Rehearsals have begun at Hackney’s Tower Theatre as building work on the company’s new base in Stoke Newington nears the finishing line.
The Tower Theatre Company, founded in 1932, had been left without a home for 15 years after losing its former site in Canonbury to a solicitor’s error.
But planning approval was secured last year for the theatre’s move to Sunstone House on Northwold Road.
In an interview with the Hackney Citizen, Tower board member Sarah Ambrose spoke of the company’s happiness to have a secure base from which to work.
Ambrose said: “We were very fortunate – though we had the money ringfenced to fund the purchase of the building, we didn’t have the money for the work that needed to be done to open the place.
“We then had a very sizeable bequest from one of our members, and that was the money that allowed us to make it all happen. Now we’ve got our own home again.”
Tower’s autumn programme kicks off with Henry V in September, followed by To Kill a Mockingbird, The Seagull, and a production of Tanya Ronder’s Table.
Whilst Tower can boast of famous names among its alumni, including Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay and Alfred Molina, Ambrose emphasised that onstage work is just part of the company’s ethos.
“The movers and shakers who run the theatre are not just acting members, but technicians as well. We want to really get our friends and supporters involved in all of the other activities that we have,” she said.
“Not just front of house, wardrobe, props, set design, and doing the bar, (which of course is very important obviously!) but also coming along and supporting the events – we also want to be having monthly talks, quizzes, play readings.
“What we weren’t able to do in the peripatetic years is all the extraneous activity. In our old venue, we were able to make great links with local schools – we ran a youth group and a children’s group. Once we’re properly up and running, we certainly intend to do that again.”
Once their first season is complete, Tower intends to make its new site available for community daytime hire. The renovations to the former women’s gym have been extensive.
In addition to the new main space and studio theatre, the new Tower will have three rehearsal rooms, a bar, and a new costume store in what was once the swimming pool.
Interviewed on Tower Theatre’s own blog, project leader Nigel Shepherd said: “To create the auditorium, we had to take down an existing mezzanine floor.
“It was a massive undertaking – 20 cubic yards of plasterboard, four tons of steel girders that had to be chopped up in the sky and brought down in five foot lengths, each weighing about 100 kilos – it was quite epic.
“With the basement, the swimming pool had a concrete upstand going all the way around that had to be removed. We used a company who do what they call ‘concrete bursting’.
“They core with diamond drilling equipment these holes in the side of the concrete and then use massive hydraulic pressure to break, or burst, the concrete apart – then you chop it up and get rid of it. That was a highlight.”
Ambrose added: “I can’t emphasise enough that every person involved is a volunteer – we have a full-time administrator who we do pay, but apart from that everything is done voluntarily.
“People come to us to form a community – come along and get experience if you’d want to! People are doing it for the love of it.”
Tower is now seeking further funding for a disabled-access lift – more information can be found on its crowdfunding page.
For more information on Tower’s upcoming shows or how to get involved, please visit the theatre’s website