Avis Saltsman Campaigns

The theatre by Islington Green

An asset in the making 9-8-2003

For the latest (1/11/2006) hit this link

An exciting development will take place over the next two years just behind Islington Green where the old Collins Music Hall used to be. Thanks to the involvement of many Islington people who took part in planning 'games', exhibitions, workshops and meetings a theatre will rise again from the ashes of the 1950's fire. The Anderson's Yard Campaign Group (named after the timber yard there for forty years) produced a ten-step plan based on residents wishes, instead of the huge office block originally planned, and produced a set of priorities for the area up to Gaskin Street, most of which have been achieved in collaboration with councillors of all parties. So far they are the flats, gym and swimming pool and cafes along Essex Road. Browns restaurant is by the Collins Yard path which is a public right of way through a delightful garden leading through to St Mary's churchyard. Our first triumph, Waterstones, spent an extra £250,000 reproducing the frontage of the Collins (in fact the Landsdowne public house) as it looked in 1890 .

Number One on the community's priority list was a modern day theatre to replace the Music Hall and that has been much harder to achieve. New theatres are practically never built these days, especially in London. The campaign ceased in 1997, but I as the former chair of the group have kept an eye on the fortunes of those trying to achieve it. First there was a lottery bid to build a three-stage theatre which failed because Sadler's Wells had just been awarded millions and is too near to this site, although for dance and not drama. The very experienced theatre entrepreneur devised a scheme with the developer, using a design by the world-renowned architect Piers Gough on the theme of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', with a crescent of oak-balconied flats behind the entrance towers on Essex Road, facing St Peter's Street. There will be a new town open space entered from between the towers, protected from the weather by clear roofing which lets in the light and surrounded by pillars in the form of tree trunks between which will be chairs and tables from the restaurants and cafes which will fund the theatre along with the flats.

Along with pedestrianisation of Islington Green Road it will be like an extention of Islington Green which will be restored and tidied up by money from the various developers as their contribution to community and environment. The theatre will occupy three floors underground, can be viewed through a skylight in the square and will be a circular open space capable of taking many different productions and types of scenery. The other levels and spaces will be for rehearsal rooms (possibly also used by Almeida theatre who have been consulted for a long time), costume, offices and lifts, as the whole is to be accessible to the disabled. The scheme is providing local employment as a priority and will do so in future and there is collaboration with educational institutions. Eventually youth in Islington can see ten productions, have ten drama lessons and ten technical lessons annually free .

Dame Judi Dench who is a friend of the theatre entrepreneur rescued the set of 'Shakespeare in Love' which they paid thousands of pounds to store for five years, only to find it did not pass fire regulations. Using the set in the Islington theatre was never part of the planning agreement of which I have a full copy. I spoke at both council planning meetings where the decision to go ahead was made in August and October 2000. It is a pity this paper characterised this as the developers breaking the planning agreement which they have never done, indeed they have stuck to providing what the campaign wanted through thick and thin. As the chair of the campaign I have not taken sides but striven to see that the original programme we all wanted is achieved. It is going to be far beyond what we ever imagined and will be a great compliment to the borough, drawing people from far and wide.

Link to the November 2006 essay on the nearly completed theatre!

Other artists' sites of interest

Marilyn Simler - printmaker
Joyce Peck - printmaker
Hilary Lorenz - printmaker

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Contact: Avis Saltsman (or Saltzmann), 17 Gerrard Road, Islington, London N1 8AY +44(0)20 7359 6294 or e-mail her
URL: http://www.art-science.com/Avis/campaigns/index.html Last revised 1/12/2006

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