Fairfield Halls’ new boss has said he wants the relaunched venue to become Croydon’s answer to the Southbank Centre, as it prepares to open its doors for the first time in three years.
The Fairfield Halls building has a similar Brutalist style to the Southbank – Europe’s largest arts centre, based in central London – and its venue director Neil Chandler has said he aspires for the south London arts venue to match it in the breadth of work presented, as well as become a “local powerhouse for quality theatre”.
The Fairfield Halls’ newly announced reopening programme will include stage adaptations of Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch and The Lady Vanishes, the UK premiere of Angela’s Ashes – The Musical and Once, which opens its first tour there in December.
Its pantomime will star Ore Oduba and Tim Vine, and Fairfield Halls will also become home to Talawa Theatre Company, and inclusive company Savvy.
Fairfield Halls will reopen in September following a £30 million renovation, and comprises a 809-seat theatre, 1,802-seat concert hall, studios for both resident companies, a new live music venue and a revamped foyer, which will host a free programme of entertainment and activities and be open throughout the day.
Chandler said BH Live, Fairfield Halls’ new operators, would “take each venue and give it its own uniqueness – we won’t shoehorn big musicals into the concert hall”.
He said: “The foyer will be open every day, morning until late, to have life in the heart of the building. That never existed before.
“Prior to Fairfield closing, it just had to keep programming in order to fill the venue with product, generate some income and presence. We’re not slot-filling here [now]… We have spent a very long time understanding what’s going on in the community and what the community needs.”
He said he hoped having Talawa and Savvy as resident companies would “give [the organisation] real focus” in developing new audiences and talent in the area.
Talawa has already said it intends to make its new home a national hub for black artists and grow its outreach and artist-development programmes.
The council-led redevelopment has attracted considerable controversy – it has exceeded its original budget by £11 million and construction has overrun by a year.
An announcement in 2016 that it would completely close while works took place was widely criticised, with Chandler – who was its head of operations between 2009 and 2011 – among those objecting.
“I was one of the people that wrote and said it shouldn’t close. However, being on this project, I now see that it had to close to be reborn.
“It wasn’t great. It was not a great time, but to get the best of things you tend to have to go through a painful process, and I believe what we are giving back to Croydon is something we can all be proud of,” he said.
The opening programme also includes performances from the London Mozart Players, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Dance Umbrella, with comedy from Sandi Toksvig, Lenny Henry and Jimmy Carr.