Streatham Hill Theatre

One of south London’s most lavish ‘sleeping beauties’ and the last theatre designed by W. G. R. Sprague, the architect responsible for some of the most stunning theatres in London.

Streatham Hill Theatre
Address
110 Streatham Hill, London, SW2 4RD
Risk Rating
7 (Community Value: 3, Star Rating: 2, Risk Factor: 2)
Owner
Ruach City Church (Poll Mount Ltd to May 2022)
Operator
Merkur Casino UK
Architect
William George Robert Sprague & W. H. Barton
Date of Construction
1929
Listing
Grade II / Asset of Community Value
Capacity
c. 2800

Significance

Built in 1929, this was the last theatre designed by theatre architect William George Robert Sprague. It is possibly his largest and one of the best-equipped in London outside of the West End. The theatre has an imposing faience facade. The foyer is spacious, with tall gilded Ionic columns and arches, a terrazzo floor, and two round kiosks on each side of the grand central stairway. This sweeps up to dress circle and balcony levels, parting at the centre into two flights with iron balustrading. The auditorium is lavish and has excellent sightlines with two balconies. The foyers, auditorium, and public areas were described as being ‘in the Adam manner’ but are quite eclectic, with friezes of sphinxes, angels, and garlands in abundance. The theatre was hit by a V1 flying bomb in 1944 but was reconstructed in 1950 closely to the original Sprague designs. Original wooden stage machinery is also still in situ, together with the counterweight flying and three-part forestage orchestra lifts.

It was listed Grade II in 1994 as ‘an unusually lavish example of a theatre built in the short-lived revival of building in 1929-30; as a suburban example of this date the building may be unique.’ It was registered as an Asset of Community Value in 2018.

A Statement of Historical Significance, commissioned as a part of the viability study has shown that the theatre is significant on a number of levels: its place in the work of the original architect W.G.R Sprague, being a rare example of interwar suburban theatre buildings, its aesthetic completeness, quality and scale - and its role in the collective cultural memory of its local community.

In November 2021 Historic England included Streatham Hill Theatre on its Heritage at Risk Register, giving it further protection and recognition.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Streatham Hill Theatre has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2018.

Praesepe plc closed its Beacon Bingo operation in the main auditorium in January 2017 and currently (now named Merkur Casino UK) operates a Cashino slot-machine lounge out of the rear of the stalls only, leaving the future of the building uncertain. The closure of bingo also brought the end of local amateur community theatre use in the building. This had been operating using a pop-up theatre space in the circle foyer and had run tours and promenade performances around the building.

Beacon Bingo’s lease expires in 2028 and it is understood that the company will be liable for dilapidations at the end of this term, and this could have a substantial cost implication. The head lease held by Mecca expires on the same date.

It is feared that the building’s owner, Poll Mount Ltd, may have plans for redevelopment. There is also concern that if the more saleable parts of the building are let or developed separately, such as for offices or flats, the auditorium itself may be left in an unsustainable position, and without the income it would need from the rest of the building.

The opulent entrance foyer of Streatham Hill Theatre with remnants of theatre use, including a box office

Theatre potential

There is currently a shortage of both workspace and arts / cultural facilities in the area which this building could address.

In 2020 campaign group The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre raised funds to complete a viability study and economic impact assessment to investigate the theatre’s potential for a sustainable future. The report published in April 2021 confirmed that restoration and phased reuse of the theatre as a leisure and entertainment venue is a viable proposal, and would generate footfall, jobs and economic growth, adding over £70m to the local economy over 30 years.

Current situation

Local campaign group Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre is very proactive and has achieved successes both in fundraising and in harnessing strong community support for the building. The group was also successful in getting the building listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) in July 2018, despite an appeal by the owners. Lambeth Council’s decision to list the theatre as an ACV recognises the theatre’s important cultural and social role in its community. It is also a sign of the council's support to return the theatre to an arts and performance use, continuing Streatham’s path of becoming a more attractive and exciting place for residents and visitors.

A further strong indication of the council and residents’ support for the theatre as a key pillar in local regeneration was provided by the theatre’s inclusion within the council’s 2019 bid to the Future High Streets Fund for Streatham’s high street, although sadly the bid was unsuccessful.

Lambeth’s Investment and Growth Strategy for Streatham in June 2019 included a priority action to explore opportunities for the building as part of its objective of providing spaces for better and new experiences in the area. Furthermore, the states that the former Streatham Hill Theatre provides a transformative opportunity to provide a major leisure and entertainment venue with the potential for workspace for creative, digital and cultural industries.

A successful crowdfunder campaign, including £15,000 from the Mayor of London’s 2020 Crowdfund London, £7,500 from Lambeth Council and £6,000 from our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme, enabled the Friends group to commission a viability study and economic impact assessment. The report was published in April 2021 and confirmed that with investment and refurbishment the operation of the theatre as a leisure and entertainment venue is a viable long-term proposition. It recommends a phased, incremental and collaborative approach, with the immediate focus on making meanwhile use of parts of the building. A minimal refurbishment of the theatre could be implemented as a sustainable operating model in the medium term, while longer-term plans are developed for full refurbishment and operation as a fully commercial theatre. This is an exciting and important step in the journey to breathe new life into this magnificent theatre.

Theatres Trust has been supporting the campaign group since its formation providing fundraising and viability study advice. In addition, the Association of British Theatre Technicians Historical Research Committee has carried out extensive research into the theatre’s unique and significant history and its current condition.

In November 2021 Streatham Hill Theatre was added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register, a list of the most valued historic places and those most at risk of being lost. The recognition will help provide additional protection to the theatre, building on foundations already laid through the work of the campaign group, Theatres Trust, and other stakeholders, and help continue the theatre’s journey on a pathway to achieving a sustainable and positive future.

Theatres Trust is continuing to support the Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre and key stakeholders with early-stage project advice.

Update May 2022

Theatres Trust has been made aware that Streatham Hill Theatre has been sold to an unknown buyer. We are encouraging them to get in touch with us to discuss their plans. Read our full response to this news.

Update June 2022

Save Britain's Heritage (SAVE) has added Streatham Hill Theatre to its Buildings at Risk list. At the same time, the Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre campaign group has announced that David Harewood MBE and Jools Holland OBE DL have  become Patrons for the campaign.

Update July 2022

Further to the news in May that Streatham Hill Theatre had been bought, it has been confirmed that the building has been sold on, with the new owners confirmed as Ruach City Church.

Photos, Streatham Hill Theatre, Tim Hatcher