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Manager Martin Fol says the Plaza enjoyed a full house reopening weekend and he’s hopeful that once moviegoers do get back into the cinema they’ll remember just how much they love it.
“The survival of cinemas depends on whether or not people want to come back and watch films again, and streaming is going to have a lasting impact on that in some way, but there’s no plan for the Plaza to go, we will survive,” he says.
“The question for us is how we survive because it’ll take a period of time to get back to some form of normality.
“We almost need people to break the habit they’ve got into over the past 12 months of watching films at home and come back and remember how good it is to see them in a cinema.
“It’s not just about the films you get to see, the new releases, it’s a totally different experience and there’s nothing quite like it.
“That’s what I’ve been saying to our supporters … ‘we’re back, come down to see us, get an Ice Blast and a popcorn, sit in a cinema seat and watch a film on a big screen because nothing beats that’ and they agree.”
The Plaza closed on December 30 in the latest series of lockdowns, so it’s been away for almost five months.
It was finally able to open its doors again on Wednesday May 19, after months of caretaking by Martin and preparation by a team of staff and volunteers.
“We’ve had some painting done, new carpeting and flooring so it looks brighter and nicer for when everyone comes back,” he says. “And I spent the days before our reopening restocking the kiosk because I’d run it down so there wasn’t too much wasted.
“I’ve been going in all the time we’ve been closed to keep an eye on the place and make sure nothing major went wrong. We did have a flood during lockdown so this May, because of the torrential rain, I had to get some sandbags made up and put them down by the exit door in screen one to stop any of the rainwater coming in.
“It ended up looking like a wartime bunker but it did the job so there was no damage and we were able to reopen as planned.”
Martin’s other big pre-opening task was to tape off seats in all three screens to allow for reduced numbers.
Covid restrictions have taken down the capacity from 596 to 232 in the big screen, and from 92 to 44 in the two smaller ones.
“We opened on Plaza Wednesday with all tickets £2.60 for one day and we got just over 200 people in showing Godzilla vs Kong, Nomadland, and Tom & Jerry the Movie. Then on Friday Peter Rabbit 2 came out which has had a lot of hype and that was a really a big draw.
“For our first weekend we had about 600 people in each of the two days which was about double what we’d expected. We actually struggled to get everybody in and we were rushed off our feet which was a really nice surprise.”
After so many months of closure, and very few new releases even when they could open, Martin says it’s been a pleasure to be able to screen big new films with major A-list casts again.
“We’ve got Peter Rabbit with James Corden on the main screen and Nomadland which won quite a few Oscars on in the evening.
“Then this Friday, for half term, we’ve got Cruella with Emma Stone and Emma Thompson which is a bit of a dark Tim Burton-like version. With those two, Tom & Jerry and Maya the Bee 3 we’re actually finding it hard to fit them all in.
“It’s been so nice to be able to reopen with big films and big names because for so long there were very few new releases so we were having to make up a programme with classics. Now everyone’s looking forward again.”
The Plaza’s in a secure position right now, thanks in no small part to the local community who kept donations coming in even when the doors were closed.
“They really kept us going and the support we’ve had since we reopened has been amazing,” says Martin. “Our motto is ‘go local, support local’ and it’s been lovely to see so many people doing that already.
“People are desperate to get back to the cinema again, I do believe that, and we can’t wait to see them here again.”
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