Southwark Playhouse has announced plans to finally set down permanent roots in the borough with a flagship venue in Elephant and Castle and a satellite venue back within the arches of London Bridge Station as part of the new station redevelopment.
Both venues will operate at the same time under the name Southwark Playhouse and will be run by theatre’s current team, led by artistic director Chris Smyrnios.
Southwark Playhouse – Elephant will be the new flagship venue on Newington Butts in Elephant and Castle – five minutes from its current home on Newington Causeway, with a 125-year lease.
Part of a new mixed-use development designed by Rogers, Stirk Harbour and Partners, it will have a 300-seat flexible theatre space dedicated to high-profile plays and musicals. As well as the main space there will be a secondary studio space specifically for youth, community and development work.
Despite operating a hugely successful youth and community programme since 1993 it will be the first time there has been a space dedicated solely to this crucial strand of the theatre’s work.
The initial plans for Southwark Playhouse – Elephant were designed by Foster Wilson Architects and the fit-out is scheduled to take place over the next year, with an opening date in 2019. At a cost of £3 million, approximately a third of the funds have already been raised with the remainder being actively sought over the next year.
Southwark Playhouse – London Bridge will be Southwark Playhouse’s satellite venue as part of the new London Bridge station redevelopment. It will be located at 10 Bermondsey Street in arches on the site of the former Southwark Playhouse on the corner of Tooley Street and Bermondsey Street.
The new theatre space will occupy five arches and have two flexible performance spaces with 200 and 150 seats respectively. It will be used to nurture and promote work by new and emerging practitioners and will have a dedicated rehearsal space.
The London Bridge home is also due to open in 2019 and is part of a Section 106 agreement with Network Rail, which came about after the theatre’s successful 2012 campaign backed by Stephen Fry and Andy Serkis to retain a home within the new station.
Southwark Playhouse – London Bridge is being designed by Tim Greatrex Architects and Hellicar Studio, whose recent projects include the award-winning House of Vans London project at Waterloo.
Southwark Playhouse – London Bridge and Southwark Playhouse – Elephant are the outcome of the theatre being included in two separate Section 106 planning agreements. As well as three performance spaces, a community studio and rehearsal space across the two venues, both sites also include large street-level front of house spaces for commercial bar and café operations.
Southwark Playhouse’s current venue at Newington Causeway will continue operating throughout 2019 with a leaving date to be decided. It is scheduled to be turned into flats in the next couple of years.
Since it was established 25 years ago Southwark Playhouse has occupied a series of temporary venues and has been campaigning extensively for a secure home. The ambitious new plans will give the theatre the opportunity to operate without the threat of being evicted from its premises for the first time in its history.
Chris Smyrnios, artistic director of Southwark Playhouse says:
“I’m so excited to finally announce our future plans. The decision to have two Southwark Playhouses from 2019 onwards came about as a series of twists and turns in our bid to find a permanent home and over the past two years, it has become increasingly clear that this development is an absolutely necessary one for our organisation.
“It means we can continue our good work but also significantly increase the opportunities we can offer to local Southwark residents and new and emerging theatre artists. There’s a lot to do but I genuinely can’t wait to welcome everyone into our new homes from – funding pending – next year!’”
Patron Andy Serkis adds: “I was absolutely floored when I saw the new place at Elephant. There’s so much space and it’s going to be such an incredible venue. The team at Southwark Playhouse are amazing and I know they’re going to create a vital and important hub for the whole SE1 community when they open their doors next year.”