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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 06:02 GMT 07:02 UK
Connery takes centre stage at theatre
Sean Connery
The actor meets fans outside the theatre
Sir Sean Connery took centre stage when he opened a major new theatre complex in St Andrews.

The Byre Theatre is a former cow shed which has been refurbished at a cost of more than 5.5m.

The project was due to be completed last summer, but the organisers had to launch a public appeal to make up a shortfall in their funding.

The new theatre was formally opened on Tuesday morning by its patron, the 70-year-old former James Bond star.

This is quite simply a spectacularly designed and most welcoming theatre, which houses one of the best small auditoriums I have come across

Sir Sean Connery
In a light hearted speech, Sir Sean hailed the theatre as an asset for the town and future generations.

"I'm sure most of you are aware the Byre Theatre was once a dairy," he said.

"It's quite ironic that the actor coming to open it was once a milkman."

And, telling his audience that the original Byre Theatre began life in 1933, he said: "It's the only place in St Andrews that's younger than me."

Connery hailed the new theatre as an asset which would make the town "more complete".

He added: "I'm sure it is going to be a tremendous success."

'Spectacularly designed'

The Oscar-winning actor toasted the theatre's new lease of life with malt whisky but he revealed that he had intention of returning to the stage.

"I have no great desire to get back to acting in the theatre," he said.

He later told reporters: "I think it is tremendously important for St Andrews and for the whole town.

Sean Connery
Sir Sean is the theatre's patron
"The fact that it now has a theatre that fits its standing is marvellous."

He said: "This is quite simply a spectacularly designed and most welcoming theatre, which houses one of the best small auditoriums I have come across," he said.

He said the theatre's success was rooted in local involvement and pride.

"Today the new Byre Theatre of St Andrews offers the UK a new exciting performance space which professional touring companies would be foolish to overlook," he added.

The Byre Theatre was, as its name suggests, originally a cow byre.

But since 1933 it has been a centre for drama in St Andrews.

It was demolished and replaced with a 40,000 complex modelled on London's Mermaid Theatre in 1969.

Rescue package

Four years ago, plans were floated to transform the existing building, which has limited facilities, into a 220-seat theatre.

The project was awarded more than 3m worth of lottery funding, but has not been without its problems.

The theatre was meant to open last summer, but the plans hit a delay when it was discovered that the project was short of 750,000.

Only a major rescue package and a public fund raising appeal saved it from being shelved.

Supporters say the theatre's revamp will give the Fife university town, where Prince William will start his studies later this year, a much-needed boost and 76 new jobs.

The curtain will go up on the theatre's first show in its new incarnation on 20 June.

Hit musical Into the Woods features a 17-strong cast of actors from all over the UK.

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See also:

31 May 01 | Showbiz
Bathrobe pose for Connery
21 Dec 99 | UK
Connery: Bond and beyond
08 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Connery rages over 'foreigner' tag
29 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Connery and Walters 'greatest UK actors'
05 Jul 00 | Scotland
Sir Sean's pride at knighthood
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