New Venue Potemkin Theatre Launches In East London
Winner of the 2019 Antepavilion Architecture Prize 2019, London's brand new Potemkin Theatre announces its late-summer programme of fresh, forward-looking performance and audience-focused events. Bringing together opera, family-friendly theatre, new writing for the stage, expert architectural talks and an innovative two-day symposium, the programme makes the very most of its waterside location and encourages audiences to enjoy the remaining late-summer evenings. Opening with a performance from Shadwell Opera, the programme draws to a close almost a month later with a weekend symposium focusing on the future of immersive theatre and design that involves, among other guests, members of the renowned PunchDrunk team.
Created by Maich Swift Architects, the Potemkin Theatre is the third annual Antepavilion. The bold, geometric structure is attached to the top of a Haggerston warehouse. Its fantastic canal-side location allows audiences to witness performance happening either from the roof itself, or by looking across the waterway. This playful structure is inspired by the ramshackle house of Monsieur Hulot in the iconic Jacques Tati film Mon Oncle. The name, in turn, is a reference to the eighteenth-century Russian military leader Grigory Potemkin, famed for having constructed faux villages in order to please Empress Catherine II. Accordingly, the Potemkin Theatre is deliberately façade-like, with one side covered in coloured laminate and the other left open to reveal the building's structural skeleton.
Shadwell Opera open the main programme with two performances of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's visceral and disturbing monodrama 8 Songs for a Mad King. The youthful operatic company, who specialise in staging opera in non-traditional spaces, have thoroughly re-worked and put their own stamp on this compelling drama based on the life of King George III. Directed by Jack Furness, the staging poses eviscerating questions about the overwrought anxieties of our own age.
Joyful theatre company Hikapee bring their delightful combination of circus, puppetry and storytelling to the Potemkin Theatre with Look up! This family-friendly show follows Robyn, a child puppet who doesn't know how to be scared. Unlike many members of the audience (young or old) Robyn is not interested in work or phones.
The Architecture Foundation hosts a public talk between Steve Tompkins, director of architectural firm Haworth Tompkins, and David Jubb, former artistic director of the Battersea Arts Centre. Haworth Tomkins were behind the highly celebrated renovation of the Grade II* listed South London arts venue after it was devastated by a fire in March 2015.
For one night only, the UK premiere of Colour Blind by Oren Safdie comes to the Potemkin Theatre. Oren is the son of Moshe Safdie, world-famous architect, and his play is inspired by the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. Colour Blind imagines a fictional jury assembled to choose the winning architectural design for the building while delivering a sharp satire of the racial politics informing the jury members' decision. Colour Blind stars stage and screen actress Alana Maria alongside US actor Akie Katobe, best known for TV and film roles including Humans and Mad Men.
Closing the announced events is In The Sandbox, a weekend symposium evaluating the ever-popular genre of immersive theatre and its design. Curated by Becky Brown, the scheduled debates and workshops will foster collaboration and the sharing of ideas between theatremakers, game designers, academics, performers and architects. Featured professionals leading the events include members of the PunchDrunk creative team, Martin Coat of Boomtown Fair / Dank Parish, Adam Sibbard of Historic Royal Palaces, Meg Cunningham from the University of Surrey and Janet K Howe, international director of immersive and site-specific theatre.
Complementing the architectural theme of the main programme is a series of rooftop film screenings. Opening on 31 August with Mon Oncle, the following five films all focus on global cities famous for their instantly recognisable urban landscapes. Audiences will be able to enjoy Roman Polanski's Chinatown, Woody Allen's Manhattan, Wim Wender's Wings of Desire, Matthieu Kassovitz's La Haine, and Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty.
Speaking about the Potemkin Theatre, producer Roland Smith said "The Potemkin Theatre cleaves through the urban roof-scape creating a moment of colour and playfulness, making passers-by look twice to check that it is real. Whether it is the operatic madness of 8 Songs for a Mad King, the gravity-defying playfulness of 'Look Up' or the ethereal vision of Berlin in Wings of Desire each aspect captures that sense of disrupting the city through drawing out the life beneath the concrete and above the skyline. At a time when the provision of affordable arts and performance space is being priced out of central London, the transience of the Potemkin Theatre serves to maintain a presence in a city where increasing rents threaten London's status as a place for creation."
The Antepavilion Architecture prize is an open architectural competition run by Shiva Ltd in collaboration with the Architecture Foundation. The 2019 winning entry, the Potemkin Theatre, was selected from 188 entries responding to the brief to design a beacon-like structure beside the Regent's Canal.
Maich Swift Architects are a London-based architectural firm established by Ted Swift and Paul Maich. Prior to founding the company, the pair worked together at Caruso St John Architects on projects including the 2016 Stirling Prize winning Newport Street Gallery.
Shadwell Opera specialize in staging intimate, accessible operatic performances in unusual spaces. Established in 2009, the company is led by artistic director Jack Furness and musical director Finnegan Downie Dear. Their aim is to promote the talents of younger opera performers, champion British opera and find non-traditional spaces to perform in. The company has previously staged Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' other work The Lighthouse.
Hikapee is a vibrant circus theatre company established in 2014 by Bryony Livesey and Edd Casey. The team creates narrative-driven work for all ages performed in a variety of theatres and outdoor spaces.
Oren Safdie is a playwright and screenwriter. The son of internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, he originally studied architecture before switching to playwriting while completing his Masters in Architecture. The author of 14 plays, Safdie previously used his experience of the architecture industry to inform his play Private Jokes, Public Places, which satirizes the experience of a young Korean-American student presenting to a jury of famous architects.
Becky Brown is a London-based Creative Producer and Event Manager specializing in immersive and interactive experiences, and live events. Alongside Oscar Blustin, Becky runs SPECIFIQ, a site-specific and immersive theatre company which has worked on commissions for The National Theatre, the National Maritime Museum and the Tower Bridge Engine Rooms.
The Potemkin Theatre programme is supported by a grant from Arts Council England and is delivered in partnership with Dezeen.
The Potemkin Theatre and Antepavilion are supported by the Architecture Foundation and Shiva Ltd.