Award-winning Park Theatre going from strength to strength
PUBLISHED: 06:27 12 February 2015 | UPDATED: 17:26 27 February 2015
Having just been named Fringe Theatre of the Year, the Finsbury Park venue is quickly building a name for itself, finds Alex Bellotti.
The back end of Finsbury Park station doesn’t seem the most obvious setting for what is officially the UK’s hottest fringe theatre, but as the Park’s artistic director Jez Bond explains, there is a peculiar logic at work.
The 37-year-old spent six years sourcing a location for the project and when he finally settled on Finsbury Park five years ago, he did so safe in the knowledge that of all London’s West End theatre-goers, the highest spenders are situated nearby in Crouch End, Islington and Stoke Newington and all come through the station.
“I came back and saw how the area had changed – how there is a lot of redevelopment going on, how the demographic was changing,” says the Queen’s Park resident, who worked in Finsbury Park during his fifteen year spell as a freelance theatre director. “It seemed to be a place that ten years ago couldn’t have sustained a theatre, but now perhaps it could.”
I meet Bond in the chic and very appetising café of Park Theatre to discuss its recent success at the Stage Awards 2015, where it was named Fringe Theatre of the Year.
Coming just under two years since the building opened, the award is at the very least an acknowledgement of the hard work Bond and his team have put into the project since the idea first surfaced in 2004.
From the moment it opened their doors, the theatre has stood firm to its ethos of opening up both the cafe and theatre nights to demographics who might have never seen a show before. It offers affordable tickets and ‘pay what you can’ schemes which ultimately has meant it runs at a loss and is propped up by donations, as well as support from industry heavyweights such as Maureen Lipman and Alison Steadman.
While this may have placed limitations on their budgets in terms of cast and original productions however, it hasn’t impacts the sort of work Bond wanted to bring to the theatre.
“I didn’t want to do shows that had any specific genre in mind – like just to do new writing, just to do classics, just to do Shakespeare. The work that excites me has a strong narrative drive – telling a story well with a beginning, a middle and and end, rather than an abstract ideas play – and also a heart and an emotional drive. You want to make them laugh, to make them cry; for me it’s always that if you can do both in one night, then that’s the ultimate goal.”
It’s been a long road for the theatre since its conception, but it’s now the path ahead is looking as bright as it’s ever been. For its artistic director, the opportunity to build a loyal following has been worth every drop of sweat.
“There is something about having bricks and mortar and working in a building that means you can develop an audience. You do one show, then you do another show and it’s the same audience coming out of both.
“So whilst the whole essence of theatre is that it is transient – it appears and then it disappears – with a building there are things that you can develop because your journey does continue even though that show has ended and it was going on a journey with an audience that I was excited about.”