It is such an exciting time for new, renovated and renewed theatre spaces opening up in and around London, that I thought that a quick round-up would make interesting reading.
Opening very soon
Troubadour Theatres are opening two new large (1000-plus seats) outer-London theatres this month, in White City (in the former BBC Media Village in west London) and Wembley Park (in the former Fountain Studios, the venue of live televised shows including The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Pop Idol). This follows the company’s ethos of repurposing existing buildings to create exciting new arts environments. Both of these areas have no existing significantly sized theatre spaces, and the founders of Troubadour, Oliver Royds and Tristan Baker (who ran the temporary Kings Cross Theatre to such success with shows like THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, David Bowie’s LAZARUS and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s IN THE HEIGHTS), aim to grow an audience base from the surrounding areas with the massive home-building developments which continue to bring more people into the capital. Family-friendly spaces, with flexible capacities and facilities, these will be welcome additions to London’s theatre scene. Schemes include ample eating and drinking opportunities as well as lots of toilets – at last!
Big shows coming in this summer for the opening include the DINOSAUR WORLD LIVE, the National Theatre’s PETER PAN and later in the year, a run of the National’s mega-hit WAR HORSE. Alongside these are a range of shows for children and young people, welcoming the next generation of theatregoers in as early as possible to grow the theatre-going habit. Both venues open late July. Let’s wish them every success!
Find the Troubadour Theatres website here
A brand new 200-seater located in the railway arches next to Battersea Power Station will open in August to enhance the cultural options in the gradual revitalisation of this area. Artistic Director is Paul Taylor-Mills (ex- the Other Palace) and presented by producer Bill Kenwright. The inaugural show is the Tony Award-winning TORCH SONG by Harvey Fierstein and directed by Drew McOnie. Preview performances from 22 August.
Find the Turbine Theatre website here
Opening Late 2019
Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios (projected opening end of 2019) was originally a compact, busy film studio in the 1930s and 40s, its two sound stages turning out many good British films until 1954. Bought by the BBC for conversion into TV studios, the facility remained in regular use until 1974 when the Riverside was bought by the Council and run as a Trust. By 1978 two large studios were home to a wide variety of performances and associated events, running with much success for decades. TV production returned in 1996 and was in much demand until the building closed in 2014. The site has now been redeveloped to include the obligatory massive slab of (over 150) flats sitting on top of a reborn Riverside Studios, which comprises five spaces- a TV studio seating 400, two theatre/studio spaces seating 400 and 180, a flexible events space with river views and a community/rehearsal space. Also housing two cinemas, cafes, bars and a restaurant with river views and access, this will be a really welcome return for an ever-popular venue.
Find the Riverside studios website here
The Boulevard Theatre – (opening in October). Part of strip club king Paul Raymond’s Revue Bar, located in Walker’s Court, Soho, the Boulevard Theatre part of the venue originally hosted up and coming comedy from the likes of Eddie Izzard, French and Saunders and Rik Mayall back in the 1980s. With the closure of the venue in 2004, it has finally been redeveloped with a new auditorium and bar/restaurant facilities to a design by leading theatre architects CharcoalBlue. Its tiny capacity of just over 160 will mean that its programme may well be specialised, but Artistic Director Rachel Edwards (of the Sweeney Todd revival in the pie and mash shop of a couple of years ago) will no doubt bring some credibility to the place. Let’s wish it success with its newly-announced programme starting in October.
Find the Boulevard Theatre website here
Southwark Playhouse – (projected opening end of 2019) – has had several temporary homes since 1992, but it has now found a permanent residence at its new facility, which is actually on two sites. Located on Newington Butts, just five minutes down the road from where they are now, there is a 300-seat flexible theatre space, with a youth and community theatre space appended. On the second site, which is back at the theatre’s old home on Tooley Street under London Bridge station, there will be two flexible smaller spaces (200 and 150 seats) for emerging and developing work. They are currently fundraising to fit out the new spaces, but have some way to go with their funding targets, hence the opening date may be knocked back.
Find the Southwark Playhouse website here
Read more about the new development at the Southwark Playhouse website here
The Theatre Royal Drury Lane – projected reopening October 2020. Having bought the building next door (above right) for Front of House extensions including lifts, restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as more ladies loos (hooray!) , this jewel in world theatre’s crown is the longest continual theatre site in the world. Considering the major clobbering it is currently enduring, I find it very hard to believe that the theatre will open in October 2020 with Disney’s FROZEN, but perhaps I shall be proved wrong. Time will tell.
Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, who owns the venue as part of his LW Theatres group, said “The auditorium will be completely reconfigured into a comfortable and more intimate space. The auditorium will also be reshaped to create a tighter curve, bringing the performer and audience closer together.” The aim is to produce a flexible auditorium, which I personally find very difficult to imagine with a 2000-seater, so I shall have to wait and see. If it works, they will have pulled off a very tricky conundrum. So, let’s wish then luck for now and I’ll reserve my judgement.
More about Theatre Royal Drury Lane redevelopment at the LW Theatres website here
In 2020 the King’s Head Theatre in Islington plans to move just a stone’s throw from its current 110-seat room-behind-a pub to a brand new basement space within Islington Square. The submitted proposals would see the creation of a 250-seat auditorium and an 85-seat studio, along with bar, foyer and good backstage facilities which will be a real blessing for all those who have had to endure the old theatre’s many limitations.
Selladoor Worldwide have recently announced ambitious plans to redevelop the Greenwich Borough Halls building into a new multi-space theatre and performing arts hub named the Greenwich Festival Theatre. The new venue will be a major producing theatre and entertainment hub for South East London, offering a diverse theatre programme and an artistic mission to present a year round live performance programme of both local and national importance. The Grade II listed former Greenwich Borough Halls was built in 1939 and has most recently been home to a dance organisation but then fell vacant and is currently disused. It could open as early as Spring 2021.
The plans will create a 650-seat main stage and a 240-seat flexible studio/black box space. The plans also include extending the main stage performance footprint and seating capacity of the hall to allow larger and more ambitious musicals, plays and live performance to be presented in the building. The redevelopment will also feature a basement rehearsal suite for creative learning programmes, community use and skills development. A front extension to the building is planned to facilitate a two-story brasserie bar for all day dining and pre-theatre meals, as well as a rooftop terrace bar for evening drinks and functions.
How this new venue will sit alongside the existing nearby Greenwich Theatre – which has recently celebrated its 50th anniversary – remains to be seen.
Built on the site of the old Astoria Theatre, amidst the new Crossrail station development, the new Nimax Theatre in Tottenham Court Road has been a long time coming since its first announcement, but work is now under way for a 600- seat auditorium opening late 2021.
After their success with the new Bridge Theatre which opened near Tower Bridge in 2017, the two Nicks, Hytner and Starr, through their London Theatre Company plan to open and run a new, as yet unnamed theatre in the new Kings Cross development area. Designed by The Bridge’s architects and engineers, this new 600-seat space will be similarly flexible in layout and offer a range of configurations. Opening is projected for Winter 2021.
Any addition to London’s theatre scene is welcome, especially since the loss of many smaller venues from the 1960s to the 80s reduced the breadth of choice to theatregoers. Personally, I would love to see more 200-300 seat spaces where work could come in, to be given greater exposure and a longer life, ideally in a complex of varying sized spaces so that work could grow its audience and establish itself, away (if just for a time) from some of the harsher commercial realities.
Currently in London, there are precious few venues under 800-seat capacity, and those we have are in constant demand for new shows which might not be able to fill a larger venue for a twelve week run. This is partly why the new 500-600 seat sized venues have arisen, and they are so welcome. Of the existing smaller West End venues, the 550-seat St Martin’s has been tied up for over 45 years with THE MOUSETRAP, the 430-seat Fortune has been tied up for 30 years with THE WOMAN IN BLACK, The 440-seat Ambassadors was let to STOMP! for almost ten years and the 470-seat Duchess is currently booking The Play That Goes Wrong into 2020. Smaller theatres in London are always in-demand and therefore usually unavailable, denying a West End run to many shows which might otherwise have made the leap successfully. In this sense specifically, Trafalgar Studios have got it right in venue size, with a 500-seat and a 100-seat space to receive both larger and smaller shows.
So let’s wish all these upcoming new and remodelled theatres every success. And let us all get out and support them!
FootNote: There are a number of other plans in the pipeline but at present such minimal details are available as to not allow us to discuss them in any certainty. For that reason, I will add regular update articles as new plans are firmed up and announcements made.