Camden Roar: 25 years of Camden People’s Theatre

Human Jam picture credit: Donkey Studio

Human Jam picture credit: Donkey Studio - Credit: Archant

The former pub in Hampstead Road has been championing experimental socially conscious coummunity facing performances for two and a half decades

Kings Cross Remix picture credit: Paul Samuel White

Kings Cross Remix picture credit: Paul Samuel White - Credit: Archant

An article in the Ham&High in March 1995, heralded the founding of Camden People’s Theatre by “a group of idealistic young theatremakers.”

A splinter group of the Somers Town-based Unity Theatre, which had links to the Communist Party and Workers Theatre Movement, they took over a former pub in Hampstead Road near Euston and put on politically engaged work with according to current co-artistic director Brian Logan, “a community facing agenda”.

Operating on a shoestring, it has overcome leaky ceilings, squatters and financial insecurity to champion experimental, innovative theatre. Along the way it helped launch the careers of Blind Summit, Fevered Sleep and ex-artistic director Chris Goode.

“It became associated with left field performances and experimental theatre, and there has always been a commitment to working with artists at the start of their career, prioritising young people making innovative work and helping them get their foot on the industry ladder,” says Logan, who became co artistic director in 2011 with Jenny Patton.

Kings Cross Remix

Kings Cross Remix - Credit: Archant

The duo have continued to stage bold, experimental, uncompromising work which addresses the concerns of the local community, putting on around four festivals a year “on a social or political theme” including feminism, the housing crisis and working class identity.

“The 25th anniversary seemed a good opportunity for a festival themed around our neighbourhood which celebrates the identity of a distinctive part of London,” says Logan.

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Camden Roar; by for or about the people of south Camden boasts six shows over three weeks by artists supported by the theatre.

King’s Cross REMIX is a verbatim piece on the area’s queer history.

Kings Cross Remix

Kings Cross Remix - Credit: Archant

“In the 70s and 80s it was the safest place for LGBT+ people to be, but as part of the regeneration of King’s Cross it no longer has those associations. The performer went out to interview people who lived through that era and it’s a fond remembrance bringing it back to life.”

Hip Hop theatre company Beats and Elements worked with young people on the Regent’s Park estate to create High Rise Estate about how difficult it is to get a home in London.

And the headline show Human Jam examines the impact of HS2 on the area including the exhumation of 63,000 bodies from St James’ Gardens 100 yards from the theatre’s front door.

“It’s the biggest exhumation of bodies in European history, several of whom are quite distinguished.”

Bodies identified so far include Matthew Flinders who curcumnavigated Australia and Bill Richmond “Britain’s first black sporting superstar.“

“It’s an eyebrow raising project that grabs people’s imagination” says Logan.

“We are in the middle of a community that to some degree is in crisis, we are not against progress and have to accept change, but that should be top down and go hand in hand with the people to whom this community belongs. We are in constant dialogue with the people who live and work locally and they feel a bit beleaguered by HS2.

“Many will be forced to lose their homes, businesses and places of cultural significance like Drummond Street are under threat and the population feel their concerns are not being listened to.

“One thing that community engaged theatre can do is amplify the issues that matter to people right now and make sure those voices are heard.”

Camden Roar runs at Camden People’s Theatre from May 7-25