Our arts critic, BELLA BARTOCK, on how pointless meddling with an established venue’s name could be a cause of marketing confusion
There’s been something of a victory for commonsense, for the views of local councillors and, it has to be said, for Inside Croydon, as the signage has gone up around the Fairfield Halls in the past week ahead of the re-opening next month after a three-year, £41million-plus council-funded refurbishment.
Because there, on the side of the building, in bloody great, three-foot-high letters, are the words “THE ASHCROFT THEATRE”.
Is this really a sign that the Bournemouth-based management company which is running the Halls have backed down from their not-so-bright idea of renaming the 60-year-old venue as the very provincial-sounding Ashcroft “Playhouse”?
Well, possibly not.
And therein, venue manager Neil Chandler, a former cruise ship entertainments officer, and the company, BHLive, could be laying down a store of potential confusion for future theatre-goers.
Last year, Inside Croydon reported how Chandler had decided, without wider discussion with the Fairfield Halls’ owners – the council and the people of Croydon – to change the name of the Arnhem Gallery to “The Wreck”, thereby cutting an historical, post-war link with Croydon’s twin town Arnhem.
Like some kind of arse-covering after-thought, Chandler belatedly announced that the Arnhem connection was to be transferred to… the foyer of the Halls.
For no apparent good reason, they also came up with the proposal to fiddle around needlessly with the Ashcroft Theatre’s name, too.
The Ashcroft has been Croydon’s principal theatre since the Fairfield Halls opened in 1962. It takes its name from the Oscar-winning, Croydon-born actress, Dame Peggy Ashcroft.
The association with Dame Peggy remains a strong and proud one, and one which Chandler and his Bournemouth mates are trading on around the re-opening of the Halls, with a visit from another National Treasure and theatre grand dame, Judi Dench.
What the usually outspoken Dame Judi might make of the apparent downgrading of the Ashcroft Theatre to a mere playhouse remains to be discovered.
For his part, Chandler has this week declared himself too busy to be interviewed by Inside Croydon about his plans for the re-opening of the Halls – which is all being paid for with Council Tax-payers money, after a badly managed two-year refurbishment programme that has over-run by 15 months and stacked up at least £11million in additional costs over the original £30million budget.
Nor have BHLive responded to our questions about the possibility for confusion caused by the signage outside the Fairfield Halls using the original Ashcroft Theatre title, and their company’s stubborn insistence on referring to the venue as a playhouse on their website and in their marketing bumpf.
BHLive have taken the disconnect between their marketing and the venue signage even further in their own publicity, which features an image of Dame Judi laid over the top of a picture of The Ashcroft Theatre, while their headline says: “Reopening of the Ashcroft Playhouse with Dame Judi Dench”.
As the refurbishment works, finally, come close to completion, signage around the Halls has been going up in the past week or so. It is reassuringly in keeping with the Fairfield’s original style and typeface, except over the front of the building, where the venue’s name is spelt out in giant letters more redolent of the font used by the Festival of Britain – an event which pre-dated the Fairfield Halls by a decade.
Much to his evident embarrassment, Chandler had to cancel a hyped royal gala concert, to be held in the presence of the Earl and Countess of Wessex, due to be staged in June, because of the delays in the building works.
Now, they have turned to theatre royalty, in terms of Dench and Michael Billington, the esteemed theatre critic of The Grauniad and Ashcroft’s biographer, to help re-launch the venue.
It’s to be hoped that the VIP star turns don’t get lost when seeking to find their way to the “Ashcroft Playhouse” when they follow the signs to the (properly named) Ashcroft Theatre.
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