Intimate Theatre

A landmark building in its local community and with a rich theatrical history that is in danger of being demolished.

Intimatetheatre london exterior mainfacade c davidreed detail
Address
521 Green Lanes, Palmers Green, London N13 4DH
Risk Rating
6 (Community Value: 2 Star Rating: 1, Risk Factor: 3
Local Authority
London Borough of Enfield
Owner
Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster
Operator
Saint Monica’s Church Parish
Architect
Unknown
Date of Construction
1931
Listing
Asset of Community Value
Capacity
406

Significance

The theatre was original built as a church hall for St. Monica’s Roman Catholic Church, but became a full-time repertory theatre in 1935 when actor John Clements, who had an ambition to run his own company, leased the building from the church authorities. It continued to stage weekly repertory theatre until 1969 and is now considered a rare survivor of a building that illustrates repertory theatre design in the inter-war period.

After rep closed, the theatre became home to local drama and music societies. In 1988 an application for change of use from theatre to parish community centre incorporating smaller theatre and facilities for arts and social centre activities was granted despite much opposition. The Intimate Theatre was used by amateur theatre groups, doubling as a church hall.

In addition to the clear architectural interest, the Intimate Theatre has a rich social and cultural history, including hosting the first complete play to be broadcast live by the BBC, becoming a pioneer in live transmissions of complete dramas to television. Many famous names have trodden the boards at the theatre, including Richard Attenborough who made his professional stage debut there in 1941 and David Bowie who appeared at the theatre in 1968 as a part of the Lindsay Kemp Company.

The building is locally listed and a local group campaigning to save the building has recently been successful in its application to list the building as an Asset of Community Value.

Why is this theatre at risk?

St Monica’s Catholic Church considers that the theatre building is no longer fit for purpose and wishes to redevelop the theatre to build a new parish hall and residential accommodation. The new plans will not only demolish a building that is locally listed but also will not provide for any new theatre space. The scheme was submitted to Enfield London Borough Council for planning permission in May 2019.

Theatre potential

The Intimate had played an important role as a small community theatre in an area that is short of provision. It was used regularly by St Monica’s Players and several other groups who have since needed to find alternative premises or have disbanded. The hall was also used for ad hoc events. Demand is still evident and the St Monica Players still receives emails asking to book the theatre for shows. There has much local interest including a passionate campaign to retain the building for theatre use.

Core Policy 11 within the Enfield Plan Core Strategy 2010 – 2025, seeks to address an identified lack of arts and cultural services and venue provision in the borough, which includes studio and rehearsal spaces. The south west of the borough where the Intimate is located has been cited as an area that is particularly underprovided. The Intimate currently serves an important role in providing these services and its loss will further compound this shortage.

Current situation

An online petition to save the theatre was started and from this an active campaign group has formed. The group has managed to get the building listed as an Asset of Community Value. Theatres Trust is in contact with the group and is providing advice on how best to offer the building protection, while also seeking discussions with the owner. The campaign is being backed by industry figures including actor, director and author Steven Berkoff and actor and presenter Nicholas Parsons, both of whom have also played at the theatre in the past.

Theatres Trust submitted an application to list the building in February 2019, which was sadly unsuccessful. A subsequent review of the listing decision was also unsuccessful.

Despite the building’s history as a theatre and the building’s current lawful use including theatre use, the applicant actively sought to disregard the role of Theatres Trust as a statutory consultee when the proposals were submitted for planning in May 2019. Initially we were not formally consulted by the council and were alerted to the submission of the application by the campaign group.

Theatres Trust strongly objected to the proposals on the basis of the loss of the site as a theatre for which need and demand clearly existed (Enfield’s Local Plan has identified a lack of provision within that part of the borough) and for which there was no evidence to the contrary or sufficient re-provision, and because the proposals were seeking to demolish a heritage asset. Furthermore, all of these reasons are supported by Enfield, London and national policy provisions. It was also noted that the applicant’s Heritage Statement contained omissions and inaccuracies. Theatres Trust was eventually formally consulted on the proposals in August 2019 – and again we set out our strong objections to the loss of the historically important and local loved theatre space. The planning application has yet to be determined.

In October 2019, Enfield London Borough Council brokered a meeting between the Theatres Trust, the Greater London Authority’s Culture at Risk team, the church and its architect. Following this meeting the church was asked to provide further information. This was to include an option for the adaptation of the existing building to provide the required accessibility and flexibility. Information is still pending.

Theatres Trust will continue to support the campaign group in its ambition to save the Intimate Theatre. Should the current planning application be approved, Theatres Trust will lobby for appropriate re-provision for the theatre to at least the same standard as is currently available, to be secured by way of condition and Section 106 agreement.

Main photo Intimate Theatre, David Reed