There are plenty of brand-new theatres opening all over London, purpose-built spaces for fringe and commercial productions that suggests the arts are thriving. Over in Stoke Newington the 85-years old Tower Theatre Company has moved to new lodgings, a permanent space which hosted an open house event on 7 September 2019 to welcome new audiences and announce its autumn season.
Now housed in a former Methodist Church which later became a synagogue and then a gym, the new Tower Theatre boasts a comfortable auditorium with around 100 seats at the top of the building under the beautiful flat-topped dome. Offering tours as part of the open day, backstage, on the same level, there is a large single dressing room and stage manager’s office, while three hireable rehearsal spaces are positioned on various levels including one in a tiled room on top of the old swimming pool now used for storing larger production items including suitcases.
A settled home for the Company also means a sizeable costume store with ceiling-high boxes containing everything from waistcoats to men’s dressing gowns, multiple clothing racks and several props cupboards on site all of which visitors had a rare chance to wander through as well as try on a selection of outfits. It’s a rather unique insight into the operations of a busy theatre balancing preparations for several forthcoming productions simultaneously.
As actors, directors and future audience members gathered in the auditorium, it was clear that a busy autumn season approaches, launching in just two weeks with inaugural production Dead Funny directed by Allan Stronach who introduced a brief excerpt performed by the cast as two couples re-enact their favourite classic comedy sketch much to the dismay of the fifth member of the group. This will be followed in October with Breaking the Code, Hugh Whitemore’s 1986 play directed here by Mike Nower with the porridge speech given by Alan Turing to his old school performed by Matt Cranfield.
In late October and November Blithe Spirit will take to the stage, performed by the Tower Company for the first time in 25-years which director Dan Usztan promised would include an art deco room “with surprises” in Noel Coward’s much-loved comedy of “two wives, one husband and a hopeless medium.” Martin McDonagh will follow as Colette Dockery directs his first play The Beauty Queen of Leenane which set McDonagh on the path to stardom. A Very Very Dark Matter may have proved disappointing and divisive, but this will be a rare chance to see one of his earliest works although Dockery advises “don’t bring the children.”
Finally as the Christmas season begins, John Chapman will take the umpire’s chair for Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living previously seen at the National Theatre in 2015. A complex show to stage, Chapman begins rehearsals almost immediately and the audience were treated to an early speech as the play’s female lead prepares Christmas lunch. The presentation concluded with extracts Richard III and Romeo and Juliet from Shakespeare a la Carte.
An eclectic season of comedy and drama that mixes modern and classic works in an enjoyable season taster, cleverly bolstered by the inclusion of mini performances designed to whet your appetite for the shows to come. And with a chance to learn more about the working life of a busy arts venue with tours, talks, workshops and an exhibition on staging a previous production this is a very smart way for the Tower Theatre to build a community. And taking a sneak peek at its website, the Spring season with a production of Lynne Nottage’s superb play Sweat, Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests and a stage version of A Passage to India, Stoke Newington is certainly on the theatre map now.
Full details of the Tower Theatre season can be found over on their website.
Maryam Philpott | Image: David Sprecher