William Russell looks at some major changes to important London Fringe venues
There are seismic changes taking place on the fringe theatre scene in London which, as some of you may have noticed, I do seem to visit quite a lot.
The Union in Southwark run by Sasha Regan which specialises, although it does do plays, in musicals is moving from the distinctly run down railway arch it has occupied for the last two decades to a wonderfully restored railway arch on the other side of the road. This part of London is one that has been steadily going up in the world this last few years and the fear was that the Union, which started in the days when railway arches were redundant spaces, would disappear. But it will survive and the first production in the new home opens on 13 July.
It is The Fix, which will be directed by one of the Union regulars, Michael Strassen. And should you be dreaming of seeing Glenda Jackson play Queen Lear, well you could have seen Ursula Mohan play Queen Lear in a striking production by Phil Wilmott here two years ago.
The Rosemary Branch theatre in Islington, which I seem to visit mostly for its pantomimes – until last year they had been for several years staged by the Charles Court Opera Company – is changing hands. The theatre, which is tiny, was opened also 20 years ago by Cecilia Darker and her friend, the actress and singer, Cleo Sylvestre. Cecilia had acquired the pub a few years before and the pair had what she describes as a baptism of fire.
But retirement beckons. It will not stop operation, and they will keep a fond eye on the new team – Genevieve Taricco and Scarlett Plouviez Comnas – but theatres are very much what their directors make them and the Rosemary Branch was quite a place – the food is good too.
It was not one of those fringe theatres that produce things that transfer to other grander establishments, but it did give young writers and young actors in that tricky space after drama school a helping hand along the way.
The other theatre where times are changing is the Landor in Peckham, also a pub theatre, where fire regulations have enforced a reduction in seating and it is no longer viable for the lavishly produced albeit on a shoestring musicals Robert McWhir has been staging since 2000.
The Union’s space was, for all its ramshackle condition, one which was infinitely adaptable. The Landor, although a decent sized room, had a door in the middle of the back wall of the acting space which was the principle entrance.
Somehow time after time McWhir and all the directors and designers who staged musicals there – they ranged from Follies by way of Ragtime and The Clockmaker’s daughter, to one of the best productions of Damn Yankees ever – managed to conceal the elephant in the room. The Landor Theatre name will, it is hoped, survive elsewhere and McWhir is in the process of making arrangements to set up somewhere – but where we must wait and see.
In the theatre nothing lasts for ever, but these venues have provided loads of good productions at affordable prices as well as much needed and valuable platforms for young actors to flex their muscles and opportunities for young directors to cut their teeth.