Robeson sings a lament for the Warehouse Theatre

Tayo Aluko as the inspirational American singer, Paul Robeson, in the play of his life, a story of racism and civil rights campaigning

BELLA BARTOCK’s mascara is running, as she sheds a tear not just for the powerful production of Call Mr Robeson, but for the closure of Croydon’s Warehouse Theatre

The Warehouse Theatre, another essential strand of Croydon’s cultural fabric, closes this week, a combination of council cuts and rising debts forcing it into administration.

Its final production, Call Mr Robeson, was a fitting send off. Nigerian-born Tayo Aluko, the play’s sole actor, pulls off a fantastic biographical account of the life of the American singer and actor, Paul Robeson.

Robeson, like the theatre that hosted this performance, fought against the grain. Although he was highly successful as a student, a football player, an actor and a singer, he decided fame was not enough.

Through Robeson’s world travels he stumbled across socialism after witnessing a group of Welsh miners marching on London. The struggle of the Welsh miners put alongside the struggle of the black population in America proved to Robeson that this was a global issue.

Robeson’s father escaped from slavery, his mother died in a house fire, and the oppression of the black population all over America was clear to see. Despite his fame, this context haunted him.

These tragedies ere passionately displayed by Aluko through a mixture of both Robeson’s songs and historical mementoes from Robeson’s life. Despite Aluko being a baritone rather than the bass for which Robeson was so well known, the songs were still powerful.

Aluko, who has been touring with the play for more than four years, told of the artist’s many affairs in great detail, one of whom was believed to have been with Croydon’s own Peggy Ashcroft, whom he played opposite in a West End production of Othello. His troubled love life is shown by Aluko to define the man himself, with numerous affairs with white ladies failing to result in marriage due primarily to his race.

His career on stage and screen gave Robeson fame, but his politics brought him crashing down to ground. This is the main focus of the production and the effect of it on the audience was clear to see. The audience was captivated by the tale of Robeson performing at the Peace Arch on the Canadian-American border following the cancellation of his passport due to “unAmerican activities”.

Aluko recreated the interrogation of Robeson in front of the United States Senate following a suicide attempt. As a lone actor performing for an hour and a half, this looked to be hard work. Being able to pull it off with such emotion and power is a rarity.

The performance ended with a short Question and Answer session regarding Robeson’s life.

Sadly however, such a fantastic production, which has been rated 4/5 by the Guardian and given 5 stars by the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Review was not done justice by the sense of impending doom hanging over the Warehouse. The theatre that began production 35 years ago this week was plunged into administration during Call Mr Robeson‘s final week there.

Cate Blanchett, the sort of global star who has graced the stage at the Warehouse Theatre

Despite struggling financially from the start, the theatre remained relatively sound until the slashing in 2006 of a grant from Croydon Council. No matter where the blame lies, for such an amenity for Croydon to close is devastating for the arts scene in the town.

The closure of the theatre, which has a strong link with the local BRIT school, means that in the short-term home-grown productions such as Dick Barton and artists from the BRIT would not be seen in the town that produced them.

The Warehouse has hosted many tremendous stage shows such as Three Men in a Boat and Sweet Phoebe, starring Cate Blanchett, alongside an inspiring Saturday morning’s children’s theatre. Without the Warehouse, Croydon will struck off the map for performances such as these.

Following its run at the Warehouse, Tayo Aluko’s Call Mr Robeson visits North America before returning to the UK later in the year at:

July 13: Fundraiser for Stop the War, Liverpool (Selection of songs from the show)
August 26, 27: Greenbelt Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse
October 6: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
October 13: Otley Courthouse
October 22: Hawth Theatre, Crawley
October 24: Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury
October 25: Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham
October 27: Forest Arts Centre, New Milton
November 18: Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
November 21: Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford

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5 Responses to Robeson sings a lament for the Warehouse Theatre

  1. mraemiller says:

    Interesting article here …

    It seems when the arts council funding stopped's+Warehouse+Theatre+goes+into+administration.html

    The funding was taken up by London Councils and when they cut their funding
    The funding was taken up by Croydon Council (to the tune of £30,000 – half of what London Councils had been paying)

    Croydon Council then continued funding the theatre from May 2011 till May 2012
    Why did the council take on the financial burden of subsidising the theatre if they couldn’t afford to continue it?

    Well, a cynical answer might be they didn’t want to pull the plug on the theatre till after the Mayoral elections. Even the most trusting soul must recognise that the week after Boris is elected is the optimum point in the local electoral cycle for swingeing cuts to be implemented.

    The real problem with the Warehouse Theatre is that it sits on a prime piece of real estate and looks like something local. That doesn’t fit in with the political visions for the town that are often so insane that usually nothing gets built anyway.

  2. mraemiller says:

    To quote Mr Barwell himself the real problem is that

    “Between 1st April and 1st December 2010, London as a whole received £191.4 million from the Arts Council. Out of that, Croydon got a paltry £210,000 – just 0.1% of the total when it accounts for nearly 4.5% of London’s population.”

  3. mraemiller says:

    According to the Warehouse theatre they were funded by the Council from Oct 2011 to April 2012. Why bother to fund a theatre for only 6 months? Did they not know when they started funding it that it was “insolvent”? This just doesn’t add up

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