Church Street theatre opens

La Chunga

Second Skin Theatre perform La Chunga. Photograph: Helen F Kennedy

An ambitious new theatre has opened this month in Stoke Newington, presenting professional productions whilst running a project for a local charity.

Church Street Theatre, housed beneath Ryan’s Bar on Church Street, opened its doors yesterday (5 September) with the UK premiere of Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa’s work La Chunga, performed by resident company Second Skin, who will also be orchestrating a programme aimed at getting local youth involved in theatre.

The theatre is the creation of Andy McQuade, artistic director of Second Skin and a member of the Young Directors programme at the Young Vic. McQuade was invited by the owner of Ryan’s Bar, Ged O’Sullivan, to set up a theatre in the basement of the venue, with an aim to transform it into one of London’s top fringe theatres within six months. O’Sullivan ploughed thousands of pounds into renovating the space, and in partnership with McQuade and producer Samuel Julyan, converted it into an intimate, 34-seat theatre.

As well as putting on a professional production every two months, the theatre will run a communal scheme called The Offline Project, in association with Seven Sisters based charity Chance. The four month-long programme will offer young people from local estates the chance to study theatre and drama in a supportive environment, under the tutelage of experienced professionals. Students will be able to study acting, as well as other disciplines of theatre, such as lighting, sound and costume design.

Many of the cast and crew of La Chunga are full time company members and will be helping with the project. “Everyone will be getting involved,” says McQuade, “we will all be running workshops, tutorials and master classes”. McQuade’s own experiences as a teenager inspired him to get the scheme off the ground. “I grew up on a council estate in Reading,” he says. “I was lucky; I was plucked out by someone involved in a church choir who got me involved in the arts. My life got a little derailed later on, but because I had a foundation in the arts it gave me something to go back to.”

As a previous resident of Seven Sisters who moved in to the area after the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985, McQuade is convinced theatre can make a difference to disillusioned local adolescents. “There are so many kids caving in to peer pressure these days”, he continues.

“I know for a fact that if we can get some of these kids aged 16 or 17 involved; if they’ve got an arena, an opening, a number to call, we can do great things.”

La Chunga
Mon 5 September – Sun 2 October

The Church Street Theatre
Ryan’s Bar (basement)
181 Church Street
Stoke Newington N16 0UL

Monday – Thursday evenings 7:30pm
Friday evenings 7pm
Sunday matinees 3pm.
No Saturday performances.
Tickets £10.