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Simon Callow and Simon Stephens blast ‘token’ Streatham theatre plans

Simon Callow in Inside Wagner's Head in 2013. Photo: Tristram Kenton Simon Callow in Inside Wagner's Head in 2013. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Simon Callow and Simon Stephens are among leading theatre figures protesting against plans for a new fringe theatre in south London, amid claims its developers are “trying to pull a fast one” and that the proposed theatre is too small to be viable.

The 134-seat Streatham Playhouse is proposed as part of a large redevelopment that will include 259 residential flats, but has come under fire from both the local and theatrical community for its small size, lack of facilities and financial viability.

Designed by Park Theatre architect David Hughes, the theatre would have retractable seats, allowing the space to be used as a community hall. The plans also show one office, one dressing room and a cafe with seating for 16 people.

Following criticism, Hughes published amended designs, adding one wing and another dressing room. An adjacent space could also be used to expand the theatre if an operator – allocated after planning consent is given – wanted a larger venue.

However, Callow, who grew up in Streatham, criticised the plans and labelled the theatre “extremely inflexible”.

He told The Stage: “It’s cheerless, and it’s not the kind of space in any way that either an audience would be attracted to go to, or that theatremakers would be excited by creating work in.”

The actor also criticised the lack of a rehearsal space, saying they are “not only vital for putting plays on, but a great source of income for a theatre which could enable it to possibly become self-sustaining”.

Because the site previously housed a bowling alley and nightclub, developer London Square is required to make provision for culture or leisure in any redevelopment it undertakes.

Highlighting the lack of large theatres in south London, Callow continued: “It’s a very inferior project. And this happens very often… developers are given the go-ahead to pull down really remarkable buildings, and this token bit of a theatre is shoved in. And it just needs to be rethought, that’s all. They’re trying to pull a fast one, and they must be stopped.”

The actor also heralded the “imagination” of the Park Theatre and said he wanted a similar venue built in Streatham, saying the proposed theatre “doesn’t hold a candle to the Park”.

Callow and Stephens have both put their names to a petition opposing the theatre design, which is now approaching 1,000 signatures. Other signatories include Equity president Malcolm Sinclair and Battersea Arts Centre artistic director David Jubb.

Stephens wrote that he found “the casual disregard for my profession in this plan derisory”, while Jubb said the current design looked more like a lecture theatre than  a performance space.

In a letter to Lambeth planning officials, Equity general secretary Christine Payne also urged them to reconsider.

Plans submitted by a different developer in 2010 were criticised by the Theatres Trust because of a low ceiling. However, the trust approved the current proposals, which allowed for a higher ceiling but cut the venue’s surface area by two-thirds.

A spokeswoman for the trust said it welcomed plans that combined the theatre and the adjacent space, and is working with the council to ensure its facilities will be fit for purpose.

In response to the petition, Lambeth planning officers called a meeting this week where theatre practitioners could discuss their concerns with Hughes. The meeting was yet to take place as The Stage went to press.

A spokesman for London Square said: “We welcome  the recent feedback from the local theatre community. The design workshop being led by Lambeth Council planning officers later this week will be an opportunity to capture the views of theatre professionals on how the space can be configured in the best possible way as a pure theatre space. Working with our theatre architect, David Hughes, we will review our layout plans following that meeting.”

Lambeth Council is due  to discuss the proposal on March 30.

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