There is a delightful air of theatricality about the prominent nineteenth century brick façade of what was formerly St Paul’s church on the Isle of Dogs. Built in 1860 it has been described as a polychromatic pastiche of Pisa cathedral. What currently takes place inside this mission’s previously hallowed walls would probably raise many Presbyterian eyebrows, but the last congregation departed in 1972. It is now the Space.
A dynamic enterprise that strives to provide access to theatre for practitioners and audiences alike.
Steven J Pilcher has charted its history and points out that in the following years it was used for small-scale industrial purposes until the late 1980’s. In 1989 its owners, Trafalgar House Developments, gave the premises to the St Paul’s Arts Trust, which had recently been set up by a group of local people. Their aim was to restore the building to create an arts centre on the Isle of Dogs. The Trust was given responsibility for the building along with a sum of £50,000 to assist with the cost of repairs and was fortunate in having Robert Richardson amongst its members. He had considerable experience in matters of renovation and became the Project Director.
Additional grant funding was obtained from several bodies. Teams of architects and construction companies completed the work and by the mid 1990s it started to operate in its present form. It is now a listed building with Grade II status and the Trust is honoured to have Sir Ian McKellen as the principal patron of the non-profit registered charity.
In the eaves above the rear of the building is Hubbub, billed as ‘a discerning, one-of-a-kind breakfast and burger spot’. It’s independent of the the Space, but provides rental income and has become a well-established, good-deal eating, drinking and meeting venue for locals. It’s a friendly place to hang out, often with a buzzing atmosphere and offers an all-day, café-style menu from breakfast through to lunch and dinner. Its regular art and photography exhibitions perfectly complement the work of the centre, making it an interesting artistic addition for theatre patrons and groups rehearsing there. It also enhances the Trusts’ outreach to members of the local community, an endeavour it takes very seriously, as well as to wider audiences. Its efforts in this respect developed further in May 2015 when The Space acquired an additional performance area that operates from May-August at the Crossrail Place Roof Garden, a venue it manages on behalf of Canary Wharf. Events there are free, as is membership of The Space for anyone living in E14, giving them a 50% reduction on ticket prices.
Each season’s programme is derived from an open call to artists who can send in proposals for shows. Anyone can apply. There are no fees involved and productions are selected on merit. The working arrangements make for a good deal, with a generous box office split, no upfront hire fees, free rehearsals space and the benefits of established marketing strategies all included. The aim is to find quality material in terms of scripts, actors and directors. It’s an exciting and revealing process with new discoveries being made and the final outcome always hanging in the balance. It provides opportunities for aspiring performers and emerging writers in particular but does not rule out established groups and individuals. It’s meeting with the artists that often turns out to be the deciding factor; discovering their passion, enthusiasm and commitment and whether they can work together as a team. There is usually a buzz of excitement and magical chemistry that will see a play appear on the final list.
The combination of works that makes it through the process often produces unexpected outcomes, as the current autumn selection illustrates. This season 70% of shows are written and directed by women. That was not intentional; it’s just the way the final choice worked out, but it is something of which Space is very proud.
Selected as one of New Diorama's Emerging Graduate companies 2018/2019, Bric à Brac presents their immersive, promenade production Just Lose It, in which they invite the audience to join them in an exploration of weight loss and body image.
The company is an international ensemble of theatre-makers from across the UK, America, and Norway who graduated from the École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in 2015. Emerging theatre company Matipo takes a different approach to identities and how we construct them in their production Fleeced, a dark comedy of overlapping stories. Little Fools examines the impact of childhood experiences on adult life in a production from four Arts University Bournemouth acting graduates two of whom formed Hooked Theatre to present drama that is rooted in true stories. From East 15 Acting School, STARCHEDtheatre is an all female research-led company whose contribution Laundry examines the experiences of women in East London in 1952.
If you’ve ever wanted to decide who should win a competition you’ll have your chance after Anna Nicholson has presented the four finalists in Woman of the Year, through a combination of sketch and song in her comedy debut show. In rep with her is Tara Rankine, whose dark comedy, Love is a Work in Progress, she describes as ‘a ridiculous and poignant storytelling ride through past love, sex, friendship and heartbreak..fuelled with real life embarrassments, heart felt soul singing and the sensuality and power of being a woman’. All from an Aussie! A Halloween treat is provided by the matrifocal Scary Little Girls touring company with their immersive night of music and laughter The Full Brontë, from Artistic Directors Rebecca Mordan and Sharon Andrew.
The season culminates with a modern adaptation by local playwright Rachael Claye that celebrates the 150th anniversary of the the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It will be performed by the in-house, Off West End Award nominee company, Space Productions. Extending over the Christmas period, it is the first four week run the theatre has undertaken.
The Space demonstrates its support for new writing this autumn with Little Pieces of Gold, a series of evenings in which staged readings are given from selected shortlisted plays at the Southwark Playhouse. That sort of encouragement goes on all year through SpaceWorks, the non-professional arm of the theatre company that provides weekly adult participatory workshops in performance. Working with experienced professionals and absolute beginners, training is provided in a wide range of technical theatre and arts administration skills both on and off stage. Many occasional events serve to fill the year-round programme that brings the number of theatre, music, comedy and dance total to around two hundred.
The Space is a dynamic enterprise that strives to provide access to theatre for practitioners and audiences alike. By its encouragement of new talent it makes a significant contribution to the growth and development of the performing arts in an industry that is notoriously inaccessible for newcomers. As such it deserves to be supported by the receipt of donations along with any funding for which it is eligible and above all by audiences attending its events.