Park Theatre’s Parklife fundraising campaign to secure its future

Park Theatre director Jez Bond and Sir Ian McKellen. Picture: Park Theatre

Park Theatre director Jez Bond and Sir Ian McKellen. Picture: Park Theatre - Credit: Archant

Actors including Simon Callow are backing the Finsbury Park venue’s bid to survive the pandemic and thrive once more as a community hub

Simon Callow is Sergey Diaghilev in Russian Voices-The Lightning Conductor by Matthew Hurt part of H

Simon Callow is Sergey Diaghilev in Russian Voices-The Lightning Conductor by Matthew Hurt part of Hampstead & Highgate Festival at The Embassy Theatre - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Theatre-lovers were dismayed by impresario Cameron Mackintosh’s recent prediction that the West End would not reopen until “early next year”.

But his grim forecast that large scale performances would be “the last public entertainment to go back” is echoed closer to home at Finsbury Park’s Park Theatre.

Artistic director Jez Bond’s best case scenario for reopening is Christmas - the worst case is no live theatre until April 2021.

“I’m quite realistic about the time frame,” he explains. “My concern is not to come back too early and risk a second wave and lockdown - killing us a second time would be harder than staying closed.”

Miriam Margolyes in Sydney and The Old Girl at Park Theatre

Miriam Margolyes in Sydney and The Old Girl at Park Theatre - Credit: Archant

Although he’s “hopeful” to resume in January, he’s unsure when people will feel confident to return.

“I know people crave that environment of same space storytelling but I don’t know when older theatregoers in particular will want to go back into a room - they will be more cautious and vulnerable.”

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Like other venues, the Park came to a juddering halt in mid March. A well recieved production of La Cage Aux Folles was pulled, tickets were refunded or turned into credit notes - then a few weeks later came the bombshell from the Board of Trustees - without income from ticket sales, the unsubsidised theatre would go under.

The ever enterprising director got on the phone to supporters, “well known actors, members of the public”, and raised £300,000 in 48 hours.

The cash has bought time, but now he has launched Parklife, a £100,000 fund to ensure they can reopen with the same exciting, original in-house productions they have built a reputation for.

“We had two really fun plays on, just what people need now, and hopefully can see again, then suddenly we were frantically trying to keep this ship alive,” says Bond.

“We are a charity who don’t get a penny of subsidy either local or Arts Council and we were facing a situation where if we went past May, we would be past the point of no return for solvent liquidation and should liquidate while there was money in the bank.

“I was determined to fight tooth and nail for our staff and local community, to raise enough to get us out of this horrible situation. I rang everyone who has donated in the past, come to a gala or bought at an auction and said ‘this is critical, we are sinking’. In our worst case scenario we can now survive until spring next year. But survive is all we can do. Parklife will ensure we are not crippled and wiped out when we do reopen.”

Highgate actor Simon Callow is a supporter of the theatre - as is Sir Ian McKellen and Benedict Cumberbatch, while Miriam Margolyes and Tracy Ann Oberman have graced its stage since it opened in 2013.

He was mid-rehearsal for a Broadway musical based around the songs of Britney Spears when the plug was pulled. But despite voiceover work, a live Dickens event and a biography of Orson Welles to complete, he is hating the lack of deadlines.

“It’s horrible for everybody, we all have this awful feeling of futurelessness,” he says.

“I work best when I have seven deadlines I am failing to make, it gives me the adrenaline and focus - I have all the material for this Orson Welles book but no clear sense of when it might come out..”

He says British Theatre is in a state of “desperation”.

“From the biggest to the smallest, they all depend on the very thing that we are all unable to do. The worry is that people will take a long time to feel confident to start going to the Theatre again. It’s been dinned into us relentlessly that proximity to others is dangerous, to sit in a room, huddled together side by side, it will take time to get that out of our heads.”

Most theatres he says are “getting by by the skin of their teeth”.

“Almost no-one makes money out of theatre. The idea of the theatre as a money machine is erroneous, in the case of a small theatre Like The Park, it’s touch and go every month.”

He praises Bond’s zest for building a “reputable producing house in a short space of time”.

“He has created relationships with writers producers, actors, audiences and the local community, it’s a vital, exciting space to be in, there’s a feeling of buzzing activity and interesting initiatives which has had a huge effect on the area and created a neighbourhood feel in Finsbury Park.

“It is amazing, but a moment like this it’s incredibly hard to make a case for the arts. People say it’s the icing on the cake but it is the cake. It’s nourishing and delightful, something we need in our lives. It’s where we are more human.

“I am thrilled that audiences are streaming theatre, it shows there’s an appetite to hear these stories and see these actors, but it’s no substitute for seeing it in the flesh.

“The whole purprose of theatre is that citizens come out to share their stories.

It’s like Orlando’s line from As You Like It as he stumbles out of the forest desperate and hungry and says ‘thou seest we are not all alone unhappy’.

The theatre says, we know what happiness is and all share in it.

“The great social benefit of the theatre is to come together as individuals and share something.”

Callow accepts that it’s “asking a lot to be bailed out,” but without it there’s no question “some theatres will go to the wall.”

Meanwhile Bond pledges that “every penny” of their gofundme campaign will “go to your local theatre.”

“We are going to survive this and come back as strong as before with a wonderful programme and be a hub and a neighbourhood space for the community.”

With £42,000 raised so far you wouldn’t bet against it.