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Theatre Royal Plymouth

Giant bronze sculpture gets the go-ahead

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Plans for a giant bronze sculpture for outside the Theatre Royal Plymouth have been given the green light.

Councillors at Plymouth City Council this afternoon unanimously approved the scheme saying it would be an ‘exciting’, ‘vibrant’ and ‘visual addition’ to the city centre.

Work will now begin to bring the towering figurine to life. She will stand seven-metre (23ft) tall and measure nine-metre (30ft) wide and could be in place by 2018.

Among the Councillors debating the plans in the council chamber today was Cllr Tina Tuohy (Lab). She said: “I am not one of those women who feels demeaned by this statue. I think it is very impressive. Pieces of art like this are for the community, live among the community, and should be allowed to stay like that.

“I think it is exciting, vibrant and this is not a woman that will be told to sit down and put in her place.”

Cllr Vivien Pengelly (Con) added: “I think the site is a fantastic site for it because it is right near the Theatre Royal. Our Theatre Royal is THE best producing theatre outside of London and I am really proud of that. I congratulate the person who suggested this fantastic statue. People are going to look up and say ‘What is that?’ They will start discussing it, whether they like it or not, which is a good thing for art.”

Cllr Jonny Morris (Lab) said: “I am glad that we do not discuss the aesthetics because art and politics make uncomfortable bedfellows. This detracts to what I see is a wonderful piece of art.”

He then quoted the last line from Bianca in Shakespeare’s Othello – on which the sculpture is inspired – saying: “I am no strumpet, but of life as honest as you that thus abuse me.”

Speaking at the meeting, Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal Plymouth, Adrian Vinken OBE, said that Bianca would signal change for Plymouth.
He said that the city was steeped in history and was one of great global influence, and still was with plans for the Mayflower 400 plans in the future.

Adrian added: “In 2020 Plymouth will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform how this city is perceived nationally and internationally and we must get maximum benefit from that opportunity.

“We need to make sure that, when the eyes of the world are upon us, we show them the kind of great city this is…one that is firmly rooted in its proud maritime history but with a bold forward-looking vision of the future. Bianca can be an important and iconic stepping stone to that future and to Plymouth really, finally becoming ‘one of Europe’s finest waterfront cities’.”

Theatre bosses hope the sculpture will create a unique and iconic landmark for the city, similar to that of Gateshead’s Angel of The North and Damien Hirst’s Verity in Ilfracombe.

After plans were approved, Mr Vinken said: “We are delighted that Plymouth City Council shares our vision for this imaginative piece of public art and look forward to the challenge of bringing it to fruition over the next couple of years.

“We look forward to seeing how the local community receives it and hopefully starts to identify with it as an important part of Plymouth’s future.”

The sculpture will be so tall that visitors will walk under it to gain access to the Theatre’s main lobby.

Cornish-born artist Joseph Hillier will begin work on creating the statue now that the scheme has received council backing.

Mr Vinken said: “Joseph will start by carving a full size version of the figure from which a mold will be taken. This will then be used by the foundry to cast the bronze statue.

“We hope to create an online facility whereby people can monitor progress as Joseph creates the statue in his studio.

“Then, sometime in 2018, we will get to the point where we will be able to bring the statue to its home in the city centre.”

The sculpture is inspired by the character ‘Bianca’ from an explosive and award-winning version of Othello performed in 2008 by Frantic Assembly, a theatrical company which has a 20-year-long association with the Theatre Royal Plymouth.

The sculpture will cost around £450,000 to create. The money will come entirely from a pot of cash specifically earmarked for a piece of public art as part of the theatre’s 2013 Regeneration Project.

The sculpture proposal has received a mixed response since it was first revealed in October, but Mr Vinken said that was the good thing about art.

He said: “Any piece of public art worth its salt ought to be controversial, ought to divide opinion.

“We recognise that this may have divided opinion but hope that, once people see the finished piece, over time they will come to love it just like with The Angel of the North. The vast majority of the public was initially against the idea of The Angel, but it is now universally loved and has created a great sense of local pride.

“We would hope that in time people come to look at our sculpture here in Plymouth with a similar sense of pride.”

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