If I were to tell you that a theatre larger than the London Palladium was hidden away in a London suburb, shuttered and in danger of being lost forever, you might not believe me. But in Streatham, there it stands.
The Streatham Hill Theatre is an astonishingly lavish venue which is fighting for survival. It’s currently closed and decaying. The passionate and dedicated Friends group is currently fundraising to fund a feasibility study for the commercial assessment of the venue’s future potential as a multi-use arts centre.
Already on the Theatres Trust’s “Theatres At Risk Register”, Streatham Hill Theatre is an incredible survivor, which was built by the celebrated theatre architect WGR Sprague. Sprague designed a wealth of beautiful theatres, mostly in London, such as The Aldwych, the Novello, Wyndham’s, Gielgud, St Martin’s, Ambassadors, and the Queen’s (recently renamed Sondheim) all in the West End, as well as the Coronet in Notting Hill. The Streatham Hill Playhouse (as it was originally named) was Sprague’s last completed theatre before he died, designed together with architect WH Barton. At 2,800 seats it was one of the largest live theatres ever built in the suburbs of London, and probably the best equipped theatre outside the West End. It opened in November 1929 during a brief revival of UK theatre building. The theatre was Grade ll-listed in 1994. (Incidentally, the late Roy Hudd who died just a few days ago, made his professional debut here in 1957).
With an impressively detailed façade in off-white Doultonware, the interiors are described by the Theatres Trust thus; “The foyers, auditorium and public areas were described as being ‘in the Adam manner’ but are quite eclectic, with friezes of sphinxes, angels and garlands in abundance. The bar at first floor level is mahogany, and has murals of scenes of old London.” Quite a visual feast, then, and that was before audiences even got to see a show on the enormous stage (which still retains its original stage equipment).
Damaged from bombing in 1944, the theatre was restored to its original glory* in 1950 and reopened. Bingo had kept the place open from 1962 until 2017, but since then this lovely house has been dark, largely unused and at increasingly at risk.
The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre formed in mid-2018 and have steadily increased their profile and supporter numbers ever since. The theatre’s 90th anniversary on 20th November 2019 was a great media opportunity, which was seized enthusiastically, and actors Simon Callow and Catherine Russell joined a party hosted in the theatre’s foyer (courtesy of the building’s current owners, Beacon Bingo), to call attention to the ongoing risk of losing this unique asset. Helpfully, in early 2019 the local council, Lambeth, agreed the Friends’ application for listing of the theatre as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). This gives the community a chance to acquire the property should the current owners decide to sell.
Let’s take a quick look around, with these photos – for which, my grateful thanks to Tim Hatcher and Roger Fox
Soon after the 90th anniversary event, the crowdfunding campaign was launched to raise the money for a feasibility study of the building’s future as a mixed-use arts centre. This fund was dramatically boosted by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who pledged £15,000 to help the fund achieve its target of £35,000. At time of writing, they need a further £8,000 to hit their target by their deadline, which is 25th May.
Please consider helping them if you are able. Any amount will help. You can find the crowdfunding details below. Please consider joining the Friends group too – they need your support.
Such a large scale venue presents its own challenges regarding future use, but there are many creative ways in which this “sleeping beauty” can be brought back into productive use for a community which values the jewel in their midst. I wish them success!
Take a quick photographic look inside here
You can find out more about Friends of the Streatham Hill Theatre here
Join the Friends’ Facebook page here
You can contribute to their crowdfunding appeal here
EXTRA: My friend and colleague Tim Hatcher has written this expert, fascinating article about the differences between the original build and the rebuild of the Theatre’s auditorium. It can be found here.