Early this month I had a tour of the soon to be opened Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. Though the site is still under construction, it is due to be completed and open soon, at the start of May, with two stages – Park200 (a 200-seat auditorium) and Park90 (a 90-seat auditorium), and they have just announced their opening season.
Jez and Melli Bond, the creative team behind the theatre, say their vision is for ‘national recognition as a powerhouse of theatre for diverse audiences across London and the South East’. And their mission is ‘to be a welcoming, vibrant home for the local community and beyond, providing world class entertainment that challenges perceptions and enables people to build a new tradition of theatre’.
This is a really exciting development for north London, I know the area very well, having lived in Finsbury Park for over 10 years, and the theatre is going to be so welcome, part of the planned regeneration going on there. It’s so nice that this theatre has been designed by David Hughes Architects, with a lot of thought and best practice in mind. The space, even though a building site when I saw it, is full of light and airy. Technical developments have been incorporated into the fabric of the building which mean there will be enough ladies’ loos, dressing rooms and power sockets, which are often lacking in theatres built 100 years ago.
The Park’s first playwright-in-residence is Sarah Rutherford, and I asked her some questions about her connection with The Park Theatre.
Sarah is an actor and playwright. With a degree in English from Oxford University, she pursued a career as an arts journalist alongside a PhD on Black Farce in Jacobean and 1960s Theatre, before training at Guildford School of Acting. Her professional acting credits include popular drama series such as Murphy’s Law, Casualty and The Royal as well as theatre work in the West End and beyond.Sarah’s play What You Do To People has been showcased at the Hampstead Theatre and workshopped by Park Theatre’s Jez Bond.
For Park Theatre she has written a new play, inspired by selected real-life stories of local people, which will be staged next year. She is currently developing her third play, Tonight Is Your Answer, with Team Angelica at Theatre Royal Stratford East, and is researching her fourth. She recently had her short piece, La Barbe, performed at Equal Writes.
Do you have any particular link with the area?
I lived in north London for seven years and both of my children were born there, so I feel like I have a permanent bond with the area. It’s been great to have the opportunity to explore one of my favourite parts of London in such depth.
Can you tell us a bit about the play you’ve written for the Park and the process of writing it?
My play has come out of a project called N4 Stories. In November 2010 I assembled a team of (mostly local) actors and we spent 6 months exploring the area, just talking to people and gathering stories. Every week we would meet for a workshop where the actors would come along as the characters they’d found; we would then interview them and throw them together in experimental scenes, just to see what would happen. We interviewed over 100 people, of a vast range of backgrounds, ages and nationalities. I was looking for a story or character that would move me in some way, and after a few months I found one. We carried on working and experimenting together for another six months, and I even flew to Turkey to research the background of the characters we’d found.
After that, I went away and worked alone on the script. It’s now nearing its final draft, and Jez (Bond, Artistic Director), and I are getting it ready to be read properly for the first time, before we move into casting and production. It’s been quite a long journey so it’s exciting to have got to this stage.
How did you become involved with the Park Theatre?
I met Creative Director Melli Bond when we were in a show together back in 2001, so when I started moving from acting into writing about five years ago, Jez and Melli were the first people I showed my early work to. They were both incredibly supportive and passionate about my writing, and Jez workshopped that piece and worked on it with me very generously. So when they acquired the building that was to become Park Theatre, I suggested that what they needed was a Finsbury Park play. They agreed, and Jez asked me to be their first Writer in Residence.
Good luck to the Park Theatre in their opening season which contains a lot of new writing, it’s a really exciting project. Book tickets here.