Greenwich Theatre at Risk

Folks – it’s been a few days – sorry – ridiculous amounts on the Phantom plate just now. But I think it’s about time we started chewing on a few rumours that have been circulating and while I’m not panicking just yet, the ball should at least get rolling in our minds.

I’ve been hearing rumours at Phantom towers – slips and drips of information that I think you should know and we should discuss. This is going to be long post – sorry – but it all needs to come out and I won’t be able to rest until I’ve shared my fears.

Before I even get started on Greenwich Council’s rather strange new policies re. the arts I want to take you back – as I have done several times on this blog, to the late 1960s early 1970s when Greenwich was in turmoil. There was serious risk of a massive ring-road type motorway-thing being driven through the town centre as part of ‘modernisation’ plans, which would have seen off pretty much all of our historic town. However little we have left now, believe me there would have been less had the good burghers of Greenwich not fought tooth and claw against wholesale destruction.

At the same time other doughty Greenwichians (many of whom I am sure were the same guys we need to thank for saving the town centre…) were busy saving Greenwich Theatre. They held old time music halls, raffles, fund-raisers, dances – whatever – and didn’t just save the theatre they rebuilt it, then turned it into a performance space that attracted not just heavy-hitter actor and producers, but massive hitters.

We have the cuts of the 80s to thank for the loss of a West End class theatre in Greenwich, but despite a hiatus a few years ago when the place was temporarily closed, it has, so far managed to survive. The panto, as everyone who reads this blog will know, is a superb, but superb night out and the rest of the year there is a programme which while not always to my personal taste (though I do go, of course) continues to keep the theatre alive.

The Council are currently bigging-up as a good thing their plans to turn the beautiful Borough Hall (we’ll get onto that one in a minute) into a new-fangled ‘arts hub’. For this read ‘All Things to All Men and Nothing to Anyone.’ They’re planning to dump all their cash into one building and make all the arts groups work out of that. Believe me no one benefits from a multi-purpose space – it’s fit for no one.

My immediate thought on this was – what happens to the theatre? The one that the people of Greenwich built, not the council?

Currently we don’t know, but that’s where the rumours have been trickling my way, from various sources, none of them certain, but all of them worrying.

Apparently there’s been a consultation going on. I didn’t know about this, maybe it’s common knowledge, I’ve certainly been busy recently and things have been slipping by. Let’s assume I’ve been asleep.

The consultation has been thinking about what to do with Greenwich Theatre and a few possiblities have emerged.

OPTION ONE: To invest in both Borough Hall and Greenwich Theatre, work on the fabric of the building, improve front of house and generally make it all better. Of course this would be fantastic, but, call me a cynical Phantom but I’m not definitely counting on this one happening…

OPTION TWO: To sell both the Borough Hall and Greenwich Theatre on the open market and build a new-multi-purpose arts centre.

I will fight this tooth and boot. Both these assets belong to the people of Greenwich and it is not for an individual council to make a decision over a long-term asset. The Theatre, especially, would not exist but for the people of Greenwich. It is not theirs to sell.

I went to a class at GDA the other day and it was a pleasure – a superb floor, unencumbered by dents, nicks or spills because it is a dedicated dance space. Once a space starts to have to be ‘multipurpose’ it starts being not good for anything.

OPTION THREE: Sell Borough Hall and move GDA into a new dance space on the roof of Greenwich Theatre. The words ‘quart’ and ‘pint pot’ spring to mind. A ridiculous idea. The loss of such an asset is extremely short-termist.

OPTION FOUR: Sell Greenwich Theatre and move everything into Borough Hall. This seems to be what they’re planning to do – and trying, through Greenwich Time etc. to make it look like a good thing.

I repeat – if not actually, morally Greenwich Theatre is not the council’s to sell. It belongs to the people who saved it. We must not lose this facility.

I walked past the ‘Heart of East Greenwich’ the other day with a friend who was asking what would happen to the swimming pool at the Arches – I told her that we would be swapping two specialist swimming pools for one general pool with two shallow ends and no diving. We are actually going backwards with our sports facilities. We cannot allow this to happen with our arts too.

But the rumours continue – and not just rumours either. How about this planning application the council is applying to itself for? To add a Barratt-Homes-style extra storey on the top of Borough Hall? No drawings available (oddly… I’m sure they’d have asked anyone else applying for planning permission for a few elevations…) – but this is a beautiful late-art-deco building, balanced and fine. What the hell are they planning to do?

Worry, good citizens of Greenwich. Worry.

8 Comments to “Greenwich Theatre at Risk”

  1. Otter says:

    Details of the Borough Halls proposal are now visible at ref 14/0354/F on the Greenwich Planning site.

    It is indeed ‘Redevelopment as a cultural hub’. Its architects and a firm of arts business consultants were commissioned to produce a ‘strategic review of the Borough’s major cultural assets with a primary focus on Greenwich Theatre and the Borough Halls. (………) ….the preferred option was to concentrate investment at the Borough Halls to create a cultural hub…..’

    There are drawings, design statement and conservation statement. The texts are not obviously distressing but the external appearance of the building is not impressive. And has anyone seen the strategic review? This much doesn’t answer the question of the future of the theatre.

  2. Meirion says:

    Detailed plans are for 459 seat theatre – slightly larger than Greenwich Theatre – as well as studio theatre, plainly plan is to close existing theatre and sell it for a few million to turn into flats. Front elevation looks like a box on top of existing Borough Hall but without a proper rendering difficult to tell how bad it will look. It is not necessarily a bad idea but architects must have produced a proper rendering so why is it not on Greenwich or Foster Wilson sites?

  3. Paul says:

    The Borough Hall is a building with a horizontal emphasis. The last thing it needs is a two story box plonked on top.

    Compare this with the Tate Modern glass superstucture. This style of building tends to have upper storeys that are shallower than the lower ones… so why add a top storey that is BIGGER than the one below it?

    This concept should have attracted proper consultation – firstly because we could lose a theatre which is a huge community resource, and secondly because this is a dramatic alteration to a Grade 2 Listed building which, in the view of Pevsner and others, is the most significant modern structure in the centre of Greenwich.

  4. Richard says:

    I have been in touch with the 20th century society, and they are meeting this month and will be commenting on the scheme. I also contacted English Heritage but they have yet to respond. While the Council appear to have deliberately allowed Greenwich Theatre to become a shambling problem with a leaking roof, the PR and web people at the theatre must also take some blame. Little is done to encourage return visits, properly advertise (even a leaflet in the area would help) or continue to renew membership or tell current members of forthcoming events until well into the season.

  5. I have to say that I sort of agree with you on that one, Richard. I know they have virtually no staff, but I do think a membership deal like they used to have, where you could go to everything in the season for a set price, or even discounts for locals would help. And yes – I do actually get their ‘what’s on’ leaflet inthe post, but it’s often well into the season.

  6. Sheila says:

    Have you been into Heap’s on Nevada Street? He has an old photo on the wall (next to the kitchen store entrance) of what the theatre used to look like decades ago…. it looks quite amazing! I think he got it from the Heritage centre a while ago.

  7. Barbara says:

    Hi there
    Have you heard what is proposed for the Arches when the Heart of East Greenwich opens it’s doors? I haven’t seen anything to say that the Arches will be closed by the council. Sold to a large gym chain seems more likely but it was recently given a bit of a facelift so the council may not (grasps at straws) be planning to bulldoze the building

  8. Wyn says:

    I actually live right next door to the Theatre and have not heard a sausage about this except through the Phantom and Greenwich Time – has there been a consultation on this? Why is it all so secretive?? (and completely agree, moving the Theatre into the GDA would be a big mistake)