Southwark Playhouse is my neighbourhood theatre. Over the past decade, I’ve chaired countless post-show talks at what was meant to be its temporary home on Newington Causeway, a three-minute walk turning left outside my front door.
So I was really excited when I was invited to chair the first-ever Q&A at Southwark’s new (additional) space, a three-minute walk right outside my front door.
Southwark Playhouse Elephant – Newington Causeway’s two auditoria building is now rebranded as Southwark Playhouse Borough – is custom-built for the company, nestled at the base of a new high-rise block of flats on Dante Road just off the Elephant & Castle roundabout, where it has signed a 125-year lease at a sustainable rent.
Featuring a two-tier 310-seat auditorium, as well as a space for rehearsals and participation performances, two bars and offices, the Elephant complex retains Southwark’s feel of industrial creative chic and a warm community welcome.
For the first full production at Southwark Elephant, artistic director Chris Smyrnios has cleverly programmed this slick revival of leading Irish playwright Enda Walsh‘s The Walworth Face, which is set nearby, in a council flat on the Walworth Road. Walsh was inspired to write the black comedy while stuck in a traffic jam on the Elephant & Castle roundabout.
In addition to numerous local references and colours, there are clever parallels in the timing of this programming choice. The Walworth Face centres on a family trapped inside their home, which resonates with post-lockdown audiences, and coincidentally (??) was written in 2006, the same year that this permanent home for Southwark Playhouse was first conceived!
In The Walworth Face, brothers Sean and Blake perform their daily re-enactment of their formidable father Dinny’s story about why they fled their home in Ireland years ago. But today’s performance is going to be different thanks to an unexpected visitor.
For last night’s post-show discussion, I was joined by Southwark Playhouse’s communications manager Jessica Clot – and I had to open by congratulating her and the whole team on their magnificent expansion – as well as The Walworth Face director Nicky Allpress and her four-strong cast Killian Coyle, Emmet Byrne (who play the brothers), Dan Skinner (Dinny) and Rachelle Diedericks (Hayley).
How important are the stories we tell ourselves and others? How do narratives entrench power? Is myth-making part of Irish identity? What are the physical demands of farce? And what next for the mighty Southwark Playhouse?
Event photography by Anthony Kelly.
I can't wait to see tonight's perf & to share this incredible new space – my local – with others in the community. (I've invited several neighbours!)
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) February 28, 2023