Enjoy an online journey through Streatham’s Theatre History

Foyer of Streatham Hill Theatre. Photo courtesy Tim Hatcher

When entertainment was not readily available or affordable, Streatham-ites have always made it themselves. The first building constructed with theatre in mind was opened in 1888, and within 40 years, the entertainment on offer in Streatham rivalled that of the West End. This online talk reflects the way in which professional and amateur theatre have complemented each other through the ages, and shows how talented amateurs became stars of the West End stage.

This comprehensive online talk is on Tuesday 15th September 7.00-8.30pm BST and will be given by Liz Burton of the Streatham Society, Streatham Theatre Company and Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre

Book here to request a place and enter “Theatre” in the subject

This event is hosted by the Streatham Society. Part of Lambeth Heritage Festival 2020.

You may also be interested to read my comprehensive and fully-illustrated article about the jewel in Streatham’s theatrical crown, the 2800-seater Streatham Hill Theatre (which has just celebrated its 92nd birthday). Read the article here

Streatham Hill Theatre announces consultants and viability study in first stage of comeback

Streatham Hill Theatre auditorium. Photo courtesy Tim Hatcher

The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre, supported by the Mayor of London, Lambeth Council and The Theatres Trust, and backed by a successful crowdfunding initiative, have started work with the successful bidders of a hard fought competitive tender to produce a Viability Study and Economic Impact Assessment on the historic building. This will deliver a report on the theatre’s potential to become a multi-purpose arts and culture centre for the local community.

David Harvey, Chair of the Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre said:

“I am delighted to announce we have appointed a crack team led by renowned arts business consultants FEI to deliver this milestone work on reawakening Streatham Hill Theatre. We are confident that the team will deliver a compelling case for its use as an arts and cultural venue fit for a post-Covid renewal. Doing so will help bring new opportunities and benefits to the local economy and to the community that has given us such strong backing.”

Nick Dodds, Managing Director of FEI said:

“We are really excited to be working with the Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre to help bring this important building back to life. We have put together a very experienced team of architects, cost consultants, economists and business planners to find realistic and sustainable options for the building over the next few months. We know from experience that these projects take a huge amount of commitment and enthusiasm from the lead organisation to realise their potential – something the Friends have plenty of!”

Councillor Sonia Winifred, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Culture, Lambeth Council said:

“The appointment of FEI and their consultant team follows a successful crowdfunding initiative and marks a really important phase in the history of Streatham Hill Theatre. Their appointment is a critical step towards understanding what a viable future for the theatre looks like and how that can be achieved. The Council is keen to see the building play a key role in supporting local jobs, boosting the town centre economy and raising Streatham’s profile. We look forward to continuing to work with the Friends and their appointed team over the coming months!”

Claire Appleby, Architecture Adviser at Theatres Trust said:

“We are delighted to be supporting the Viability Study and Economic Impact Assessment for the Streatham Hill Theatre through our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme. The announcement of the appointment of FEI and their consultant team to carry out these works is an exciting and important first step in the journey to breathe new life into this magnificent theatre which has been on our Theatres at Risk register since 2017.”

The viability study has been funded following an overwhelming community response to a crowdfunding campaign by the Friends group of local volunteers. The Crowdfund London campaign gained 440 pledges, and won the backing of the Mayor of London, Lambeth Council and the Theatres Trust. It also gained high-profile endorsements from the creative community, including Baroness Benjamin DBE, DL, Simon Callow CBE, Lolita Chakrabarti, Catherine Russell, and Sir Mark Rylance.

To deliver this project FEI have teamed up with theatre architects Aedas Arts Team, cost and programme consultants Pulse Consult, and creative industry economists Nordicity. They will look at different options for the future of the Grade II listed building as an arts and cultural centre, and then set out a robust and compelling case to decision-makers and interested parties to come on-board.

The report will be completed in December 2020, and will move the Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre a step closer to realising their plans to bring back to life the ‘sleeping beauty’, setting the scene for detailed engagement with potential partners in 2021.

Streatham Hill Theatre foyer. Photo courtesy Tim Hatcher

Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme announces award recipients for Year Two

The Theatres Trust have unveiled the recipients of awards in the second year of their Theatres at Risk Fund

Six theatres will receive a total of £67,500 worth of support donated by Historic England, The Pilgrim Trust and The Swire Charitable Trust.

All of the recipients are on the Theatres at Risk Register 2020, and each is at a different stage in their journeys to recovery.

The awards were established to help theatres on the At Risk Register to access the right skills and knowledge to enable them to move forward.

The success of last year’s inaugural awards (read about it here) has led to progress being made for all the first year recipients.

Recipients this year are:

Brighton Hippodrome, a Grade ll* listed building, the UK ‘s finest surviving example of a circus theatre, designed by Frank Matcham in 1901.

Derby Hippodrome, a rare survivor of an early theatre built both for cinema and variety. Grade ll listed, it was severely damaged when a previous owner weakened the structure by driving a bulldozer through a supporting wall in a callous attempt to get it demolished by damaging it beyond repair. Thankfully, he didn’t succeed-but there is much to repair before this structure is safe again.

Walthamstow Granada, a Grade ll* listed cine-variety theatre is in the process of being restored after purchase by Walthamstow Council (previously the only London Borough without a theatre) as part of their Borough of Culture celebrations. (Read more about the Walthamstow Granada here).

Groundlings Theatre, Portsmouth is listed Grade ll* and received the largest share of grant money to further a new survey of the building and assist in business planning.

Leith Theatre has lain empty since 1988 but is now in the process of renovation after a ‘nick of time’ rescue against demolition.

Streatham Hill Theatre is the last theatre designed by celebrated architect W G R Sprague and has lain empty since 2017. The Friends Group have successfully fundraised to finance a viability study for the theatre ‘s future and this grant will support that funding.

For more information about the awards, visit the Theatres Trust website here

Streatham Hill Theatre fights to survive

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).

Streatham Hill Theatre – undated, uncredited photo, 1930s

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).

Extensive bomb damage to auditorium (on right of picture) in 1944. Proscenium and stage house (right) survive.

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.

The Foundation stone laid by stage star Miss Evelyn Laye at the commencement of construction- 6th September 1928. Photo Courtesy of the Friends website.

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.