This afternoon a fire broke out at the Battersea Arts Centre in South London. The fire spread quickly and it seems that soon flames were tearing through the whole building. There are reports that the roof of the Grand Hall collapsed. The tower fell back into the building around 5.00. Residents are reported to have watched the conflagration in tears.
My Twitter timeline this evening was united in heartbreak. It is hard to overstate the importance of the Battersea Arts Centre to British theatre. It is one of the few theatres in London that has consistently championed experimental performance of all kinds. The companies and performers I've first seen there have gone on to become some of the most significant in the wider culture, from Frantic Assembly to Matt Lucas and David Walliams. The scratch nights (probably 1000s over the last three decades) gave a chance for companies to develop new work in an environment that was protected and supportive but also at the heart of our theatre culture. Did they invent the scratch night? I think they did. And that's spread through the theatre. I last went there to see Christopher Brett Bailey's This Is How We Die, one of the most extraordinary shows of last year. Only today I was licking my metaphorical lips in anticipation of the Taking a Stand season (Chris Thorpe, Coney, Mark Thomas, Chris Goode, Kaleider, Freedom Theatre and more) which was planned to provide a theatrical commentary to the General Election campaign. I worked there - vaguely - in the early 90s, lighting a show for a company set up by university peers (were they called Fast Food Zoo? I forget). Punchdrunk, Forced Entertainment, Raffaello Sanzio, so many shows, so many amazing shows. Through the nineties, the building was run by Tom Morris who went from there to the National and steered it towards collaborative work, devising, working with site-specific, dance, physical theatre, puppetry and more. He co-created War Horse, so in some ways the BAC has changed the mainstream.
Thankfully, it seems no one was injured but the building looks to be terribly damaged.
Let's help. Can you spare £10? I bet you can. What about £20? Why not contribute now? We can help make this extraordinary, beautiful theatre rise from its ashes and carry on feeding and sustaining our theatre.