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Theatre in the Park

First Published 14 May 2013, Last Updated 20 August 2013

Prior to the Park theatre’s official opening tomorrow night with the UK premiere of These Shining Lives, London’s newest venue invited press on an exclusive tour of the Finsbury Park space.

The brainchild of Artistic Director Jez Bond, work started on the theatre in May 2010 at a cost of £2.5 million. The result is an arresting, light-filled venue a stone’s throw from Finsbury Park Station with two spaces, Park200, a 200 seat thrust formation theatre, and Park90, a flexible 90 seat space. Also housed inside the building are The Morris Space for educational and rehearsal uses, and two café/bars, which with their hip, industrial chic-meets-Shoreditch-bar décor, welcoming piano and comfortable armchairs looks set to be as popular as the shows themselves; something Bond and Chief Executive Miranda Bertram are looking to encourage.

“The whole philosophy of the building is about having a space that’s not just three hours in the evening and an interval bar, but a place where you can come into to have coffee in the morning,” Bond explained. “It’s dog-friendly, [there’s] free wifi, we’ll have mums and baby classes, you can sit here and work on your laptop. It’s a home, a space, a hub for the local community.”

“We’re very, very local. It’s deeply important to us that we’re part of our local community,” Bertam added. “We have an extraordinary team and over a hundred local volunteers who have signed up to be our ushers. When you look at any of the statistics from audience research, this is the most culturally engaged part of London. People who live here spend most money going into the centre of town to watch shows, but they don’t actually have a theatre on their doorstop, so we do believe that there is an audience here in order to sustain the theatre.”

The building, which was discovered by Bond in 2009 as a slightly less attractive disused 1960s office block, was designed by David Hughes Architects with the £2.5 million cost privately raised. No decision was taken without extensive research, as Bond explained: “David and I spent a lot of time looking at theatres. In fact, David had never designed a theatre before which is one of the main reasons I chose him; no baggage, no preconceptions, much more of a journey of discovery in the same way I’m used to in a rehearsal room, a director with actors discovering things. As a result we’ve spent a hell of a lot of time looking at the details and we’ve done a lot of research. You name [the theatre], we’ve probably been there.”

Undoubtedly the result of inspiration from an amalgamation of existing venues, the main space bears more than a passing resemblance to the Donmar Warehouse – “I really wanted somewhere intimate, somewhere where you breathe the same air as the actors and you can reach out and touch them,” Bond said – but with a few tricks up its sleeve. The most unusual are skylights in both spaces that will be blacked out for performances and opened up during the day to reveal natural light, allowing the spaces to be used for events and conferences.

Research didn’t just end at the theatrical spaces, however. The three functional, but cosy dressing rooms are based on those at the Royal Shakespeare Company – apparently the best in the business – and the theatre will use a ticketing system more often found at cinemas, which will allow patrons to add on refreshments and programmes when purchasing tickets in one transaction. They can even choose to go paperless, simply having to show email confirmation on their phones instead of relying on a traditional printed ticket. There’s also hope to produce e-programmes which can be downloaded to your computer or phone.

The theatre’s inaugural season includes a variety of new and old work, and a similar mix of appearances from high-profile theatre veterans such as Maureen Lipman alongside a selection of up-and-coming writers and directors, and that looks like a theme set to continue.

“In terms of the artistic policy, my view has always been not being genre specific, but good plays done well,” Bond explained. “So that could be a play from 500 years ago or a play that’s written today. It’s about two very intimate spaces and therefore finding work that engages people on that intimate level and really speaks to them and challenges them and inspires them, makes them leave a little bit differently, makes them think a little bit differently.”

Keen to use the space to support new theatremakers, the Artistic Director commented, “What’s really important is that even the work that we don’t produce ourselves will be heavily curated, because anything that goes on in the building will have our name in it. There’s a lot of work we’re not producing but we are in association with or we’re co-producing, and through that we’re able to nurture a lot of new, emerging companies and help support them.”

For details of the Park theatre’s first season, read our story here.

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