A landmark building for its north London community with a rich theatrical history that is in danger of being demolished.
- 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
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster
- Saint Monica’s Church Parish
- Date of Construction
- Locally listed / Asset of Community Value
- Database Link
- View in Theatres Database
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 the 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.
Local group, Save the Intimate Theatre, formed once news of the church’s redevelopment plans became public. It vigorously campaigned to protect and preserve this valuable community and historic asset, supported by Theatres Trust, with both parties calling on the church to review options for the adaption of the existing building to provide the required accessibility and flexibility of space. This is also believed a more sustainable approach.
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. Theatres Trust was formally consulted on the proposals in August 2019, which we strongly opposed. Planning permission for redevelopment was approved by the Planning Committee in November 2020.
Theatres Trust’s subsequent request for the application to be called in to the Secretary for State for Housing, Communities and Local Government was unsuccessful. However, our request to the council to review the decision, as it was our belief that planning committee reached a decision based on erroneous and misleading information, was upheld. 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 for a fresh decision, 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.
Although the applicant subsequently submitted amended plans showing that a small demountable stage and equipment could be inserted, we considered these to be insufficient and poorly planned. Nonetheless, despite our detailed written critique, members of the planning committee voted to approve the redevelopment of the site at the meeting in March 2022. This now paves the way for the demolition of the Intimate, a building that is locally listed, with long links to live performance use and cherished by the local community.
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 fulfils an important role in providing these services and its loss will further compound this shortage.
A decision notice for the planning permission was granted in December 2023, over 18-months after the initial planning committee meeting approved the redevelopment of the site. The delay was due to the decision being subject to the completion of a Section 106 agreement with the applicant, within which obligations for the continued availability of the new hall for theatre use have been included. The notice also contains a recording condition and submission of a public performance management plan with a requirement for the hall to be operational before the second 50% of the new residential units can be occupied. The church has three years from the date of the decision notice to implement the scheme.
The council had agreed to engage with us on the wording within the planning conditions and the Section 106 agreement in relation to theatre and heritage matters; we had some initial engagement on parts of those matters, but did not have sight of the final wording until after publication.
Despite the resolution to grant planning permission, there remains some hope that there may be a late change of heart by the church and that the Intimate Theatre could still be saved. We maintain that retention and adaption of the existing building could be a more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable option, better meeting the wider community needs of the parish while maintaining much-valued local theatre provision.
Main photo Intimate Theatre, David Reed