BELLA BARTOCK, our arts correspondent, on an announcement today which suggests a greater community involvement in theatre productions once the Fairfield Halls re-opens
Sutton’s loss appears to be Croydon’s gain, after it was announced this morning that the Savvy Theatre Company will be based at Fairfield Halls when it re-opens next year.
Savvy, which recently moved its office from Cheam to Purley, has performed innovative and inclusive plays and drama workshops across south London for the past decade, most particularly in Sutton. But that local council’s decision to hand the running of its Secombe and Charles Cryer Theatres to a trust, which went bust within a year, has left Savvy – and other small production companies and AmDram groups – without a stage to perform upon.
Yet Savvy’s own bid to rescue the Charles Cryer Theatre last year was rejected by the LibDem-run council, who demanded that the theatre company should cough-up a full commercial rent for re-opening their venue in Carshalton village.
The decision left Sheree Vickers, the founder and artistic director of Savvy, announcing that she would be taking the company out of Sutton.
And today, Savvy and BH Live, the venue operators in charge of managing the Fairfield Halls, announced that they have signed a partnership agreement.
Fairfield Halls closed in June 2016 to undergo a £30million refurbishment. In a statement issued today, BH Live said, “When the venue re-opens, award-winning and inclusive Savvy Theatre Company will deliver weekly classes and performances from Fairfield Halls.
“Savvy will also support the venue’s operator, BH Live, in promoting access for all and its community arts programme.”
Savvy, the press release says, “is committed to developing innovative, ensemble-based arts projects that engage with local communities. Everyone is welcome regardless of ability or background”.
Fairfield Halls’ venue director, Neil Chandler, said, “Savvy has an incredibly talented team. The opportunity to work with them and support their future growth of community theatre is a superb fit with our ambition to create a thriving cultural venue for all and welcome more people into Fairfield Halls.”
The announcement did not provide any more details of what kind of work Savvy will be doing, nor the value of the contract which the Arts Council-funded company might have landed with the venue.
But the press release did manage to quote Tony Newman, the council leader, who said, “We will be delighted to welcome them to Croydon’s flagship venue, the newly revamped Fairfield Halls, when it opens.”
Notably, no one – and particularly not Newman – is saying when they expect the Fairfield Halls will re-open. They probably do not know with any certainty.
Sources connected with the venue suggest that the operators are now working towards an April 2019 re-opening date.
The refurbishment was supposed to be a two-year project, with a grand re-opening planned for July this year. The most optimistic predictions recently suggested that the builders – who are being overseen by the council’s Brick by Brick housing company – won’t be handing over for a phased fitting out of the main concert hall until the end of November; the Ashcroft Theatre and other parts of the building are taking longer to finish.
When the Halls does re-open, Savvy and Vickers will be on-hand to try to produce a more lively programme than the Fairfield had a reputation for delivering before its refurbishment. “We are so excited by this partnership and for supporting the vision of ensuring the community has a sense of ownership in this new cultural venue,” Vickers said today.
“Fairfield Halls is an incredible space with so much opportunity for creative work and we are looking forward to developing our exciting and accessible, participatory theatre programme.”
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