The Bush theatre is to leave its current home above a pub on Shepherd’s Bush Green to move into a new permanent home in the old library building on Uxbridge Road.
The move, described by Bush theatre Artistic Director Josie Rouke as “a huge moment in the life of the Bush”, was agreed yesterday in a meeting of the Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which has granted the space to the theatre on a 125 year lease at a ‘peppercorn’ rent. The decision is “a great validation for the unbelievably hard work of successive teams at the Bush theatre,” added Rourke.
The move is the result of 18 months discussion between the council and the theatre, whose current home above an O’Neill’s pub has suffered numerous problems including power cuts and leaks. In 2008, lighting problems resulted in the theatre staging a season in semi-darkness, wittily entitled Broken Space.
The theatre’s new home, which it will fully occupy from October 2011, will allow the theatre to have a fully flexible 140-seat performance space – an increase on its current capacity of approximately 80 – and rehearsal rooms on site, a benefit it currently does not have. The building also offers substantial space for dressing rooms, offices and a café bar. The Bush will be launching a capital campaign to fund the renovations, which will be designed by Steve Tompkins, who oversaw the renovations of the Royal Court and Young Vic theatres.
Rourke said she was thrilled about “the possibility of what we can do in this space, both theatrically and also with the whole experience for the audience. It will make such a huge difference for the Bush to have its own café and bar and front of house area.”
“The promise of 125 years is something that will enable us to do great things with fundraising and is really reassuring for the team that work at the Bush,” she added.
In 2008 Rourke fought and won a challenge against a proposed £180,000 cut in the funding it receives from the Arts Council, a campaign supported by industry figures including Mamma Mia! writer Catherine Johnson and actors John Simm and Richard Wilson, all of whom have worked at the Bush. Though the arts now face another period of uncertainty given the recent slashing of the Arts Council’s budget, Rourke said today that the new space will help secure its future. “I think a big part of the Bush’s conversation around the proposed cuts last time was about its security of tenure, its long-term future. The great thing about this building is that it will allow us to save and create resource in a way that we’ve not been able to do. There will be a café, a bar, we won’t have to hire rehearsal space. We will be able to offer residencies. We will be able to do what we need to do which is to increase our capacity.”
The move is supported by Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey, previously a member of the Bush theatre’s board. In a statement he commented: “This is brilliant news, I’m over the moon that the Bush theatre has a new home, and most importantly that it will remain right in the heart of the local community. This decision marks the end of years of hard work by all the team at the Bush who have campaigned so determinedly to secure a bright future for the theatre they love. I look forward to celebrating with them soon.”
Prior to the move, the Bush theatre’s current season continues with the Schools Season in January, which comprises two plays examining the issue of education in Britain today. John Donnelly’s The Knowledge and Steve Waters’s Little Platoons will be staged by a company of 11 actors including Joanne Froggatt and Christopher Simpson. Froggatt, who appeared at the Old Vic in All About My Mother in 2007, was recently seen playing maid Anna in ITV’s Downton Abbey, while Simpson has credits including the film Brick Lane and It’s A Wonderful Afterlife.
Current play My Romantic History runs until 20 November.