Intimate Theatre

A landmark building for its north London community with a rich theatrical history that is in danger of being demolished.

The exterior of Intimate Theatre, with a car parking area in the foreground.
Address
521 Green Lanes, Palmers Green, London N13 4DH
Risk Rating
7 (Community Value: 2 Star Rating: 2, 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
Locally listed / Asset of Community Value
Capacity
406

Significance

The theatre was originally 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 successfully applied to have the building listed as an Asset of Community Value.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The Intimate Theatre has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2019.
St Monica’s Catholic Church considers the theatre building no longer fit for purpose and plans to redevelop the theatre to build a new parish hall and residential accommodation. The proposals will not only demolish a locally listed building, but they also do not include any new theatre space.

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

St Monica’s Catholic Church submitted a planning application for the redevelopment of the Intimate to Enfield Council in May 2019. Despite the building’s history as a theatre and 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. Initially, we were not formally consulted by the council, but we were alerted to the application submission by the campaign group. We wrote to strongly oppose the scheme and to remind the council of our role as a statutory consultee. We were eventually formally consulted on the proposals in August 2019. Planning permission for redevelopment was approved by the Planning Committee in November 2020.

Theatres Trust subsequently requested that the application be called in to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who has the power to take over planning applications rather than letting the local authority decide. The letter to call-in cited our belief that the owner has not sufficiently demonstrated that retaining the building as a theatre would be unviable and that the demolition plans are in opposition to Enfield’s own Local Plan, which seeks to address an identified lack of arts and cultural services and venue provision in the borough, including studio and rehearsal spaces. The request to call in the application was turned down.

Theatres Trust also wrote to the council to request a review of the decision for the planning application as it is our belief that the committee reached a decision based on erroneous and misleading information, along with a lack of regard to the views of Theatres Trust as a statutory consultee, or proper justification for departure from those views. Theatres Trust also secured the written opinion of an experienced planning barrister who concluded that the decision to grant permission “will be highly vulnerable to quashing by judicial review in the Planning Court.”

This resulted in the application being brought back to Planning Committee on 18 January 2022, although still with a recommendation for approval. After a lengthy debate, a decision on the redevelopment was deferred in order to seek a greater commitment to theatre performance within the new-build proposals. The scheme will be brought back to Planning Committee at a later date, as yet to be determined.

We remain concerned that the committee may ultimately lean towards demolition of the Intimate, a building that is locally listed, with long links to live performance and cherished by the local community.

Theatre potential

The Intimate has 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 receive emails asking to book the theatre for shows. There has been much local interest and a passionate campaign to retain the building for theatre use that was backed by industry figures including actor, director and author Steven Berkoff and actor and presenter Nicholas Parsons, both of whom played at the theatre early in their careers.

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 southwest 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 once news of the church’s redevelopment plans became public knowledge. On the back of this, an active campaign group Save the Intimate Theatre formed. The group, which includes members of St Monica’s Players who performed at the Intimate, managed to get the building listed as an Asset of Community Value and has been vigorously campaigning to protect and preserve this valuable community and historic asset. Theatres Trust has provided advice on how best to offer the building protection, while also seeking discussions with the owner.

In October 2019 Enfield 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 was not received.

Throughout, Theatres Trust has strongly objected to the proposals on the basis of the loss of the site as a theatre for which need and demand clearly exist, and for which there is no evidence to the contrary or sufficient re-provision, and because the proposals seek to demolish a heritage asset. Furthermore, all of these reasons are supported by Enfield, London, and national policy provisions. Theatres Trust also noted that the applicant’s Heritage Statement contained omissions and inaccuracies. 

Theatres Trust's request to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to have the application called in was turned down. However, the request to the council to review the planning application has been upheld. Enfield Council subsequently contacted Theatres Trust to request further information to help inform the case and this was provided towards the end of 2021.

In January 2022 the council informed Theatres Trust that the application would go back to committee on 18 January with another recommendation to approve. The application was discussed at length. Generally, there was much greater concern expressed at the loss of heritage and provision for performance than had been the case at the first meeting. Councillors eventually voted for a motion to defer a decision to seek greater provision and commitment from the applicant to live performance. It will therefore return to the committee for a final decision after revisions and negotiation between the applicant and the council.

Appropriate re-provision of theatre to a standard that meets the needs of the Intimate’s local users, secured by way of condition and Section 106 agreement, is a ‘last resort’ option which is preferable to a total loss. However, we continue to maintain there are strong grounds for refusal and that the existing theatre should be retained. We consider there to be realistic options for refurbishment that would meet the needs of the parish for wider community functions whilst maintaining the heritage and significance of the Intimate. Theatres Trust will continue to support the campaign group in its ambition to save the Intimate Theatre. Should the planning application be approved at committee a second time, Theatres Trust will again consider options for further review.

Update March 2022

Unfortunately on 8 March, Enfield Council's Planning Committee voted unanimously to grant planning permission to the redevelopment scheme. Read our statement in response to this decision.

Main photo Intimate Theatre, David Reed.