The pioneering London theatre will nurture a new audience with a year-round programme of free kids shows and affordable classics for all
Opening in The Hithe opposite Rotherhithe Station, Rotherhithe and East London Playhouse (THE REP) is a new arts space offering local and London audiences Pay What You Can and free shows, offering culture to those who would not normally be able to afford it. The Rotherhithe Playhouse was founded by Phil Willmott immediately following the first lockdown in 2020, putting on classic productions in unusual spaces, and they now move into their new home where they continue to serve the community. The Hithe, an eye-catching bottle green structure, provides the company with an intimate studio space and an outdoor space for summer shows. The programme will include children’s shows alongside classic plays, with their first season opening with children’s show Telling Tails from Ukraine (28 Oct – 6 Nov) based on Eastern European folklore, alongside Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well (25 Oct – 6 Nov). The Christmas season will feature the premiere of The Christmas Wife (Lisa Kuma’s adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House) and children’s show The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (dates TBC).
THE REP is committed to mounting a show that’s free for under 14s every half term and school holiday. It is the artistic vision of the venue that children should be able to see theatre not just once or twice in their childhood, but habitually, naturally, and without fear of feeling excluded or that they won’t be able to afford it. In addition, large amounts of tickets to each show will be available on a Pay What You Can basis, and free tickets are available for those accessing food banks and subsidised school meals. Audiences can access the tickets through the website by selecting the amount they want to pay or by emailing to request free tickets.
The repertoire will place equal importance on theatre for younger and older audiences building on Willmott’s Essential Classics programming, established over 15 years at London’s summer theatre season at The Scoop, City Hall. Great plays of the past are carefully chosen for their relevance to our lives today.
After a 30-year multi-award-winning international career as a theatre maker and writer, Artistic Director Phil Willmott wants to ensure that theatre not only survives but thrives in the community. He said, “As a kid, theatre was really important to me. I didn’t go to a particularly good school so I would take myself off on Saturday afternoons to see plays and musicals at Bristol Old Vic. It was how I learnt about the world. When Covid closed all the theatres, I realised there was a real danger of a whole generation of kids never being taken to the theatre, who will have never seen the plays they are studying. I felt the longer the pandemic went on, the more people would get out of the habit of going to the theatre, so an entire art form could die away.”
The Hithe an exciting new landmark building opposite Rotherhithe Station, a vital community hub, in a neighbourhood undergoing rapid change. It is constructed of an efficient lightweight steel and timber frame and sits on the site’s existing foundations, largely eliminating the need for any new concrete in the project. Working within the constraints of a tight budget, the structure has been designed to be fully demountable and re-locatable, every ten years ensuring long-term use. The building acts as a hinge point between the existing community and the new developments around it, aiming to connect new and existing residents as the area undergoes significant change. The Hithe’s design complements the vision that local people have for the identity of the area, without losing sight of Rotherhithe’s dockland history.
Rotherhithe Playhouse began as soon as the first lockdown was lifted with Hamlet performed on the sand banks of the Thames, and continued to stage classic plays in unusual spaces including Great Expectations in the gardens of Rotherhithe’s Victorian former mortuary and Macbeth staged in the courtyard of The Ship pub.
All’s Well That Ends Well will be directed by Phil Willmott and continues in Rotherhithe Playhouse’s tradition of producing classic plays in accessible ways. One of Shakespeare’s most puzzling plays, it tells the story of Helena, a doctor’s daughter who falls hopelessly in love with Bertram and is granted his hand in marriage by a grateful King of France against the young man’s wishes. The moral compass of the play spins throughout, with no one behaving quite as expected, but doing what they need to survive.
Telling Tails from Ukraine is a family show for half term, based on Eastern European folktales as seen through the eyes of the fantastical beasts there, including the excitable, motley animal crew of The Mitten, a much-loved story of a hedgehog, a rabbit, a mouse, an owl, and a bear all trying to take up residence in an old man’s lost glove.
For more information please visit: www.myplayhouse.uk