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Park Theatre announces its reopening season and refurbished building

A Place for We
Park Theatre has announced its reopening, starting today with a two-act drama commissioned by the venue that starts online and ends live in Park200, reopening the building on 4th August.  The season will include a Bruntwood Prize- and Alfred Fagon Award-shortlisted co-production with Talawa, the premiere of a ghost story based on true events, and a double bill of shows celebrating women’s strength. Committed to nurturing new voices, Park Theatre will also be offering free masterclasses for underrepresented creatives. Audiences will enjoy a newly refurbished building, which includes better front of house facilities and an open kitchen pizzeria. 
The season starts withan in house production of Park Bench (22 June – 14 Aug)a piece of new writing by Tori-Allen Martin commissioned over the pandemic and supported by Arts Council England. After a year apart, each other’s ‘ride-or-die’ Liv and Theo reconnect online, but they both have questions too big for small screens. Act one is a free ten-minute drama available online, and act two will see the couple meet face to face in Park200, reopening the building on 4th August. The show is followed by ghost story When Darkness Falls (18 Aug – 4 Sept) byJames Milton and Paul Morrissey. Based on a true story, the chilling tale sees a history talk on Guernsey’s paranormal past reveal horrors in the island’s more immediate present. 
Postponed from the 2020 Spring Season, Park Theatre have partnered with leading Black British theatre company Talawa to co-produce A Place for We (7 Oct – 6 Nov) by Archie Maddocks.Shortlisted in 2017 for both the Bruntwood Prize and Alfred Fagon Award, Archie Maddocks’ bittersweet comedy holds a mirror up to the ever-changing face of London’s communities in search of their common beating heart through Trinidadian funeral director Clarence and fifth generation Irish pub owner George. 
Also in the season, Oxford School of Drama students will perform new work 39 and Counting (8-11 Sept) by Shireen Mula which aims to dispel many of the myths around violence to women, and women’s strength will be celebrated in the Park90 double bill Say it, Women (12 Oct – 6 Nov). The double bill is made up of Flushed by Catherine Cranfield, which centres around two sisters grappling with the implications of a recent diagnosis of one’s rare medical condition, and Soldfrom Kuumba Nia Arts and Unlock the Chains Collective, the extraordinary journey of Mary Prince who was born into slavery in the British Colony of Bermuda and went on to become an auto-biographer and champion of freedom. 
Artistic Director Jez Bond said, “We can’t wait to reopen our doors this August – not only with a brilliant programme of shows, but with a newly refurbished building too. We’re particularly excited to be working on A Place for We with Talawa once again, after the postponement of the original run from spring 2020, and to be working with playwright Tori Allen-Martin on her new play Park Bench which takes the audience on a journey from the world of digital theatre back to the live stage. Audiences coming back to the venue will be able to enjoy the new mezzanine seating area, a more accessible box office and enjoy the theatricality of the new open plan pizza kitchen. We’re hugely grateful to everyone who has supported us so far, and I look forward to giving audiences the warm and safe welcome back they deserve.” 
Park Theatre has been refurbished during lockdown to improve the audience experience. The front of house area has been enlarged with a new mezzanine extension providing more space to eat and drink as well as improved flow of customer traffic. The downstairs bar has also been treated to an extension with an open plan pizza kitchen,  adding extra theatricality to your evening. The old kitchen has been transformed into a new, dedicated box office space with improved accessibility for staff and customers, and TV screens have been installed for both Park200 and Park90 spaces so that latecomers will miss as little as possible before being admitted at an appropriate moment. Improved accessibility has been provided with enhanced signage throughout the building and modifications to the toilets. Building staff, volunteers and visiting companies will also benefit from a new stage management office and improved backstage offices. 
Taking heart from evidence so far that shows theatre to be at low risk from Covid-19, Park Theatre will be reopening in line with government and UKTheatre guidelines, making sure audiences can See It Safely.  
Executive Director Rachael Williams said, “We’re thrilled to be reopening our venue after over a year of closure. We have always prided ourselves on being a warm and welcoming venue to visit, and that’s why we’ve ensured we have appropriate measures in place to make sure audiences are safe and comfortable. We’ve invested in hand sanitising stations, an enhanced cleaning regime and contactless ticket technology and will be requiring all audience members to wear face coverings unless exempt. We’ll be publishing all this information in our pre-show email and on our website so customers know what to expect and, as always, our friendly team will be happy to help with any additional questions. We’ll be proudly displaying the SOLT See It Safely mark and are so looking forward to having audiences back in our newly refurbished theatre.” 
To nurture creatives and to encourage a more diverse industry, Park Theatre will be offering free workshops, called Park Sessions, for underrepresented voices in July. The schedule – soon to be announced following its postponement from original dates in January – will cover a range of topics from fundraising to devising to lighting. Led by experts in their fields, these in person workshops (virtual tickets also available) are free to those who identify as working class, working class LGBTQ+, D/deaf or disabled, and those from a culturally diverse heritage. 
Park Theatre presents exceptional theatre in the heart of Finsbury Park, boasting two world-class performance spaces: Park200 for predominantly larger scale productions by established talent,  and Park90, a flexible studio space, for emerging artists. In eight years, it has enjoyed eight West End transfers (including Daytona starring Maureen Lipman, The Boys in the Band starring Mark Gatiss, Pressure starring David Haig and The Life I Lead starring Miles Jupp), two National Theatre transfers, twenty-five national tours, four Olivier Award nominations, has won Offie Awards for Best New Play and Best Foodie Experience and won a Theatre of the Year award from The Stage. Park Theatre are grateful to all those who have donated to the Park Life fund, supporting the venue through the pandemic. 

Listings information 
Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP 
August – November 
www.parktheatre.co.uk | 020 7870 6876* 
*No booking fee online. Telephone booking fee applies. 
 
Online/Park200 
Park Bench 
By Tori Allen-Martin | Directed by Christa Harris (Act 1: Digital) | Co-directed by Sarah Henley & Timothy O’Hara (Act 2: Live)
Cast includes: Tori Allen Martin & Tim Bowie 
Presented by Park Theatre with the support of Arts Council England 
                                                                                                            Digital (Act 1): 22 June – 14 Aug 
                                                                                                            Live (Act 2): 4 – 14 Aug 
 
Sometimes conversations are just better had face-to-face. Liv and Theo know that. They used to be each other’s ride-or-die but that was back then…  After more than a year of distance from their situationship, it’s time to talk – so they reconnect online.  
What happened to being mates? How’s his new life working out? Why did she just vanish? These are big questions for small screens. Will meeting up in person on ‘their’ park bench reignite an old flame or finally put out the flickering embers of feelings?  
Park Bench is an innovative digital-come-live-theatre play by Tori Allen-Martin. Commissioned by Park Theatre during lockdown with the concept of creating a piece of drama that audiences follow from a digital first act online to a live second act on our Park200 stage.  
Act One: online | FREE  
Act Two: Mon, Tues, Weds, Fri 7pm & 8.30pm, Thurs & Sat matinees 3pm and evening 7.30 | £10 – £7.50 | Running time: 50 mins (approx.) 
Captioned 12 Aug 7.30pm 
www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/park-bench 
  
Park200  
When Darkness Falls  
By James Milton & Paul Morrissey | Directed by Paul Morrissey 
Presented by Paul Morrissey Ltd, Christopher Wheeler and Molly Morris in association with Jason Haigh-Ellery, Glynis Henderson Productions, Dawn Smalberg, Bev Ragovoy and Park Theatre 
18 Aug – 4 Sept 
 
When Darkness Falls is the brand new spine-chilling ghost story that delivers a twisted, terrifying and thrilling tale that will haunt you forever. 
 
Set on the island of Guernsey, When Darkness Falls tells the story of a teacher who runs the local Historical Society. Tonight, as part of the weekly Vlog, a young paranormal expert is giving a talk on the island’s incredible folklore and paranormal history. As the teacher films, the speaker regales horrifying stories. Stories that can only occur on a small, isolated island. Tonight, the teacher will learn exactly what happens when the wind blows, the seas swell and darkness falls. 
 
Based on true events, this powerful new production by James Milton and Paul Morrissey draws us into dark pasts, revealing disturbing truths and unforgettable terrors that never die. 
 
Mon – Sat 7.30pm, Thurs & Sat matinees 3pm | £27 – £18.50 | Running time: 90 mins (approx.) 
Captioned 28 Aug 7.30pm 
Park Up (16 – 26 yrs) £10 tickets 18 – 21 Aug 
www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/when-darkness-falls 
 
Park200  
39 and Counting 
By Shireen Mula | Directed by Gemma Aked-Priestley 
Cast includes Oxford School of Drama One Year Acting Course                                                                      
Presented by The Oxford School of Drama 
8 – 11 Sept 
 
39 and Counting features 18 characters who loved women that were killed by men. They are the brothers, sisters, best friends, nieces, nephews and cousins of the deceased whose lives have been disrupted and torn apart by violence. 18 characters navigating their way through the trauma. Wanting justice to be done, the grief to end and to reach a place of acceptance. To feel in control again. 
Written by Shireen Mula (Why is the Sky Blue? Southwark Playhouse) and directed by Gemma Aked-Priestley (My Dad’s Blind, Abbey Theatre/Irish Tour) this shattering new play aims to dispel many of the myths around violence to women and puts the violence we do not speak about absolutely centre stage. 
Performed by the Oxford School of Drama One-Year Acting Course graduates, this is a great opportunity to see emerging talent from one of the UK’s top Drama Schools. Graduates of this course include the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award winner Claire Foy; BAFTA nominee Babou Ceesay; Eastern Eye Best Actress Award winner Kiran Sonia Sawar and Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Richard Gadd
Weds – Sat 7.30pm, Thurs & Sat matinees 3pm | £15 – £10 | Running time: 90 mins (approx.) 
Park Up (16 – 26 yrs) £10 tickets 8 – 11 Sep 
 
www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/39-and-counting 
 
Park200 
A Place for We  
By Archie Maddocks | Directed by Michael Buffong                                                                                  
Park Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company present the World Premiere 
7 Oct – 6 Nov 
 
A pub. A funeral parlour. An urban-zen enoteca and conscious eatery. One building in Brixton tells the story of London’s changing communities over three very different generations. 
Trinidadian funeral director Clarence and fifth generation pub owner George don’t want things to change. But everything around them is changing. Do they adapt to survive? Or stay true to their roots and risk it all… family, tradition, business? 
In the wake of the Windrush scandal, Archie Maddocks‘ bittersweet comedy holds a mirror up to the ever-changing face of London’s communities in search of their common beating heart. 
A Place for We was shortlisted in 2017 for both the Bruntwood Prize and Alfred Fagon Award, it was first performed as a staged reading at Talawa Firsts 2018 and is directed by Talawa’s Artistic Director Michael Buffong.  
Mon – Sat 7.30pm, Thurs & Sat matinees 3pm | £32.50 – £15 | Running time: 2hr 15 (approx.) 
Audio described 20 Oct 19.30, Touch Tour 18.00 | Captioned 28 Oct 19.30
Park Up (16-26 yrs) £10 tickets 7 – 13 Oct 
www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/a-place-for-we 
  
Park90 
Double Bill: Say it, Women                                                                                          12 Oct – 6 Nov 
Two stories celebrating women’s strength 
Women – rejoice in our time to say it, own it, share it. In this Park Theatre first, the Say it, Women double bill features two untold stories celebrating women’s strength. Two plays that not only find an unheard female voice, but sing it from the rooftops, beaconing the listener. Book for both shows with our multi buy offer. 
 
Flushed 
Written and Directed by Catherine Cranfield
Cast includes: Elizabeth HammertonIona Champain                                                              
Presented by Theatre Unlocked in association with Grace Dickson Productions and Park Theatre 
12 Oct – 6 Nov 
When Marnie is diagnosed with a rare medical condition, she and younger sister Jen grapple to come to terms with its life-changing impacts. 
Flushed is a play about the everlasting bond developed between the cubicle walls. 
Theatre Unlocked are proud to present Flushed – a multi award-winning (53Two ‘FOUNDation’ Award, 2018, Voice Magazine ‘Pick of the Fringe’ Award, 2018), five-star play, set entirely in various different bathrooms. It’s a unique and important story, with a lot of humour and a lot of heart. 
Catherine Cranfield is a writer and director, who wrote Flushed after graduating from the University of Manchester in 2017. Since then, Flushed has toured venues such as the Barbican Centre, as part of Fertility Fest 2019, and Underbelly, for the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe. In 2019, Catherine completed an MA in Theatre Directing from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. 
Theatre Unlocked was founded by Elis Shotton and Catherine Cranfield in Manchester in 2017. Since then, the two have been working to create and promote exciting and essential new writing. Theatre Unlocked’s other work includes Zucchini by Elis Shotton, which premiered at Manchester’s 53Two Theatre. 
Mon – Sat 7.15pm, Thurs & Sat matinees 3.15pm | £12.50 or £20 for both shows | Running time: 60 mins (approx.) 
Captioned 4 Nov 7.15pm
Park Up (16 – 26 yrs) £10 tickets 12 – 18 Oct 
www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/flushed 
  
Sold      
By Amantha Edmead | Directed by Euton Daley 
Cast includes Amantha Edmead and Angie ‘Amra’ Anderson                
Presented by Kuumba Nia Arts and Unlock the Chains Collective in association with Park Theatre  
18 Oct – 6 Nov 
When one woman tells of her extraordinary journey to overcome the brutality of slavery, she becomes a beacon for the British anti-slavery movement. Born into slavery in the British colony of Bermuda, Mary Prince went on to become an auto-biographer and champion of freedom. Mary’s words of the harsh realities of enslavement and how it felt to be separated from family, loved ones and to be owned, bought and sold gave voice to those that are often silent, silenced, ignored or spoken for. Her book had an electrifying effect on the abolitionist movement helping to free many Africans in bondage. 
A forgotten true story told through theatre, song, live drumming and dance, this masterpiece of Black British theatre is inspired by the storytelling traditions of the West African griot. 
Kuumba Nia Arts and Unlock the Chains Collective share and celebrate African and Caribbean heritage, culture experience and stories.  
Mon – Sat 8.30pm, Thurs & Sat matinees 4.30pm | £12.50 or £20 for both shows | Running time: 60 mins (approx.) 
Captioned 4 Nov 8.30pm 
Park Up (16 – 26 yrs) £10 tickets 18 – 23 Oct 
www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/sold 

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Park Theatre’s Jez Bond: “Many freelancers have tragically left our industry and there is a lot of hard work ahead.”

Park theatre artistic director Jez Bond is busy looking at revisions of his business plan. “We have some formulating to do with our smaller space, Park90, that might enable us to bring in work that we may have previously turned down,” he says. “Historically there have been a lot of shows that we missed out on because they couldn’t have necessarily afforded to rent the space,” he continues. “So, we are trying to find out if there are new models that can crack that issue.”

Jez Bond

Park Theatre not only presents off west end theatre in the heart of London’s Finsbury Park, but is a creative community hub and has been a significant part of the redevelopment of the area. As a small charity with no regular government or Arts Council funding, the pandemic led to a devastating loss of income.

Fortunately, Park Theatre was awarded £250,000 as part of the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) to help face the challenges.

I have interviewed Bond before in 2017– he is not shy. He’s funny, opinionated and happy to talk about anything.

We are talking on the telephone in the week that Chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined his latest Budget. Measures include a £300 million addition to the Culture Recovery Fund and £150 million fund to help communities take ownership of theatres, pubs and sports clubs at risk of closure.

“We’re grateful for the actions of the Chancellor but let’s not make the mistake of assuming that it’s all rosy: many freelancers have tragically left our industry and there is a lot of hard work ahead,” says Bond.

What, I ask, are his thoughts on the explosion of digital productions? He pauses. ‘I’ve been very clear and up front that I have no passion for digital,” Bond says. “It is a means to end – but it’s not something that I have a particular passion for. Broadening the reach is a good thing but let’s not pretend that there is a new exciting way – let’s not pretend that that is theatre, we want to get back to live theatre.”

What has kept him going throughout the pandemic? “We thought we’d be dead in the water at some point,” he says.

“My drive was to say that we have 40-50 staff and we cannot let these people go during the pandemic. At a time when there was and is no prospect of getting another job. It is our duty to ensure that we protect those livelihoods. When we engaged with our donors and wider community it was evident how much Park Theatre means to everybody. It meant far too much to just let it all go. Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in.”

Park Theatre

Park Theatre

How would he describe his approach through the scenario planning, shifting sands and executive decisions? “I have erred on the side of rational caution, sensibility and logic: Reading the data and following what’s going on in other countries rather than doing what people think or want you want to say. Even recently, with the Prime Minister’s roadmap: I don’t see June being a realistic date for performances to take place at full capacity.”

Every year, it seems, the debate rages on casting well-known names from TV or film to generate ticket sales. With ticket prices looking set to stay high, and severely reduced public subsidy, there is surely an increased commercial imperative to cast stars.

Bond’s ability to knock out commercial hits is extraordinary – David Haig’s Pressure, The Boys in The Band starring Mark Gatiss, for example – he’s frank about how he feels about them. “It’s a vital part of what we do – being able to take a play and give it an extended commercial life aids us both financially and reputationally. I’m very proud of the work we’ve presented.”

According to Bond commercially successful shows rely on star power. “There has to be an understanding of why those decisions are made,” he says. “Theatres do not choose celebrities because they are mates with them. They do so because they sell tickets. If we do a new play by an unknown writer and an unknown cast, it could fly and it could get great reviews. However, if you cast Damian Lewis or Miriam Margolyes you ensure that you have a selling point and you know that you can take that significant financial risk.”

“If we were subsidised to take risk, then it wouldn’t matter. Let’s put it very clearly: it is about survival.”

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Park Theatre, Jez Bond: “Theatres have to come up with novel ways to make money.”

Jez Bond, Artistic Director of Park Theatre, sits hunched on the sofa, twiddling his hair. In a pink hoodie and red Puma trainers, he looks younger than his thirty-nine years. His voice is soft but street-casual, but what stands out is the cheeky smile; which make you notice his sparkly eyes and his determination not to take himself too seriously.

Jez Bond – © Piers Foley Photography

In a year that’s seen him direct Ian McKellen and continue to build Park’s reputation as an exciting home for new plays and celebrated transfers, Bond is also knackered. “I haven’t slept much because I’ve got a little baby at home”, he says.

Park Theatre opened in 2013 in London’s Finsbury Park. Described as “a neighbourhood theatre with global ambition,” it offers a mixed program of new writing, classics and revivals. As well as the main auditorium (Park200), the building includes a studio theatre (Park90), a rehearsal space and a buzzing Café Bar. Is it true that the theatre is part of a housing development?

“Sure, it’s 560 luxury apartments and a little theatre in the basement…” Bond grins, “Ha! That would be nice! No; that’s fake news. Essentially, it’s the other way around. We wanted to build a theatre and discovered a building that was a former office in this incredible area. We raised the money to buy the building… and to raise the money for the theatre we spoke to Islington Council to add two storeys to the front of the building: two 1-beds and one 2-bedroom flat. That gave us a million into the pot. We have to raise £250,000 a year to keep our doors open,” he adds.

Park-Theatre-Finsbury-Park-credit-Charlie-Ward-used-wk-20-2013-newsWEB-700x455-700x455[1].jpg

We talk about the recent Park Theatre fundraiser starring Sir Ian McKellen. Titled Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others & You, the show offered audiences the chance to get up close with Gandalf. How was it directing a legend?

“Absolutely incredible – he’s a work-horse and the most incredibly generous man. He did ten shows in a week and after every single show he either took thirty people out to dinner or did the signings and selfies. Every single interval – he was entertaining 6-8 people with private drinks in his dressing room.” Bond beams. “He was a joy to work with.”

I ask him teasingly if it’s true that he sold McKellen-branded wine at the event. His eyes widen. “The merchandising was great. We had an excellent sponsor in the form of Tikveš wines from Macedonia, who provided 1,800 bottles of special edition McKellen-branded wine, some of which were given away as part of the experience people bought, and some of which were sold independently on the night,” he says. Amazing.

Anyone feeling snippy about Bond’s vision, or his ambition, would do well to celebrate his savvy approach. “It’s fair to say the problem with the arts is that there is not enough support. We need a quarter of a million to keep the doors open without producing a show. Theatres have to come up with novel ways to make money. The government keeps saying ‘theatres have to be more entrepreneurial’ and what people don’t realise is, it costs a lot of money to fundraise. If you look at the most successful – the Donmar, NT or the Almeida – they have between 5-10 people in their development department – that’s a salary bill of what, £300,000? The government makes things harder with Gift Aid legislation tightening – so we are able to claim only a very small proportion of Gift Aid on the Ian McKellen money.”

Sir-Ian-McKellen-in-Shakespeare2c-Tolkien2c-Others-You-9.-Photo-by-Mark-Douet

Sir Ian McKellen

He is not too thrilled with the changes in legislation. “Normally you can contact someone to fundraise – now you have to know that they’ve said you’re allowed to contact them,” he explains. “If we do a fundraiser we need to know who is sitting at what table or in what seat. What we would usually do is look these people up or Google them so that we know: that’s so-and-so or she’s the chairman of that board as a conversation point.” But new privacy laws are making this impossible.

On the plus side, he says, it will stop the companies cold-calling vulnerable people selling double-glazing that they don’t need. “But on the other hand it will impede theatres and arts charities who are working with engaged people who want to be involved and just sometimes need a bit of a nudge. In order to raise the money to keep affordable theatre or give opportunities to the community you have to be a bit capitalist,” he admits. “The people who paid for drinks with McKellen offset open dress rehearsals for students, engagement with Age UK and communities from the local council estate experiencing theatre for the very first time.”

Bond’s own taste in theatre is straightforward: “I love well-made plays – ideally a linear narrative with a beginning, middle and an end. I like story; tell me a good story and I’ll stay.”

How conscious is he about equal gender representation on Park Theatre’s stages? “There are only a limited number of plays which we can afford to produce, we have conversations with guest producers and we really try and ensure diversity,” he says. “This season has ended up less female-focused in Park200 as we would have liked but we have balanced this by being more female-focused in Park90. In the next season we have some really good female led stories.”

We turn to the big show of the recently announced 2018 season, Pressure, which features his secret weapon: David Haig. “He’s the man! David has written Pressure and he is in it. It was originally at Chichester and so this is the London premiere. I read the play and said we’d love to do it. It should be great,” Bond says.

Pressure940x420.jpg

David Haig in Pressure (Runs at Park200 from 28 Mar until 28 Apr 2018)

How does he get such an array of big-name stars to perform at Park Theatre? Is it blackmail? He laughs. “Well, there’s a lot of skeletons in a lot of closets and if you’ve got the key…. Most of the closets are located in the housing development. They’re in the basement.” He smiles sweetly. “I’m joking.” Or is he?

Park Theatre’s 2018 Season is on sale now