New theatre is unwanted and unimaginative’

I was sorry to see that nowhere in your supplement on the 50th anniversary of Hampstead Theatre did you acknowledge its massive negative impact on the one bit of open space in Swiss Cottage, nor the fact that the new building has compromised the soul of t

I was sorry to see that nowhere in your supplement on the 50th anniversary of Hampstead Theatre did you acknowledge its massive negative impact on the one bit of open space in Swiss Cottage, nor the fact that the new building has compromised the soul of the theatre itself (Ham&High November 12).

Surely the disgusting and all-but-illegal way it gained planning permission to build its ugly large theatre over our local park, in front of the windows of the Mora Burnett sheltered accommodation for house-bound elderly people, was worthy of some mention?

Only the active connivance of local councillors directly involved with the theatre allowed this prime piece of invaluable open space to be used for a building.

As well as being on the theatre's management board, John Thane and Dave Horan (Lab) and Flick Rea (Lib Dem) were on the planning committee and actively promoted the theatre, with the Labour luvvies voting illegally to support the planning permission, a process which only avoided being overturned by the ombudsman because the theatre is a charity (and how!).


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But the end result is the destruction of our local park and the creation of an enclosed space which still gives problems today, as your paper frequently reports.

The problem is such that the area is now subject to special rules which allow the police to stop and question anyone in the area, primarily young people.

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The loss of space generated by the new building (over four times the area of the old building) meant that all the other public facilities were compromised, resulting in the mess we now have while important local facilities such as the football pitch and market have been shoe-horned into whatever space was left. But even the theatre lost its soul by pushing through this grandiose scheme.

It plummeted into financial problems, despite �11million of Arts Council lottery money and donations from theatre luvvies. The miserly few thousand pounds donated following your fund-raising campaign over several weeks is the clearest illustration of the lack of local enthusiasm and support for this minority interest.

Rather than give you my opinion on the theatre's loss of soul, I'll refer to the comments made by the original founder James Roose-Evans in part of your feature: ''the theatre is now so large it depends on corporate funding and co-productions... and has become institutional.''

No longer innovative, the Hampstead Theatre is now just an off-off-off West End theatre, with prices to match.

It could all have been so much better. Had the theatre been integrated with the other buildings to the south of the site, all local residents - including those in Mora Burnett House - would have retained more open space, with uncluttered views from the top of Eton Avenue for all passers-by, with the improved safety this would have brought.

In addition, the theatre could have become an active link between the library and the leisure centre, while more modest facilities would have allowed it to retain its reputation as a place for new writings and experimental productions.

But the processes by which the whole venture was pushed through remain disgusting and, as predicted, the end result is a sorry comment on the imaginative capacities of all involved in pushing this unwanted and over-blown facility over one of the few public open spaces in the whole of northwest London.

David Reed

Eton Avenue, NW3

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