Ahead of its big move to Brixton, Ovalhouse Theatre is running a busy summer season and reflecting on five decades in showbusiness.
Kennington’s independent theatre, pictured above, relocates to south-west London in October 2020, as part of the multi-million pound Somerleyton Road Project – which also includes more than 300 houses.
The new three-storey building, on Coldharbour Lane, will hold two auditoria and seven rehearsal rooms and is close to the site of the old Brixton Theatre destroyed by a bomb in World War II.
Head of theatre and artistic development Owen Calvert-Lyons, 38, said: “It’s a bittersweet move, the current building is great and we’ve all got a lot of affection for it but at the same time it is coming to the end of its life.
“What we want is for artists at the outset of their career to have the very best facilities available to them and that’s what the new building affords – it’s hard not to be excited by that.”
While the current theatre also has two auditoria, the new buildings will be twice the size allowing Ovalhouse to fill more seats and produce larger productions.
And it’s not just the bigger facilities which excite Owen, but the prospect of moving to a busier, more vibrant neighbourhood.
“There’s a really busy night time economy in Brixton, whereas now we’re on a commuter route with not a lot of footfall going past.
“The Oval cricket ground dominates the area whereas in Brixton there are people looking for things to do every evening; people deliberately going out to eat and drink and that really helps because it allows a theatre to become part of people’s nights.”
Now in its penultimate summer in Kennington, Ovalhouse’s schedule is one of its busiest and most varied yet.
The summer season contains three full-length plays and four ‘FiRST BiTES’ performances – used to showcase incomplete productions.
Critically acclaimed writer Koko Brown returns to present Grey, the second instalment in her colour trilogy and which examines black women’s mental health.
Grey runs from Thursday 27 June – Saturday 13 July.
Accompanying that are six performances from the Untold Season, which gives new artists the chance to stage their first production.
Owen said: “The Untold Season is new artists telling bold stories that all need to be told now. They’re all real reflections of the world as we find it at this moment, and that’s a hallmark of a Ovalhouse production – we don’t tend to present any productions that are looking backwards.
“We don’t tend to present any classics, our productions are fiercely contemporary.”
Progressive, forward-thinking art set in the present is not the only hallmark of an Ovalhouse piece, the theatre also prides itself on nurturing young artists who may have never written or performed before.
“We’re not very script led, we’re an experimental theatre – a theatre of radicalism,” said Owen.
He said: “For us, it’s much more about the idea and how the artist wants to express that, than relying on the artist’s skill and ability to turn that into the written word.”
Owen said Rough Cut by Little Soldier Productions was the summer season’s most radical play because of its ‘anarchic’ approach to theatre-making.
He said the emphasis placed on these kind of productions allowed Ovalhouse to make a broad style of work, not often found in other London theatres.
Such a grass-roots, community led approach has stylised the theatre since its conception in the 1960s.
Owen said: “The current building started its life as a boy’s club post-war, to support children and young people into positive activities and then in the sixties it specialised and became a theatre.
“We’re into fifty-something years of being a theatre and are now starting a new chapter in our history.”
Brixton Ovalhouse will have a soft opening from October 2020 before starting its new programme in February 2021.