February 20, 2012 / 6:13 PM / 6 years ago

Olympic battle over homeless London fringe theater

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.

“I really have nothing further to say on this matter, except one thing: it will continue to remain a theatre space for the foreseeable future. That’s it,” Knowles told Reuters.

PORTUGUESE CLASSICS

Greenwich Playhouse and its Galleon Theatre company, however, are definitely looking for a new home.

Past triumphs have included world premieres of adaptations of literature from de Sousa’s native Portugal.

Her version of Eca de Queiroz’s “The Crime of Father Amaro” introduced Greenwich theatre-goers to writing that has been compared to that of French novelist Emile Zola.

Among those who have voiced concern about the playhouse’s closure is British broadcaster and peer for the opposition Labour party Joan Bakewell.

She framed its plight in a question in the House of Lords, Britain’s upper house of parliament, about financial support for cash-strapped theatres.

On the London fringe circuit, another theatre Southwark Playhouse, again in the east of the capital, also has to relocate - for a second time.

After falling out with its then landlord, it moved from a former Filipino Chapel to atmospheric vaults underneath the railway arches at London Bridge station, which is being redeveloped.

That means the itinerant players are on the move again. The plan is to transfer around the end of the year to a disused warehouse, a 10-minute walk away, a spokeswoman for the theatre said. But she added they hadn’t officially signed the lease yet.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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