London's Roundhouse Theatre returns for an encore

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The Independent Culture

It is the famous London venue where The Doors played their only UK gig and the police raided Oh! Calcutta! to investigate the nudity in the show.

But the story of the Roundhouse in Camden, which has seen performances by the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Ramones, very nearly ended in the 1980s after the building fell into disrepair.

Now it has been given a new lease of life. Next week, the former railway engine shed will re-open after a renovation costing nearly £30m that has saved it for nostalgic music fans and new audiences alike.

In the Sixties and the Seventies it became notorious as a venue where anything could, and did, happen, before the rot - metaphorically and literally - set in.

Led Zeppelin and Kraftwerk appeared there, as did Anthony Hopkins and Marianne Faithfull in Tony Richardson's Hamlet. Theatre legend Peter Brook directed The Tempest.

By the Eighties, it was languishing as a dank and damaged shell, a Grade-II listed gem which was placed on the buildings at-risk register as soon as English Heritage invented the concept.

"It's an icon of north London. Saving this historic building for the long term was incredibly important," said Marcus Davey, the chief executive of the Roundhouse, who has steered the project for seven years.

It will be resurrected as a performance space but has been given an added lease of life with state-of-the-art facilities for local disadvantaged youth to train as performers.

The new centre keeps the 160-year-old shed intact but has added toilets, air conditioning and heating, new bars and restaurant facilities and the underground youth training centre.

"We've kept the gritty and unconventional nature of the Roundhouse so people will feel at home," Mr Davey said. "There is an overwhelming fondness from those who remember it. These people are overjoyed that it's coming back to life. But the new centre for young people will create a new generation of creativity which is incredibly exciting."

The show that formally re-opens the venue on Monday, and which received its first preview last night, is Fuerzabruta, a new production from the Argentinean theatre company De La Guarda, which will run for eight weeks.

With thumping music, strobe lighting, aerial performance, nudity and a lot of water, the publicity urges audiences to wear sensible shoes and casual clothing in case of dirt and damp.

Mr Davey said it was exactly the kind of production that could not be presented in traditional theatres in the West End. It will be followed later this year by a performance from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which requires 150 musicians in addition to the dancers. The restoration, which has been supported by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, was the inspiration of Torquil Norman, the inventor of Polly Pocket dolls. He stepped in to buy the building for £3m in 1996 and contributed a substantial sum towards the repairs.

The Roundhouse was originally built by the London and Birmingham Railway as a shed where trains could be turned on a revolving platform to run back up to Birmingham.

It was a marvel of Victorian engineering but was out of date within decades as new locomotives proved too large. It became a Gilbey's Gin warehouse instead.

Its first incarnation as an arts venue came in 1964 when the playwright Arnold Wesker created the Centre 42 complex supported by trade unions. The glory days of famous gigs followed.

Past life at top of the bill

1846 Built as a steam engine shed to turn around locomotives

1869 Turned into a warehouse by Gilbey's Gin

1964 Arnold Wesker, the playwright, launches the Centre 42 arts complex

1966 Pink Floyd play at the launch of the International Times publication

1968 The Doors play their only British gig

1976 The Clash play

1983 Roundhouse closed

1996 Torquil Norman, buys the Roundhouse

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