My first encounter with Streatham Theatre Company occurred when I attended a performance of their Hallowe’en production The Devil Rides Back. Inspired by local supernatural author Dennis Wheatley, whose most famous book The Devil Rides Out was published in 1934, it is a promenade piece taking audiences on a journey around the Beacon Bingo Club, formerly Streatham Hill Theatre.
The theatre has a rich history and the Company have made the most of this in creating their tour. We were divided into groups and taken around the back alleys and dark corners of the theatre, trying to discover what really happened when an actress was killed and her body disappeared (inspired by a real event). Along the way, we witnessed scenes featuring different characters, from the theatre’s shady manager and a lonely projectionist to the actress’s daughter, a psychic and a bunch of not-particularly-competent devil worshippers. Our guide also told us about the history of the building and the theatre, which enjoyed great success in its early years with actors such as John Gielgud treading the boards, and took us to the hidden areas of the building, including its old foundations (the basement of the house that occupied the site before the theatre was built) and the space below the stage, where the trapdoors, lifts and water pit can still be seen.
The tour alone would have been worth the journey: it was fascinating to see this beautiful building, and such a shame that the large and magnificent auditorium has been turned into a bingo club. Hwever, the murder mystery added an extra dimension to the story and made for a hugely entertaining evening. Streatham Theatre Company might be amateurs, but their complex production punches above its weight.