Fairfield Halls, once south London’s leading arts and entertainment venue, has been accused of driving Croydon’s amateur dramatic groups into exile from the borough by charging more than £13,000 for a week’s run.
For the average AmDram group, made up of occasionally over- enthusiastic volunteers who devote their time, blood, sweat and tears into producing often outstanding short-run productions, the Fairfield’s charges mean that they have to clear at least £3,000 per night on a typical four-night run just to avoid making a crippling loss on their hard-pressed funds.
Even if the company was to charge £20 per ticket – almost twice what most amateur groups feel able to ask their families, friends and other audience members to pay – that means that they have to sell 150 tickets per night, and every night, before they even cover the hire costs.
Performance groups in Croydon already struggle to find suitable rehearsal space. The Fairfield’s £13,000-a-week charges probably price out of using the venue some of the borough’s excellent choral societies and amateur operatic groups – hardly very community minded of the publicly funded Halls which too often relies on staging tribute band nights to audiences of just a few dozen.
“We won’t be back performing in Croydon until Fairfield Halls welcomes AmDram groups back into the fold and stops charging more than £13,000 for a week’s run,” one leading light in a local group told Inside Croydon.
The Fairfield, or “Favoured Halls”, together with its resident (though rarely performing in Croydon) London Mozart Players, already benefits from more than £1 million a year in public subsidy from Croydon Council.
The somewhat down-at-heel 50-year-old venue is about to get a £27 million Croydon facelift, paid for from council funds, a decision reached by senior Tory councillors who also sit on the management board of the Fairfield or the Mozart Players, and who chose to flog off part of the borough’s publicly owned Riesco Collection of Chinese ceramics to pay for their indulgence.
Croydon Council’s move earlier this year to take over the running of the Fairfield Halls – effectively to put all-in wrestling, psychics and acts like Roy “Chubby” Brown on the rates – is being looked into by the Charity Commission because of the glaring conflicts of interest between the management board of the Halls, a registered charity, and certain members of Croydon’s Conservative-run council.
Despite the council’s financial backing, the Favoured Halls – which includes the main concert hall and the smaller Ashcroft Theatre – continues to have gaping holes in its underwhelming performance programme.
As Inside Croydon highlighted when the September and October programme was published, the delights coming to Croydon this autumn include:
Hats Off to Led Zeppelin: “The Official UK No.1 Tribute to the greatest rock band ever! You’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time,” they say, not realising that that is precisely what it feels like when anyone enters the Favoured Halls.
Them Beatles: “Experience the UK’s hottest tribute to the ‘Fab Four’ live on stage… an international reputation as one of the top tribute bands in the world with authentic instruments”, presumably meaning that they use guitars and drums.
One Night of Elvis: for which we should be grateful it is not two nights.
Acts offering any genuine originality, such as Morgan and West, magicians who perform in Croydon next month, are a rarity on the Favoured Halls’ schedule.
When decent acts are booked, the demand from the Croydon public is high. Take a look, for instance, at the bookings for top-flight comedian Reginald D Hunter, who is to perform in the vast concert hall on October 26.
The bookings’ chart for Hunter’s show was taken from the Fairfield Halls’ own website this morning. The white squares represent seats in the main body of the hall that have yet to be booked. Even nearly two months out, with tickets at £25.25 (including a “booking” fee), Reginald D Hunter has successfully pulled in the sales.
Compare that, though, with the bookings so far for the October 11 performance of Think Floyd (yes, seriously… Think Floyd).
Every white square represents an unsold – unwanted? – seat. This shows a different level of demand altogether. It is an entirely typical picture of ticket sales for far too many of the Favoured Halls’ bookings.
With no seats being sold in the balcony, there appears to be fewer than 70 tickets booked, at £20.25 (including booking fee) for this derivative prog-rock offering on October 11. Of course, when Floyd fans get back from the summer festivals, there might be a rush at the Fairfield box office. But we won’t be holding our breath.
And all this is what Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the Tory group on Croydon Council, and his self-serving mates have decided is worth flogging off the priceless Riesco Collection.
Meanwhile, community-based drama and music groups are being priced out of the Favoured Halls. Does that make any sense to you?
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- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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