It’s that time of year again: Open House London, the weekend in September when buildings of all kinds are opened to the public for exploration and adventure all over London. Last year I visited three theatres. This year I broadened my outlook a bit, only taking in one theatre during my weekend of visits. This was the Bush Theatre, located – as the name suggests – in Shepherd’s Bush.
The theatre moved to its current location, an ex-library, in 2012. The foyer, with its welcoming bar and comfy seating, echoes its literary past with a library of playtexts, not (officially) borrowable but free for anyone to use on the premises. Even when there is no show on, the bar is often full of people working, reading or relaxing.
The box office is a small desk at one end of the space, with posters of current and recent shows displayed above. There are several interesting features in this room, not least the front of the bar, which was made with doors found lying around upstairs.
We were taken into the auditorium, a “black box” space which is very versatile and can be adapted for each production. Later in the tour we got to see some of the scale models made for different productions, showing just how adaptable the space is. Even the four columns in the room can be worked into the designs. This area was part of a 1950s extension to the library, and the windows have been covered up so that light cannot seep into the theatre space.
We couldn’t see the dressing rooms because the actors were using them, but we were able to see the backstage area where scenery and props are made. Again it was possible to see that this space was part of a later extension to the library.
We exited this space and went round the building to see the foundation stone, laid by J. Passmore Edwards in 1895.
We spent a brief amount of time in the garden, which looked like a lovely place to relax away from the bustle of Shepherd’s Bush. The “carpet” is made of tyre shavings, and had a strange smell which I actually rather liked!
Here, we were able to witness the extension from the outside.
Back inside, we ventured upstairs, passing a window which had a good view of the Overground tracks.
In the Attic Space (sometimes used for performances) there was a small display of photographs and artefacts relating to the history of the building, including pictures of its use as a library.
One of the items was this interesting leaflet from the opening day.
As a librarian I’m always sad to see a library closed, but the building has been put to excellent use. The Bush Theatre is a versatile, welcoming environment. The theatre specifically focuses on new plays and regularly champions new playwrights, so is a much needed part of the London theatre scene.