Thursday, 11 December 2014

Bridge House Theatre Penge

WITH cuts in funding across the arts, it's a brave man or woman who sets up a theatre in these financially austere times.
However that hasn't deterred Guy Retallack and Rachel Tucker.
The director and his actress wife felt so passionately about the need for a theatre in their town that they decided to set one up themselves.
With no government grant or Arts Council funding, the pair founded The Bridge House Theatre in Penge.
"When I moved to Penge and met Rachel we realised there was no theatre in the immediate area and we felt there should be," says Guy.
"The Croydon Warehouse had gone and although we have the Jack Studio in Brockley and of course Theatre503 in Battersea they are quite far away.
"We both work in the theatre, had already fallen in love with the area so we decided to find somewhere local where we could have a theatre of our own."
He says it was a "crazy dream" but one which became a reality thanks to an evening at his local - The Bridge House.
"Rachel and I went on a hunt around the area and one night last year we were sitting in the pub and by chance, sitting next to the owners," says Guy.
"We got chatting and told them about our vision and asked if they had a room upstairs which we could transform into a theatre.
"They said yes, showed us the space and we fell in love with it. It's absolutely the perfect place - with high Victorian ceilings and is right in the heart of this vibrant part of South East London. So that was that!"
And so the theatre was born with the couple transforming the room to a 60-seat venue.
It was funded entirely by them and they now rely on ticket sales to help pay for the running and other costs.
Last winter they staged a production of A Christmas Carol, which was so successful they had to add more dates, before a four-week run of Macbeth. Since then they have put on shows from two visiting companies not to mention hosting comedy nights.
This season has seen a production of The Frida Kahlo Of Penge West and their Christmas show It's A Wonderful Life has just opened. It will be joined by The Uglies Take Penge which opens today.
Along the way their production of Macbeth earned them two nominations from The Offies (The Off West End Theatre Awards) and they have been invited to take that production to the Shakespeare Festival in Germany next year.
"It's been an incredibly exciting journey for us so far," says Guy. "We have achieved so much in such a short space of time which is really special but we have worked so hard to make it happen.
"We have got a brilliant relationship with the pub, have attracted some incredible actors to work with us and are very proud to have been nominated for these awards.
"We've also had a great reaction from the many people who have come to the shows and who have told us how much they like the fact we are here.
"It is absolutely fantastic and a great endorsement - their reactions have shown us that there is a real need and desire for a theatre in Penge!"
Along the way they have also been joined in their venture by producer Rob Harris and they are currently working up a list of plays to bring to the theatre's stage next year.
And Guy admits he is "incredibly ambitious" for the future.
"We want the theatre to host a rich and varied programme of shows - with something for everyone - and so we will be doing the classics, musicals, showcasing new writing as well as family shows and comedy gigs.
"We are hugely ambitious for the future and hopefully as the venue grows and develops our programme will grow as well," he adds.
"What's great is that the space is very versatile and exactly what a Fringe Theatre should be. Most of all though we want to be able to stage high quality productions with a ticket price that is competitive and affordable - and have a reputation for that.
"There is masses we want to do but we know that with the support of the local community and this fantastic pub, we can do it."

It's A Wonderful Life is on at the Bridge House Theatre, High Street, Penge until January 4. Tickets cost £12 for adults and £10 concessions. The Uglies Take Penge is on until December 21. Tickets cost £12.50 for adults and £8.50 for children.

Visit or call the box office on 020 8133 0311.  

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