For the past 50 years, opposite The Oval Cricket Ground, London’s Ovalhouse has been the home to experimental, radical and overlooked artists seeking to make theatre and performance that speaks to a world beyond the mainstream. This week, Hollywood leading man and former James Bond, Pierce Brosnan has become the face of a major fundraising campaign to to take the legendary arts centre two miles south, to a new home in the centre of Brixton.
Brosnan, who, in addition to filling the brogues of 007 from 1995 to 2002, is also known for his leading roles in the feature films The Matador, The Thomas Crown Affair, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer and the award winning film version of the musical Mama Mia. He gained his first acting experience at Ovalhouse when, at the age of 16 in the early 1970s he was invited to the venue by a friend. Soon afterwards he quit his job as a graphic designer to become part of The Ovalhouse Theatre Company and so began his career as an actor.
With other alumni who include Tim Roth, Stephen Rea, David Hare, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Howard Brenton, Oladipo Agboluaje and Nitin Sawhney, The Kennington Oval site is steeped in history and resonates with the lives and stories of many people. It has however become too small for the current operation and the venue’s ambitions and in 2017 Ovalhouse will be moving to its new home in Brixton. The move will be part of the Somerleyton Road Project, an exciting community partnership that will see new homes, the new theatre and more in the heart of Brixton.
To realise this aim, the company is embarking on a fundraising campaign to supplement the value of the current site, which will be invested in the new building. This will be driven through a series of fundraising events, individual and corporate donations all fronted by the Hollywood star. The company has applied to Arts Council England for support to create the new theatre in the centre of Brixton.
The new theatre will offer two theatre spaces plus seven multi-use accessible studios – for rehearsal, participatory work and community activities. It will comprise a significant suite of cultural workspace, bringing jobs and opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises and supporting the already strong cultural sector in Brixton. There will also be an increased range of training within the youth leadership programmes, ensuring professional opportunities and cross transferable skills for local young people. The needs of vulnerable young people will be met in terms of access, safe spaces and purpose-built space, while the building will generate an income stream that will make Ovalhouse resilient and safer from financial shock.
In 2012 Lambeth Council revived the Future Brixton plan and undertook public consultation, including specific questions about the possibility of a theatre and cultural facility on the corner of Coldharbour Lane and Somerleyton Rd. Working with Ovalhouse and Brixton Green, Lambeth Council is now supporting the development – almost 300 homes, community and health facilities, a shop, social enterprise and training opportunities for young people – and right on the street front opposite Brixton Village, a new Ovalhouse.
Pierce Brosnan says “I am deeply honored to be a Patron of the Ovalhouse Theatre; it’s where it all began for me back in 1971. I discovered the world of literature and the arts through theatre, music, dance, and community. I found a home in the arts, within the walls of the Ovalhouse. It was a powerful first step for a 16 year-old Irishman who was not sure of where the next step in life would take him. I was introduced to the exotic world of The Living Theatre, as well as La MaMa, Grotowski, Lecoq, mime, dance, fire eating, street theatre, children’s theatre, and live performance theatre. I found a place where I could dream and be part of a community that made me come alive. I was allowed to express myself…to become an actor and an artist.
Now, a whole new generation is about to discover a new Ovalhouse Theatre in the heart and soul of Brixton where new music will be written and performed, original theatre will be seen, new writers will be heard, and new ideas shaped and created. It’s all there on your very own doorstep.”
Photo: Unimedia images/Rex