When the smoke cleared in 2015, few could have imagined that the Grand Hall of Battersea Arts Centre would be restored to its former glory in such a short space of time. But three years since the historic six hundred seat auditorium was destroyed by fire, a celebratory ‘Phoenix Season’ has been announced to mark its reopening.
Artistic director David Jubb and his team have worked tirelessly towards this revival, but credit is also due to the outstanding response of BAC’s epic list of friends and donors. They’ve had help from architects, construction companies, the Arts Council, the Mayor of London, the National Lottery, local-residents, and donations from everywhere and anywhere.
Along with its physical regeneration, Jubb wants to revitalise BAC’s philosophy of accessibility and innovation in the arts. He says it should be ‘a home for everyone’s creativity’, facilitating diverse ideas and passions wherever they come from.
Each show of the Phoenix Season will be preceded by a five minute ‘curtain raiser’ featuring the work of a young, inexperienced, or unknown performer who will gain the exposure and experience of performing before a massive crowd in a full-scale theatre. And for those whose creative interests lie outside performance, the building houses a new ‘Scratch Hub’ where they can incubate their ideas with like-minded people.
The Phoenix Season kicks off in early September and runs to the end of December. Gecko theatre company’s production of Missing will rise from the ashes, resuming its run cut short by the fire in 2015. In October, Bryony Kimmings will return with her first solo show in nearly a decade, appropriately titled I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, exploring the idea of recovery in personal trauma. And in November, BAC’s Up Next artistic director, Lekan Lawal, will put on his multi-art form mash up Superblackman.
Up Next is a programme in partnership with Artistic Directors of the Future championing people of colour in the theatre industry. Over the next two years BAC will be promoting the work of three young directors, with Saad Eddine Said and Tarek Iskander following Lawal next year. Each will have the opportunity to showcase their talents across a range of disciplines, taking on the roles and responsibilities of a fully-fledged artistic director.
Audience accessibility is a big priority for BAC, with renewed emphasis on relaxed performances and comfort zones designed to welcome those who struggle to follow the conventions of theatre etiquette. But they also aim to exhibit the work of diverse social groups, collaborating with organisations like Touretteshero – who will perform Brewing in Battersea sometime in 2019.
The Phoenix Season will finish in style with Little Bulb Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of Orpheus returning home following its international tour. Playing throughout December, Orpheus is inspired by the music of legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and will transform the newly renovated theatre into a Paris music hall of the 1930s.
Three years ago, the fire that ripped through the Battersea Arts Centre must have seemed an unmitigated disaster, but the infectious energy and enthusiasm that today pours through the building evokes a spirit of opportunity, not misfortune. The phoenix characterising their relaunch is more than a clever marketing strategy. It symbolises both the literal history of their movement, and the unequivocal optimism of the staff who have achieved this remarkable regeneration.