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18 August, 2006

Screening out

Lancaster currently has two cinemas: a dedicated arts cinema in a theatre and a two-screen mainstream cinema.  According to a leaked redundancy letter to staff, the latter is to close next week.
No, really; it might actually happen this time.

It was purpose-built in 1936, but 1,592 seats were too many by 1971, when the circle was divided into two smaller auditoria and the stalls became a bingo hall. That was the situation until 2003, when a brand new multiplex complex was built a few streets away. Feeling that they couldn't compete, ABC closed the old cinema, making the staff redundant.

However, it then became clear that the multiplex wasn't going to open: legal issues mean that it's stood empty since then. A small local cinema chain secured the lease to the old building and reopened it as the 'Regal'. They must have known that the multiplex's problems would be resolved eventually and, as expected, as soon as a revised opening date has been announced for the new complex, the Regal is closing. They're not going to try to compete, and the staff are out of work again. Good business, I suppose.

I can't say I'll miss it. As the ABC, the cinema was basic but unpretentious and entirely adequate. The same place rebranded as the Regal just seemed contrived and rather seedy. The new management introduced a pastiche of 'traditional' cinema style, but the world has moved on. Sending a teenager out into the auditorium with an tray around his neck to sell ice creams during the interval wasn't quaint, it was retrograde and a bit embarrassing (as was having an interval).

The management seemed a little overbearing, too: the manager often stood in the foyer overseeing the queue and popcorn stall in a somehow menacing manner. It's the sort of thing that might have worked in the 1960s or 70s, when management could command respect from the audience, never mind the staff, but in 2003-6 it merely appeared unwelcoming to customers and made the staff nervous about being watched.

Pity about the job losses, but on the whole: good riddance.

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