Olympic battle over homeless London fringe theater

Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:11pm EST
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By Barbara Lewis

LONDON (Reuters) - Only months before the torches blaze at London's Olympic Games, the limelight at one of the British capital's well-loved small theatres will go dark.

For nearly two decades, Greenwich Playhouse in the southeast of the capital has been among scores of fringe theatres, that serve as the seedbeds for Britain's acting talent.

Most lead a precarious existence in makeshift spaces tucked away in back rooms of pubs or former warehouses owned by landlords often anxious to recruit higher-yielding tenants.

After surviving for years on the brink of closure, Greenwich Playhouse is staging its final play - John Webster's savage revenge tragedy "The Duchess of Malfi" from Feb 21 to March 18.

It says it has to close because its landlord wants the space to accommodate visitors for the Olympic Games, taking place slightly further down the River Thames in July and August.

Beds and Bars, the company that runs the hostel and pub where the playhouse is based, said in a statement that the theatre's lease had always been due to expire in April.

Alice De Sousa, artistic director of the resident Galleon Theatre Company, as well as of the playhouse, dismissed that as "a cynical attempt to cloud the real issue."

Beds and Bars Group Managing Director Keith Knowles defended his firm against accusations it was displacing the theatre group to exploit a more profitable short-term commercial opportunity presented by the Olympics.   Continued...