Lottery treats Milton Keynes to pounds 19.6m theatre

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The Independent Online
JOHN McKIE

The Arts Council yesterday assigned pounds 19.6m of National Lottery money to build a theatre and art-gallery complex in Milton Keynes. The 1,300- seater venue will be the first major theatre in the Buckinghamshire new town and covers more than half of the Arts Council's pounds 35m budget for its 76 new grants.

Other recipients of lottery money include a museum and art gallery by Nottingham Castle (pounds 1.75m), a foundation for the arts on the Isle of Wight (pounds 1.1m), a Newcastle theatre trust (pounds 970,000) and a music centre in Wiltshire (pounds 1.76m); 24 of the grants were for music projects. Other grants catered for touring opera, dance and theatre companies, film groups, and for arts- education schemes in communities and schools.

There was celebration among the 192,000 residents of Milton Keynes, which has lacked a major theatre for more than 26 years.

Cleo Laine, the jazz singer, who lives in the area with her husband, saxophonist Johnny Dankworth, has long campaigned for such a venue. She said yesterday that it would rejuvenate the city: "It's great news. When planners were first developing Milton Keynes, they came and asked us what to do and the first thing we said was that they should build a theatre. They said they would and then they built sports centres but no arts venues.

"When I had to perform there, it would be in a leisure centre, where you got the smell of jockstraps and rubber trainers. It wasn't very pleasant for the performers or the audience."

The successful bid for lottery money was put together by the Commission for New Towns and Milton Keynes Borough Council, which plan to have the theatre open by Christmas 1998.

Michael Murray, the borough council's chief executive, said: "It's a landmark in the history of Milton Keynes. It's a boost to the feel-good factor of the whole community."

Mary Allen, chief executive of the Arts Council of England, said that the grant provided "much-needed facilities for the area". She said that the 76 projects covered every region of England and every art form, and pointed out the emphasis on youth and education schemes.

The more surprising grants yesterday were for two film projects. Adventure Pictures received pounds 690,000 for The Tango Lesson, a musical about tango dancing set in King's Cross and Buenos Aires, and John Byrne, who wrote the hit television series Tutti Fruitti, got pounds 500,000 for a big-screen adaptation of his play The Slab Boys.

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