Letter: Council plans sell Assembly Rooms short

I AM writing to express my profound dismay at the City of Edinburgh Council's plans for the Assembly Rooms (your report, 8 December), which are now nearly five years old, devised before the credit crunch, when shops were not closing down on every high street, as they are now.

The sustainability of the council's plans would appear, therefore, to be, at the very least, questionable. Nor are they supported by the commercial community in the area of George Street, who apparently were not consulted.

Furthermore, it would appear that the Buckinghamshire-based consultant who designed these plans, has no experience within theatre or performing arts. Her background is in paper, mostly. It seems that the council's aim is to develop the Assembly Rooms along the lines of the models which this consultant has spearheaded at Loch Lomond Shores, whose slogan is "Shop, Eat, Play", and House for an Art Lover in Glasgow: "unique wedding venue"; the place to meet ("state-of-the-art meeting rooms and conference facilities"; time to shop.

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This showcase concept-shopping/events model has nothing to do with the kind of ground-breaking, eclectic and thrilling theatre that has been produced at the Assembly Rooms for three decades, contributing significantly to Edinburgh's global renown as a festival city. Assembly has proposed a way forward with a sustainable plan - at far less cost than that proposed by the council - developing the Assembly Rooms as a year-round cultural hub,building on its resounding success as a festival venue,refurbished to acceptable standards, the details of which can be read on line at www.savethe assemblyrooms.com.

The strength of feeling within the theatre profession, and indeed the wider arts community, both nationally and internationally, over the future of the Assembly Rooms is very strong, and is gathering momentum. What we don't accept, is that the council's approach is the only way forward. The weakest point of their plan is stripping out the small venues, which help to create the diversity that allows the whole place to keep going, and makes the building such a truly unique cultural asset.

Assembly's artistic programme has been a major and hugely beneficial influence on artists and audiences the world over. When I think of all the wonderfully diverse, extraordinary productions I and thousands of people have seen across the years at the Assembly Rooms, in all its performance spaces: the superb Georgian Film Actors' Studio in Don Juan and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Peacock Theatre from Dublin in their ground-breaking production based on Patrick Cavanagh's The Great Hunger, the hilarious and virtuosi Venetian performer Ennio Marchetto, the incomparably funny Peepolykus and, this year, an amazing production called Do We Look Like Refugees?, performed by actors from Tbilis's Rustaveli Theatre Company, not to mention Assembly's track record in supporting Scottish work - e.g.the launch of Matthew Zajac's brilliant Tailor of Inverness a couple of years ago, and the moving, ambitious productions of The Silver Darlings and Sunset Song this year - I can hardly believe we could allow such an important cultural asset to be lost to our beautiful capital city.


The Rock


by Penicuik