Kingston's cultural scene was given a boost yesterday with the opening of the Rose Theatre.
The theatre, first dreamt up 80 years ago, cost £11million and is based on the design of the Elizabethan playhouse of the same name.
Its artistic director is the legendary Sir Peter Hall, and he directed the opening play, the Russian classic Uncle Vanya.
Robin Hutchinson, vice-chairman of the Theatre Trust and one of the visionaries responsible for putting the idea of a theatre firmly on the council's agenda in the 1980s, said he was "still in a sense of disbelief" at the realisation of the dream.
"From the outset, we wanted to create something of national and international significance and something that people living in and around Kingston can be incredibly proud of," he said.
Councillor Derek Osbourne, leader of Kingston Council, said the theatre would "put Kingston on the map in a very, very positive way" and it represented "great value for money", despite controversy over public money spent on getting it up and running.
"People tell us that they don't want Kingston to be just about shopping. People tell us they want us to do something about night-time in Kingston," he said.
Frank Whately, head of the school of performance at Kingston University and another key supporter of the project, said he was "chuffed to bits" the theatre was finally opening and praised the "powerful and influential triumvirate" of Kingstonians, the council and the university who have made it a reality.
"This is a fantastic achievement for Kingston and for the people of Kingston who have stuck with it - they can be hugely proud of themselves and the council leaders have been absolutely extraordinary in their support," he said.
David Jacobs, chairman of Kingston Theatre Trust, said: "I'm overwhelmed with disbelief, it's all too wonderful for words.
"It's been nearly 20 years. I can't tell you how much it means to us all."
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