November 3 2016
Old theatre undergoes unique eye-catching transformation as new season is under way and holds further rich possibilities…
FINDING an antique-looking large Indian door in South London is quite a surprise, and so too are the other Asian inspired architectural touches that make the new refurbished Tara Arts Theatre building something of a small wonder.
You don’t need to take our word for its uniqueness – it’s just been handed an award.
The architects behind the Earlsfield theatre’s transformation, Aedas, have just been handed the title, ‘Project Design of the Year’ by the London Construction Awards 2016.
The newly refurbished venue reopened its door this autumn – complete with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (and one-time local MP) at the official opening – and this new first season of drama continues until 2017.
Jatinder Verma, founder and director of Tara told www.asianculturevulture.com: “I am delighted that the new Tara Theatre’s design has been recognised by the London Construction Awards this year.
“It is wonderful that the design by our architect, Julian Middleton of Aedas, has caught the imagination of London’s construction sector – proving once again that small theatres can be as beautiful and inspiring as large ones.”
The old 50-seater theatre with plastic chairs has been replaced by a state of the art 100-seat main space and the building also now boasts a studio, refurbished bar and lobby area, as well as new office accommodation.
Costing £2.7 million, 70 per cent of it covered through the Arts Council and Lottery funding, and the rest through donations from trusts, foundations and nearly 1,500 individuals, it’s an inspiring mix of the East and West and should, as Verma told us in an earlier interview (before the construction award), leave a profound, proud and considerable legacy.
It is largely the small but meaningful Asian touches that give the building its own ‘star’ quality and it shouldn’t be just the plays or actors alone who draw people to this suburb of London any more.
Just a 100 metres or so from Earslfield station and about 10 minutes train ride to Waterloo, this is a little bit of South Asia in London, like you have probably never seen before (outside of an exhibition space).
From the antique-door (see pictures), understood to be Tamilian, to the trinket spaces in the garden, the ornamental flourishes in unexpected places, and the earth stage floor, it is like stepping into a different and special world.
It was about 10 years ago that Verma, one of the UK’s best known theatre figures, had the vision for a new building.
“I reimagined the entire space and I wanted to give it a special kind of look.
“I was very concerned that this was a sort of legacy building and represents in architecture what we are about – connecting worlds – East and West and I think you can see that in the building,” explained Verma.
He was very conscious of the statement a new building could make.
“I had to make it unique, part of the uniqueness is that it had to have various Indian elements in there – so there is no place that has got Indian doors; no theatre that has an earth stage floor.”
Underneath the covering on the main stage is soil from Devon.
“It’s the only place in the country that has that has a reddish quality – it goes back to the earliest times,” explained Verma. “I’ve always been conscious of the origins of humanity in the Rift Valley (Africa).
“That is the nature of theatre – we are always having a dialogue between the past and the future. It’s the perfect symbolism,” he argued.
The original building was demolished and in its place the new theatre has risen – complete with part solar energy.
“I am very pleased with the quality of it. It stands with the best of arts buildings in the country and what I was aiming for. It’s artistically beautiful and a state of the art.
“Over the years, when one thinks of multi-cultural spaces, there was always a sense of it being less than beautiful. I was determined to make it a beautiful space and people deserve beauty when they come to the theatre. It was very important that artistically it is an interesting piece of architecture.”
The whole building was demolished and rebuilt and the 7,500 bricks from the original have been reused in the new structure.
A new studio space and the enhanced building means the outfit can also host events and market itself outside beyond being just a theatre.
“There’s an opportunity to work with others, host other shows and with the theatre and the studio, we can raise money through corporate events.”
Verma is busy planning a full season programme for 2017 and told www.asianculturevulture.com he is looking to produce 70 events next year in line with 70 years of India and Pakistan independence.
The first event in the programme may could be a presentation of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali” with actors, musicians and dancers performing on India’s Republic Day, January 26.
A similar event marking Pakistan Republic Day and using the work of the poet-philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal (often referred to as the spiritual father of the country) on March 23 is also in the works.
“These are key poets who imagined new nations,” said Verma.
Pictures: Main Top left, and box picture caption on page, all ©Tara Arts by Stephen Haiselden; other pictures unless indicated by ©www.asianculturevulture.com
‘The Diary of Hounslow Girl’ (Ambreen Razia) – Final evening tonight November 3 7.30pm
‘Vagabonds – My Phil Lynott Odyssey’ (Robert Mountford) – November 4 & 5 7.30pm
Bollywood Brass Band (concert) – November 12 7.30pm
Tara Theatre, 356 Garratt Lane, Earlsfield, London SW18 4ES
From December 7-January 7 2017 Panto
Bollywood Jack Monday- Saturday, 7.30pm and Saturdays 2.30pm, for more info/listings/booking http://www.tara-arts.com/whats-on/bollywood-jack