The low-down on South West London’s thriving theatre scene in 2016 from The Beatles musical to the best of the area’s fringe theatre
From ex-libraries and pubs to grand old Victorian buildings, theatre spaces in South West London are varied, and that’s reflected in what we can expect to see on their stages this season. One of the area’s more intimate venues – Theatre503 – may be small, but there’s a huge amount going on this year. Located above The Latchmere pub in Battersea, the theatre kicks of the current season with Clickbait (until 13 February), a story about society’s attitudes to pornography, written by one of the theatre team’s favourite writers, Milly Thomas.
Associate Artistic Director Lisa Cagnacci says that working with a skilled array of innovative writers is at the heart of Theatre503’s ethos. ‘We’re first and foremost a playwright’s theatre – our mission is to find the best new writers and bring their work to audiences,’ she says. ‘For us the most important factor is the quality of the writing and finding a playwright with a fresh, interesting voice and something to say. As long as they write well, we’re open to whatever they want to write about.’
This openness to ideas ensures a varied programme of plays that keeps punters coming back time and time again: ‘I think our audiences appreciate the variety of work that they’re able to see at Theatre503 and the fact that we don’t shy away from unusual subjects – this season we have plays about pornography, about experimenting with polyamory, about the aftermath of a terror attack… they’re all, in their own way, great plays, and that’s all we want.’
And what’s her personal highlight from the upcoming programme? ‘Naturally I’m especially excited about We Wait in Joyful Hope(17 May-11 June) by Brian Mullin, which I’ll be directing in May. It’s a play about a renegade nun with a rather colourful personality, fighting to defend the women’s shelter she runs from property developers who are manoeuvring to get hold of the building. It’s about community, and what the personal cost is when you dedicate yourself to making a difference, and it’s moving and funny and very beautifully written.’
This particular production will be part of the LGBT+ Microfestival, which is being held to coincide with LGBT History Month. An exciting addition to the line-up will be prolific painter and sculptor Maggi Hambling CBE, who lives locally and will be speaking as part of the programme on 17 February.
Another local multi-dimensional arts venue presenting an exciting season is the much-loved Battersea Arts Centre, which is now thankfully well back on its way to recovery after a fire in 2015. The team and the venue were not to be slowed down by the devastating incident, and there’s a huge amount on the horizon, says Head of Producing, Richard Dufty: ‘There are lots of things going on at Battersea Arts Centre this season. In February, Light(1-13) is playing, a sci-fi inspired show that happens in a pitch black space with the action illuminated by hand-held torches.
And an installation performance piece by the Lebanese artist Tania El Khoury, Gardens Speak (2-19 March), which draws on some of the stories of those that have been killed in the Syrian Civil War. It is an interactive installation which includes several tonnes of soil.’
When it comes to choosing what to show on the BAC’s stage, it’s all about performances that make the audience use their brains, Dufty says: ‘We are interested in artists who make work that makes us think, that makes us feel and that feels fresh and exciting in itself. We like work that acknowledges its audience and that feels live. So much theatre feels like a bit of a chore and we want the shows here to be the opposite of that. That’s the aim anyway.’
After such a tumultuous year last year, will 2016 be slightly quieter for the BAC? Absolutely not, reveals Dufty: ‘In 2016 we will see building works in the middle of our old town hall completed. I’m also particularly looking forward to shows coming to us from all over the UK in April and May as part of a season called A Nation’s Theatre, and I am also excited about the likely return of one of our intimate performance festivals in the autumn. More news on that later in the year…’
Omnibus Clapham is another venue that doesn’t shy away from offering a varied programme. We have a great show for young people – At the End of Everything Else in February half term (18-20), powered by the energy of the performers cycling on stage. Then in March we have two extraordinary shows, which engage with death and grief – a new production of a play Every One (2-19 March) by Jo Clifford directed by the enfant terrible of experimental theatre, Chris Goode.
When it comes to deciding what to show at the lively arts venue, McCarthy reveals that the team are directly inspired by their surroundings: ‘Omnibus started life as a library and as such, part of the programme is informed by that legacy: reimaginedclassics and adaptations for adult audiences as well as for families, spoken word and storytelling. As a multi disciplinary venue, we also have a thriving music programme.’
With such a jam-packed programme ahead, there’s no doubt that Omnibus will continue to thrive. McCarthy picks out some of her highlights: ‘We’ll be cementing our relationship in 2016 with local artists like gifted classical musicians Samuel and Louisa Staples (28 February); I’m also looking forward to Wilde without the Boy(3 February), a dramatisation of De Profundisby Oscar Wilde which will be an intimate show.’
Over in SW19, South West London’s biggest theatre – New Wimbledon Theatre [NWT] – has put together a season full of blockbusters that will maintain its position as one of the most popular choices for all ages of theatregoer.
NWT’s annual panto has become famous nationwide and is a highlight, but there’s a string of high-profile performances to see before then. February will be an all-singing – and dancing – month at the venue, with Beyond the Barricade (12 February) bringing some of the best hits of musical theatre to the stage, while on 13 February, Brendan Cole gets his Strictly shoes back on and leads a ballroom blitz in Brendan Cole: A Night to Remember.
Sing-a-long-a-Frozen (15 February) is sure to raise excitement in younger audiences to feverish levels, before the Beatles musical, Let it Be, arrives from 7 to 12 March, and a roll-call of big-names and renowned shows continues, with Riverdance, Then Rocky Horror Show and Footloose all set to be staged over the next few months.
Whatever your personal preferences, there’s a seat at one of SW London’s theatres waiting for you this season.
Good news for any budding playwrights out there: Theatre503’s Playwriting Award is back for a second year, and open for entries until and 29 February. The best play will receive a £6,000 cash prize, a production at Theatre 503 and be published by Nick Hern Books, and absolutely anyone can enter. Click here for further details