Phoenix Theatre rises from the ashes

Robert Messick in the King Alfred Phoenix Theatre picture Joshua Thurston

Robert Messick in the King Alfred Phoenix Theatre picture Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

The former theatre where Helen Mirren trained at Golders Green’s New College of Speech and Drama has been refurbed for use by schools professionals and community groups

Many know Ivy House as the former home of ballerina Anna Pavlova, but perhaps fewer remember that her Golders Green estate once housed the New College of Speech and Drama.

Drama teacher Pauline Stuart co-founded the school in 1962 raising the money with the help of high profile patrons Lord Denning Sir Ralph Richardson, Peter Sellers and Richard Dimbleby.

It ran independently for 12 years before being merged into Middlesex Polytechnic, training hudreds of students including Helen Mirren, who performed in the college's Phoenix Theatre.

Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Peter Sellars and Bill Bailey have also played in the space which is now part of King Alfred School.

The Phoenix has recently risen from the ashes as a fully equipped versatile theatre where pupils, community groups and professionals perform.

Artistic director Robert Messik, who took over in 2015, says the cost of bringing it up to scratch has been around £500,000 including a final phase to install a bar, changing rooms, and foyer.

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Hampstead-raised Nina Conti did a fundraising gig to help with the costs.

"When I got here it was a dingy black box with no proper seating and it felt a bit unloved," he says.

"I've tried to turn it into a space that worked with the school and outside groups and get it to a stage where it could become a proper fringe venue in its own right."

The flexible space can be configured into different shapes seating up to 120. Messik say it hosts everything from Sophocles to yoga classes, stand up to Sondheim, cinema to concerts with local groups including WAC Arts, Mousetrap Theatre, Tall Stories and Garden Suurb Theatre renting the space.

"The idea is to run it as a business and make it as flexible and useful as possible. There are no wings or fly towers so we are having to be inventive and creative about staging things, but there's an incredible energy and a genuine affection and love for what we are doing - continuing what was started back in 60s."

A reunion of former New College students and teachers at the theatre was organised recently and Messik says: "They came in, some in their 90s, and you could see the emotion that the theatre was still being used.

"We are working within a theatre that has an incredible history, building on what has gone before, not starting afresh."

Messik also wants to open up the King Alfred Phoenix to schools "that are not as lucky to have this kind of space so they have the chance to work with a professional technician."

Next in the space are previews of Edinburgh Stand up shows including Philip Simon on June 23 and Grainne Maguire and Nick Revell on July 21.

For details of hire and events