Picturehouse Going Downhill?

I am a Grumpy Old Phantom today. Actually, to be more precise, I was a grumpy old Phantom a few days ago, but I didn’t want to write cross stuff in the festive season (bad karma, you know…) and even writing about it now brings it all back…

Let me start with re-stating the fact that I adore Greenwich Picturehouse. I have often waxed lyrical about the fantastic facilities, friendly staff and squashy seats. It’s even listed as one of my Favourite Haunts. Which is perhaps why I was so very shocked the other night when standards had seriously slipped. I don’t know when this happened – it’s to do with the Screening Room, which I hadn’t visited for a little while, but had always considered to be the very best bit of the whole building.

Just to recap, the Screening Room is (was) the gorgeous little cinema downstairs, cosy and womb-like, with deep red curtains and soft walls, and individual armchairs that not only reclined but gave you a little foot rest – like the Parker-Knoll recliner of your dreams which made you forget that the screen was smaller than you get in some people’s homes these days as you luxuriated in the closest equivalent to watching a movie in bed.

So there we were, a little bunch of us, all strangers, of course, waiting patiently for the end of the previous screening outside the curtains in what is now called “Screen Five” (where is Screen Four?) We were all bunched up so inelegantly because there are no numbered seats, and each of us secretly hoped to delicately muscle-in to our fave squashy armchair when we were finally let in. It wasn’t ideal, but it was understandable – difficult to number armchairs after all…

The movie finished and the audience filed out. We diligently waited as the music ended. No one arrived, so being jolly British, we all hung around waiting for the usherette to tell us what to do. We waited. And waited. The lights had gone up, and the projectionist was clearly setting up to begin again. No one. Eventually, a brave soul decided to peek around the curtain without the permission of Authority. He disappeared, so the rest of us all piled in.

The shock was audible. The place was carnage. Less tumbleweed blowing around the deserted screen than drinks cartons, glasses, sweetie wrappers and general unidentifiable-but-you-don’t-want-to-investigate-too-far kiddie-trash. And popcorn. Popcorn, popcorn everywhere, and believe me, not a piece you’d want to eat.

Ok – so they were short staffed and couldn’t find anyone to tear our tickets or clear up. It’s not the end of the world. But here’s the rub. Brace yourselves, folks.

The squashy armchairs are gone. Gone, I tell you. Replaced with – how can I bring myself to say this – nasty mean, tip-up cinema seats from c.1965. Thin, narrow rows, close together and with not a reclining bit in sight. And to top it all, in this formerly plush, exquisite, coloured coded and designed room, still with its deep red curtains, they are the most disgusting mid-brown vinyl.

Now I’m not a fat Phantom. And these seats did accommodate my backside – but they could well be a bit of a huff and a puff for anyone a bit better padded than these seats are. Even if you’re a skinny, if you’re not quick enough with getting your elbows onto the thin chair arms and someone else’s beat yours to it, they will be pinned into the insides of the seat for the entire movie. Luckily the picture I saw was a kids’ film and short, but I won’t be going back to that screen for a long, long time.

I might have expected this from another cinema chain. But the Picturehouse? I am seriously disappointed. It’s clearly a financial thing – but are things really so tight that they had to do this?

Did you already know about this? Why didn’t someone warn me? Please tell me the other screens are still the fabulous experience they were and that it’s just this screen. Being the optimist I am, I really hope these seats are temporary while they are ordering new, even lovelier armchairs, but for the moment I seriously recommend you don’t visit this screen.

You know what? I’m going to write to the Picturehouse and be a grumpy old Phantom at them too. I’ll post any reply I get here…


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