacement - the then Jubilee Hall in Gardner Street, North Laine. The building was for sale but the cost of buying it and the complete renovation it needed seemed unaffordable.

Triodos agreed to help with the funding

Then chance played a part… The Chief Executive Officer of the Dutch ethical bank Triodos happened to be in Komedia’s Café Cabaret in Manchester Street having a coffee. The cafe reminded him of his home town of Amsterdam and he wanted to know more. This was not surprising as the Café Cabaret was modelled on an Amsterdam cafe that the directors had seen on an Umbrella Theatre tour. This encounter led to a meeting and Triodos agreed to help Komedia buy and renovate the Jubilee Hall.

A successful planning application

A successful planning application followed, supported incidentally by the NLCA, and during the period 1997 – 2005 Komedia started to renovate the Jubilee Hall.  The theatre was opened in October 1998 and over the next five years further building work was carried out to provide a large cabaret theatre space, a restaurant, a studio theatre and a café.

Famous comedians have appeared

Anyone who is anyone in the world of comedy, appears at Komedia. Familiar names include: Bill Bailey, Simon Munnery, Harry Hill, Mickey Flanagan, Jimmy Carr, Johnny Vegas, Ross Noble, Punt & Dennis, Jo Brand, Hattie Hayridge, Flight of the Conchords, and Daniel Kitson.

Krater Comedy Club started

In June 1999 Komedia and Brighton based comedian Stephen Grant started what would fast become one of the most successful comedy clubs in the country, the Krater Comedy Club.

Great music as well

Komedia also became the place to hear great music, including Arctic Monkeys, Duffy, Joanna Newsom, Seth Lakeman, Lloyd Cole, Albert Lee, Eliza Carthy, Alice Russell, Mumford and Sons, and Gamarjobat.

A management and production company set up

In 2001 Komedia in partnership with Richard Daws set up a management and production company to develop the work of artists associated with the venue. These included the Japanese comedy duo Gamarjobat and the soon to be Sony Radio Award winning artist Count Arthur Strong, whose BBC 2 show was nominated for the British Comedy Award in 2014.

A new Komedia in Bath

In 2007/8 Daws and Granger secured a derelict cinema in Bath. Komedia won the National Building Excellence Award for the best renovation of a listed building, and the second Komedia venue was opened.

Survived through the economic downturn

Since 2009 Komedia has managed to navigate both its Brighton and Bath businesses through the economic downturn and get back to its original business model of using the revenue from high profile, popular comedy shows to support a full programme of new work, spoken word, music, and children’s theatre.

Partnership with Picturehouse

In 2012 Komedia realised its long held ambition to add film to its live entertainment mix by forming a partnership with Picturehouse cinema to show arthouse films both in Brighton and Bath.

Happy birthday

And that brings us to the Komedia we have today. Many congratulations on your 20th birthday, Komedia, and here’s to the next 20 years!

 

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 228, May/June 2014]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This page was added on 24/06/2014.

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