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Fairfield Halls, Croydon re-launch January 2019

Fairfield Halls re-launch
Fairfield Halls re-launch

As someone who lives just a five-minute drive from Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, I was delighted to be invited to have a look around their £30 million refurbishment. Over the years I’ve seen everyone from Elton John to Tina Turner there and from Judy Collins to the late lamented Harry Chapin who played to a half-filled house and asked everyone to move down to the front. In the Ashcroft Theatre which is part of the complex, I’ve seen concerts from the likes of Jimmy Webb, Alan Price and Nils Lofgren and plays and musicals such as “Annie”, “Steaming”, “The Real Thing” and even The Archers!

I was also introduced to a very young Kate Bush before she’d even recorded “Wuthering Heights” but that’s another story! So, I’ve got a lot of history there and I’ve missed it whilst it’s been closed for the last three years or so but I won’t have to wait too long as it’s due to re-open in September of this year and then there will be a brand-new panto, opening in December – but more of that later.

So, having donned steel-capped boots, hard hats, high-vis jackets and protective eyewear, a group of us were taken into the building which at the moment is a total building site with a workforce of over two hundred there daily doing all sorts of jobs in order to finish everything in time for the re-opening. The main concert hall has been stripped back to the bare walls and is full of the most complex array of scaffolding I’ve ever seen. The aim of the architects is to get back to the look the building had when it was built in 1962 especially with the outside façade. The main hall will seat over 1800 with all the old seating replaced and the pipe organ reinstated. The Ashcroft, now re-named the Ashcroft Playhouse, will be reconfigured with seating for over 800 people and will put on productions in conjunction with the likes of The Hull Truck Company and other innovative production companies to put-on ground-breaking works. Amongst other spaces in the complex will be The Recreational which will put on music gigs for 750 standing and will be turned into an indoor ice rink in the winter. There will also be new bars and restaurants and the foyer will put on music and events during the day.

Tim Vine
Tim Vine

The centrepiece of the re-launch is the panto which this year is “Cinderella” from production company Imagine Theatre. Full casting will be announced later on this year but Tim Vine (who lives not far from Croydon) will star as Buttons and Cat Sandion who’s a presenter on CBeebies will play The Fairy Godmother. She too has a local connection as she trained at the Brit School which is just down the road.

The show which will be directed by George Wood and designed by Mark Walters will be in the concert hall which will be a change from previous pantos which were in the Ashcroft. This will throw up some intriguing problems for the producers as the hall doesn’t have the traditional proscenium arch so it’ll be interesting to see what innovative solutions they come up with. Imagine along with the team at Fairfield are determined that it’s a truly local panto and Neil Chandler who’s the General Manager of Fairfield Halls says “It was always important to us that pantomime, being historically such a large part of the Fairfield program, was relevant and exciting for both the Croydon audience and our wider community. Our partnership with Imagine Theatre allows us to create a pantomime that is exclusive to and reflective of our diverse borough”.

So, it’s exciting times in what the borough has re-branded as The Cultural Quarter and having such a long history with the building (over 40 years)and the various spaces within it, I for one can’t wait to get back in there and possibly even get to see the panto. Oh no, you won’t – oh yes I will!

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