1969 and a New Start
Greenwich Council bought the site for demolition in 1962 but agreed to support the idea of a new theatre if there was enough local enthusiasm to justify it. Ewan Hooper, a local actor and director, accepted the challenge of rallying support. Local councils, the Arts Council and the GLC were all generous in their contributions, but it is notable that half the cost of the new theatre came from local individuals and businesses.
On 21st October 1969 the theatre re-opened with Martin Luther King, a new piece of musical theatre written by Ewan Hooper. Over the next 28 years, Greenwich Theatre produced a body of work of astonishing quality and variety under the artistic directorship first of Ewan Hooper and subsequently of Alan Strachan, Sue Dunderdale and Matthew Francis.
The first few years saw Mia Farrow and Charles Dance in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Glenda Jackson, Susannah York and Vivien Marchant in Genet’s The Maids, the premiere of John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father and a star studded season directed by Jonathan Miller. Developing a long standing association with the Theatre, Max Wall memorably starred in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. By 1997 the Theatre had seen several West End transfers including Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges, Noel Coward’s Private Lives, Michael Frayn’s Three Sisters and John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi.
After a period of closure in the late 90s, Greenwich Theatre reopened in 1999 under new director Hilary Strong.
A New Millennium and a New Start
The modern era saw a return to producing with Clive Rowe starring in Paul Ryan and Peter Readman’s Sadly Solo Joe, a new musical which subsequently transferred to the International Festival of Musical Theatre in Cardiff. In summer 2003, to great acclaim, we revived Golden Boy, an American musical not seen in London since Sammy Davis Jnr played the starring role at the London Palladium in 1969, and in 2005 we presented the world premiere of Arnold Wesker’s Longitude.
In 2007 James Haddrell became director of the theatre, reimagining the theatre as you see it today. The theatre’s work with young and emerging artists has grown rapidly and the company now runs a hugely oversubscribed artist development programme, supporting young or new companies as they grow and evolve. The theatre also presents the annual Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival every Easter, and embarked on an annual summer show tradition with an outdoor show which was awarded a London 2012 Inspire Mark.
The company’s in-house producing has also increased dramatically. A partnership with new film company Stage on Screen led to the production of four classic dramas – Doctor Faustus, The School For Scandal, The Duchess of Malfi and Volpone – all of which are now selling internationally on DVD. Recent producing highlights include a rare revival of Michael Frayn’s philosophical comedy Here and the European premiere of Tracey Power’s adaptation of The Jungle Book.
The theatre also co-produces with a host of its supported or associate companies – with recent highlights including the UK and US performances of The Secret Life Of Humans (with New Diorama Theatre), the UK tour of The City And Iris (with GlassEye Theatre), the five-star festival hit Under My Thumb (with CultureClash Theatre), the London and Birmingham community centre tour of gambling thriller Skin In The Game (with JIH productions) and the West End transfer of One Jewish Boy (with Scene Change Productions).
In 2017 with support from a private donor and a subsequent grant from the Theatres’ Trust, the theatre opened a second performance space – a 60 seat studio dedicated to the work of emerging artists. The studio opened with an in-house production of Gazing At A Distant Star by emerging playwright Siân Rowland. The production sold out its premiere run and was shortlisted for a REACH northern touring initiative. The theatre has enjoyed many awards throughout its life and in 2019, it won the Off-West End Award for Best Pantomime for its special 50thAnniversary panto, Sleeping Beauty.
In 2020 the theatre responded to the COVID-19 lockdown with Greenwich Connects, a pioneering programme of online performance, artist development and engagement.