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Southwark Playhouse announces plans for 2019 and beyond

Southwark Playhouse - the new venue at Elephant and Castle

Theatre news

SINCE it was established 25 years ago, Southwark Playhouse has occupied a series of temporary venues and has been campaigning extensively for a secure home. Now, the theatre has announced plans to finally set down permanent roots in the borough of Southwark.

The ambitious and inspiring new plans will give the theatre the opportunity to operate without the threat of being evicted from its premises for the first time in its history. As a result, it will continue its wide-ranging programme of new writing, classic plays and musicals and – crucially – its vital free-at-source youth, community and development programmes including its thriving Young Company, Elders Company and schools projects.

The plans will include moving to two new venues by the end of 2019: a flagship venue in Elephant and Castle and a satellite venue back within the arches of London Bridge Station as part of the new station redevelopment. Both venues will operate at the same time under the name Southwark Playhouse and will be run by the current Southwark Playhouse team, led by Artistic Director Chris Smyrnios.

Southwark Playhouse – Elephant will be Southwark Playhouse’s brand new flagship venue on Newington Butts in Elephant and Castle – five minutes from its current home on Newington Causeway, with a 125-year lease. Part of a new mixed-use development designed by Rogers, Stirk Harbour and Partners, it will have a 300-seat flexible theatre space dedicated to high profile plays and musicals.

As well as the main space there will be a secondary studio space specifically for youth, community and development work. Despite operating a hugely successful youth and community programme since 1993 it will be the first time there has been a space dedicated solely to this crucial strand of the theatre’s work.

The initial plans for Southwark Playhouse – Elephant were designed by Foster Wilson Architects and the fit-out is scheduled to take place over the next year, with an opening date in 2019. At a cost of £3m, approximately a third of the funds have already been raised with the remainder being actively sought over the next year to complete this ambitious project, which will secure the future of Southwark Playhouse for generations to come.

To help with this, the theatre has launched an innovative crowd-generated artwork called The Two Million Pound Wall, in order to allow the public to play a part in making the permanent home of the Playhouse a reality. It is also talking with major and smaller donors about supporting the theatre’s future.

Southwark Playhouse – London Bridge will be Southwark Playhouse’s satellite venue as part of the new London Bridge station redevelopment. It will be located at 10 Bermondsey Street in arches on the site of the former Southwark Playhouse on the corner of Tooley St. and Bermondsey St. The new theatre space will occupy five arches and have two flexible performance spaces with 200 and 150 seats respectively. It will be used to nurture and promote work by new and emerging practitioners and will have a dedicated rehearsal space.

The London Bridge home is also due to open in 2019 and is part of a Section 106 agreement with Network Rail, which came about after the theatre’s successful 2012 campaign backed by Stephen Fry and Andy Serkis to retain a home within the new station. Southwark Playhouse – London Bridge is being designed by Tim Greatrex Architects and Hellicar Studio, whose recent projects include the award-winning House of Vans London project at Waterloo.

Southwark Playhouse – London Bridge and Southwark Playhouse – Elephant are the outcome of the theatre being included in two separate Section 106 planning agreements. As well as three performance spaces, a community studio and rehearsal space across the two venues, both sites also include large street-level front of house spaces for commercial bar and café operations. Southwark Playhouse’s current venue at Newington Causeway will continue operating throughout 2019 with a leaving date TBC. It is scheduled to be turned into flats in the next couple of years.

Why two venues?

Southwark Playhouse aims to do two things: nurture creativity and social cohesion through drama; and help support and develop new and emerging theatre talent. Despite not ever having a permanent home, Southwark Playhouse has – for the past 25 years – been able to offer affordable, well-resourced and supported space for thousands of new and emerging theatre practitioners. From the original 70 seat space on Southwark Bridge Road; to the inspirational arch spaces beneath London Bridge train station; to the current warehouse chic of its premises on Newington Causeway, Southwark Playhouse has managed to grow and thrive, supporting more and more people to develop and showcase their creativity.

The new plans increase the theatres total capacity from 350 across two spaces to 650-700 across three spaces and its physical space from 1,250 square metres to 2,560 square metres.

The new spaces will provide affordable, well-resourced and supported space for the next generation of theatre practitioners and offer a dedicated Youth, Community and Development Space, which will serve as a base for in-house community theatre companies. Additionally, there will be two welcoming front of house spaces with bars and cafes for patrons and visitors.

Chris Smyrnios, Artistic Director of Southwark Playhouse said: “I’m so excited to finally announce our future plans. The decision to have two Southwark Playhouses from 2019 onwards came about as a series of twists and turns in our bid to find a permanent home and over the past two years, it has become increasingly clear that this development is an absolutely necessary one for our organisation. It means we can continue our good work but also significantly increase the opportunities we can offer to local Southwark residents and new and emerging theatre artists. There’s a lot to do but I genuinely can’t wait to welcome everyone into our new homes from – funding pending – next year!’”

Chair of Southwark Playhouse Board of Trustees, Tim Wood said: “What an exhilarating time in the history of this organisation and an amazing opportunity to finally set down roots in Southwark after 25 years of being theatrical nomads. The welcome return to the London Bridge arches and a permanent, flagship venue at Newington Butts in Elephant and Castle, which is, rather fascinatingly, on the same site as the old Newington Butts Playhouse where a young man called William Shakespeare tried out some of his early plays in June of 1594. There is a sense of the theatre coming back after over 400 years that is very thrilling in the refreshing charge of an intrepid and daring team led by invincible Artistic Director Chris Smyrnios.”

Patron Andy Serkis said: “I was absolutely floored when I saw the new place at Elephant. There’s so much space and it’s going to be such an incredible venue. The team at Southwark Playhouse are amazing and I know they’re going to create a vital and important hub for the whole SE1 community when they open their doors next year.”

Southwark Playhouse’s Two Million Pound Wall

Taking inspiration from the ‘Million Dollar Homepage’, Southwark Playhouse’s innovative new fundraising initiative The Two Million Pound Wall invites the public to help the theatre raise the £2m they need to fit out their new pad at the Elephant, home to their future 300-seat flexible space and a dedicated Youth, Community and Development space.

The wall itself has been divided into 40,000 equal sections and for a donation of £50 you can get your custom design printed on one of the sections. Once the wall is filled not only will it represent the important part that the public played in successfully securing the future of the theatre but it’ll also enable people to have been part of creating an incredible crowd-generated artwork that will take pride of place in the front of house of Southwark Playhouse’s flagship venue. More information can be found online at southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/two-million-pound-wall.