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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 13:33 GMT
Neighbours' doubts at arts centre
By Natalie Grice
BBC Wales News website

Wales Millennium Centre

The Wales Millennium Centre has one full day of preparations left before it throws its doors open to the public on Friday afternoon.

Initially billed as an opera house, the 106m centre's programme is in reality much more cross-cultural, with as many musicals and spectaculars as operas and ballets.

But will its nearest neighbours ever set foot under the Welsh slate roof?

A cup of tea in the Wales Millennium Centre, it is safe to assume, will cost a bit more than 25p.

Down the road in Butetown Community Centre, though, a team of volunteers make a fine brew for just that amount.

The women, all local to the area, were quite dismissive of the new building dominating Cardiff Bay's skyline.

Complaints ranged from building work noise, the actual design being "horrible" to the irrelevance of any of the shows for Butetown people.

Helena Boston
Verdict on the centre's building? 'It's horrible'
The area is one of Cardiff's oldest, which grew along with the docks, but which has suffered as the importance of the sea to the city has dropped away.

Helena Boston is "Butetown born and bred" and bluntly said she was not interested in opera or ballet - two staples of the new centre.

She admitted she was not a regular theatregoer, but would visit Cardiff's St David's Hall if the Butetown Choir were performing - and would consider visiting the WMC if they ever played there.

Consider

Ms Boston, 71, sees the centre as symptomatic of the rest of the bay area development - somewhere too expensive for many Butetown residents, elderly people or those of modest means with young families.

"They didn't [build the centre] for us. They did that to make money. We have got to put up with the banging and noise but it's not for the area."

However, after perusing the programme for the centre over the coming months, Ms Boston conceded there were one or two things she might go to see.

A performance from one of the resident companies in the studio theatre about US singer Paul Robeson caught her eye, and she thought the price of 6 for pensioners was "reasonable".

Likewise, she would consider seeing a visiting production of Miss Saigon rather than travelling to the West End in London.

Catherine Johns
Dr Johns has watched the building grow from her window
Atlantic Wharf is equally close to the Millennium Centre and Halliard Street resident Catherine Johns, 24, can see it out of her windows.

In complete contrast to Butetown, the residential area has existed for no more than 10 years and a pub and restaurant complex forms the nearest thing to a community centre the area possesses.

Dr Johns quite likes the building's design and is fairly sure she will visit it, even if only on special occasions, and would buy opera tickets as presents for people.

"I think the pricing is quite reasonable, if the top tickets are 35," she said.

"I go to the bay for a drink now and then so we'd probably go and try out [the bars and restaurants]".

Entice

The centre has sent out publicity to local residents to entice them in, and Dr Johns considers it "quite nice".

She said: "I think it's good for Wales and Cardiff to have but it's a lot of money."

Is it money well spent though?

"It depends if it gets used. It is a landmark" she concluded.

Is it enough of a draw to entice Welsh people living the furthest from Cardiff to come to performances?

Opinion on the streets of Wrexham was divided.

Karen Williams
Karen, 16, would consider visiting from her home in Wrexham
Karen Williams, 16, gave it a cautious welcome.

"We haven't got much in Wrexham for the arts apart from a little theatre so I suppose if people like the arts it would be quite good to go down to Cardiff.

"If they did something for teenagers in there I might go down but Cardiff is quite far to go."

Lynn Bowler, 37, thought the money used "could be spent more wisely on things what we need over here.

"To be honest I don't know anything, nothing at all about the Millennium Centre and I'm not interested. It's not doing anything for us over here.

"I wouldn't go out of my way to visit Cardiff."

Professor Ioan Williams, head of Theatre, Film and Television Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, described the Wales Millennium Centre as a "massively ambitious adventure."

"I would be worried about its viability if it became a magnet for all available funding preventing things from happening outside of Cardiff," he said.

"If these very big projects are not a success they have a tendency to suck into them all the available funding.

However he added: ""The population in Cardiff and the south east is the only area in Wales which could sustain such a project," he added.

"It simply wouldn't be reasonable in areas such as Bangor, Aberystwyth, Wrexham or even Mold.



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