Mareel’s first music concert could take place on Saturday night and its cinemas are set to begin operating seven days a week from late next week.
If all goes well on Friday the first-ever public event in the controversial £12 million complex could be the final Fiddle Frenzy festival concert on Saturday night featuring the Scottish fiddle supergroup Blazin’ Fiddles, supported by Linda Irvine from Whalsay and festival students.
The start of entertainments will mark the end of the long period of unfortunate delays and problems that have dogged the project, enabling its many critics to heap further scorn on the venture.
Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said the agency was only waiting on final certification from builders DITT which would enable Mareel’s completion certificate to be issued.
In the meantime, a number of lucky people, including some who live next to Mareel, have already been treated to unofficial screenings in the two-screen cinema complex. Mr Gibbons said the reaction to the movie experience had been extremely positive. “They look fantastic. Everyone has walked out and gone ‘Wow!’
“Our plan, all being well, is for cinema screenings to start towards the end of next week. The cinema is all fully commissioned and ready to go.”
Details of the first films to be screened are still under wraps.
The next two months will see Mareel crank up activities from its so-called soft opening to full operation in October with an official opening in November.
Shetland Arts had hoped to hold more of this week’s Fiddle Frenzy festival in the new venue but instead the concerts had to be programmed for the Garrison Theatre. However, if the permissions come through in time the aim is to transfer tomorrow evening’s concert to Mareel. Mr Gibbons said: “Everybody is working like mad to make that happen.”
Perhaps only 24 hours’ notice of the switch will be given, mainly through announcing the change on social media, like Facebook and Twitter. However, the start of the gig will be delayed to allow time for gig-goers who still turn up at the Garrison to get down to the North Ness instead.
The new bar will be operational from the first evening concert and the full cafe-bar service should be running by the time the cinemas open next week.
The state of readiness will be a relief to promoters and those intending to attend the first wave of events booked into the venue. DJ Kutski is scheduled for Saturday 18th August with Americana singer Devon Sproule and her band due on Tuesday 21st August.
The Screenplay film festival and Wordplay book festival follow from 31st August to 9th September.
The controversy surrounding Mareel has included claims from some critics that allowing it to be licensed to sell alcohol would aggravate Shetland’s already extreme drinking culture. But
Mr Gibbons said this week he was confident Mareel would lead the way in “changing the thinking on drinking” in the islands and creating “a positive atmosphere” in the venue.
In recent months the staff members employed in the building have been trained in a new door policy as well as a course called ServeWise and the Challenge 25 scheme, which involves asking anyone who looks under 25 to prove their age.
Mr Gibbons said: “We want to ‘change the thinking on drinking’ in Mareel and emphasise the venue as somewhere to come to enjoy creative events first and foremost, not just to drink alcohol.”
For those who want to drink, the emphasis is to be on drinking for “enjoyment and pleasure, not to get intoxicated”, he said. Searches of people entering the venue will be carried out and drunk people will be refused entry.
Mr Gibbons added: “We want to create an atmosphere in Mareel that is welcoming and positive for all and we are confident the policies and procedures we have developed will help to ensure this. We have put together great bars and catering and front-of-house teams led by Amy Jenner and Autumn Robinson.”