The Eagle has landed a future for studio theatre in Croydon

Central Croydon is to get a new performing arts space – inspired by the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign and with productions brought to south London all the way from Birmingham.

Spread Eagle pubFor the past six months, the world-renowned Old Joint Stock Theatre in Birmingham has been working with the Spread Eagle pub, next door to Croydon Town Hall, to help turn the upstairs function room into a studio theatre.

And this autumn, the Spread Eagle Theatre will open as a 50-seat studio space, with a series of transfers of the Birmingham company’s acclaimed productions.

Inside Croydon has charted the decline of local theatre over the past couple of years, for instance with the cultural vandalism by the local council that forced the closure of the Warehouse Theatre, and with local amateur groups being forced out of the borough by the high charges for use of performance space, such as the (council-backed) Fairfield Halls’ Ashcroft Theatre.

Now, in the space of a few weeks, two pubs in central Croydon, the Spread Eagle and, just around the corner, The Ship – which is staging three short plays next week by the Breakfast Cat Theatre Company – have taken up the artistic slack caused by the Philistines running the council, by providing rehearsal rooms and performance space.

“If this goes well, the Spread Eagle Theatre will launch as a permanent venue early in 2014, with a minimum of one week-long production each month,” said Tim Hodgson, the Old Joint Stock Theatre Company’s artistic director.

“Again, they will be strictly professional small productions, specialising in new writing.”

Hodgson says that the success of the use of the Spread Eagle by the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign – which staged its first meeting in the upstairs room of the pub more than two years ago, championed by and promoted by Inside Croydon – helped convince his company and the pub’s owners to look at using the space for other performances.

Croydon's new arts venue: and it is not the Clock Towwer

Croydon’s new arts venue: and it is not the Clocktower

“We are really looking to get people in Croydon behind this new venture, especially given the dearth of arts venues in Croydon at the moment. The Spread Eagle has supported and hosted the Save The David Lean campaign, and we see this as a continuation of that. It was actually the success of the film showings in the function room which inspired the pub to look into opening a theatre in the first place.”

There are other synergies, too: the Old Joint Stock Theatre Company is sponsored by Fullers, the Chiswick brewery which has thousands of devotees who already visit the Spread Eagle each week.

The first three productions for October and November are all critically acclaimed small productions from the company’s stable, beginning with Tea at Five, a piece based on the life of Hollywood movie star Katharine Hepburn. At a venue just yards away from the still-dark David Lean Cinema, and across the road from where the Croydon-born Oscar-winning director saw his first film, it seems an apt choice.

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3 Responses to The Eagle has landed a future for studio theatre in Croydon

  1. Congratulations to all concerned. This is very good news for Croydon: a superb foundation on which to develop a strong, stable arts offering.

    And it’s not dependent on the political whims and fancies of the local authority – which is even better news.

    I find it refreshing that an acclaimed small theatre company sees a market for new drama in Croydon, but initially for just four or five 50-seat houses a month.

    What a contrast from the bleating of local luvvies who want to tread the boards in an 800-seat theatre or a 2,000-seat concert hall, while someone else – namely the long-suffering council tax-payer – meets the bill.

    The Fairfield complex was built as a replacement for the Davis and Grand theatres – it was never intended as a home for amateur drama which was then produced in church halls across the borough.

    A small number of am-dram companies were capable of filling the Ashcroft Theatre at a time when arts funding was arranged differently. They did so with some terrific productions.

    Over the years the bottom has dropped out of the Fairfield’s market, but nobody in a position of municipal authority – including those seeking power in next year’s local elections – is prepared to admit that the complex is now a white woolly mammoth.

    Like Monty Python’s parrot, it’s dead!

    I imagine the management is under intense pressure to keep the subsidy as low as possible, despite the council’s publicly declared intention to throw £27 million of tax-payers’ money at as yet unidentified ‘improvements’ to the building.

    Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

    We need a large performance space in central Croydon, but it needs to be flexible; Arnhem, our Dutch twin-town, has a 34,000-seat stadium in its midst with a retractable roof and roll-in, roll-out sports pitch. The stadium is home to a wide variety of music concerts, conferences and exhibitions, as well as premier league football twice a month.

    Football? In central Croydon? Man the barricades!

    • catswiskas says:

      This is great news and much respect due to Adrian Winchester and the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign team who have encouraged increasing numbers of local culture vultures into this most accomodating venue.

      Such a shame though, that Croydon Council has reduced the once wonderful Braithwaite Hall next door to nothing more than a wedding reception venue. What a waste!

    • catswiskas says:

      Personally, I am no longer prepared to pay silly money for pantomime tickets at Fairfield, especially since discovering Theatre Workshop Coulsdon’s excellent festive productions a few years ago.

      Their tickets cost less than half the price and Richard Lloyd has written some very funny pantos that actually made me laugh out loud (unlike Fairfield). The last laugh I had at a Fairfield panto was when Sweep (Sooty’s pal) sung/squeeked ‘Nessun Dorma’ (a few years back).

      So… It’s a no-brainer! Smaller venues, like the Coulsdon Community Centre, offer both intimacy and cheaper parking. I refuse to pay the extortionate Fairfield car park charges, especially when Fairfield does not welcome any lingering, pre- or post-show. At least the Spread Eagle is hospitable. (Also, TWC offer wonderful interval refreshments, particularly the ice cream!)

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