It’s been said often enough, possibly a tad cruelly, that Croydon’s Town Hall chamber has too frequently provided a platform for comedians or staged unconvincing melodramas.
Come September, the chamber will for once stage some real drama when the Warehouse Theatre’s 30th International Playwriting Festival will be staged in the Town Hall for the first time.
The Warehouse Theatre was a studio theatre which developed a deserved worldwide reputation for producing important new works of drama. But the theatre, housed in a disused coal merchant’s warehouse alongside East Croydon Station, has been closed for three years and the building demolished. Such is the dearth of suitable medium-sized venues in central Croydon, with the temporary closure of the Fairfield Halls later this month, that the playwriting competition is to use the Town Hall chamber, more commonly used for political polemics rather than well-crafted drama.
The chamber will be transformed into a performance space for the festival on September 10 and 11.
The organisers say that they have received “several hundred” entries this year, and the judges have just started reading the scripts, which have been received from hopeful playwrights from all over Britain, as well as from Japan, South Africa, Cyprus, Brazil, Uganda, Norway, Australia and the United States.
The 2016 judges are actress Jan Waters, playwright and film director Mark Norfolk, Anna Savva (seen on television most recently in The Durrells), George Savvides, the film critic and actor, and Ted Craig, the Warehouse’s long-time artistic director.
The Warehouse Theatre was founded by Sam Kelly, Richard Ireson and Adrian Shergold at the height of the lunchtime theatre boom in the 1970s, with the aim of presenting a varied season of plays with an emphasis on new work to the highest possible standards.
It opened in May 1977 with Hell’s Angels on Typewriters by Angela Wye, and the then 50-seat auditorium became an instant favourite with local audiences, while sharing the building with a Caribbean night club.
In 1978, the Arts Council recognised the work of the theatre by awarding a major grant and when the night club closed in 1979, evening performances were introduced and the seating capacity doubled.
Plans for a new studio theatre with twice the number of seats were well advanced when disaster struck four years ago with a forced period of administration and the discovery of serious structural problems in the building, resulting in its demolition.
Warehouse Phoenix was formed in 2012 to continue the work of the company and to continue with plans to build a new theatre.
Fund-raising is a necessary part of the continuing work and next Friday, June 10, there will be a wine tasting event, featuring a selection of classy and exotic wines organised by Sarah Ahmed, the Wine Detective.
“I started off my wine career with multi-award winning wine merchants Oddbins in 2000, managing Oddbin’s flagship Fine Wine Store in the city between 2003 and 2005,” Ahmed said. Since striking out on her own in 2005 as an independent wine writer and educator, Ahmed has become an acknowledged authority on the wines of Portugal and Australia.
Staged in the Mayor’s Reception Suite at the Town Hall, Croydon’s new deputy mayor, Toni Letts, will attend, and there will be a special toast to the memory of Brenda Kirby MBE, the former chair of the Warehouse and a former Mayor.
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