The arts are a crucial part of our daily lives. They enrich individuals and communities, joining them together, providing a link to the past and reaching forward with imagination into the future.
War time leader Winston Churchill was once famously challenged on whether the arts should be cut in order to fund the war effort. He replied: “then what would we be fighting for.”
Theatre plays a crucial role in the lexicon of the arts, no more so than in East London. The Theatre Royal in Stratford has over the years established a great reputation for radical productions. Going back to the days of the legendary, Joan Littlewood, who using her innovative methods, like the theatre workshop, brought such fantastic productions as Oh What a Lovely War to the stage. That production went on to travel the world, also being made into a film directed by Richard Attenborough.
Oh What a Lovely War was revived at Stratford a few years ago and even more recently around Remembrance time at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford. Both productions were excellent.
The Kenneth More Theatre, though, has fallen on hard times. Opened in 1975 by the legendary actor, after which it was named – Kenneth More, the theatre has served the Redbridge area soundly over the years. Kenneth More was honoured to have a theatre named after him and up until his death in 1982 was a regular visitor and supporter of different productions. Things have moved on though from those days.
The Redbridge Theatre Company has struggled valiantly to keep things going but the sums have not been adding up. Financial austerity has meant the council has been forced to make cuts across the board. £166 million has been taken from the council since 2010.
The council has continued to subsidise the theatre company in the hope that a feasible plan could lead to more prosperous times. This has sadly failed to happen.
Councill leader, Jas Athwal, though, remains committed to the theatre continuing to be part of the arts offering for Redbridge. He commented, “Let me be clear – Whilst I can’t vouch for the theatre company, I can vouch for the theatre, as far as I’m concerned there will always be a functioning theatre in Ilford Town Centre. The current theatre company may be going but the theatre remains and will stand stronger than ever in its rightful place at the heart of our community,”
So Redbridge Theatre Company’s time as custodians of the Kenneth More Theatre may end in July but the work of theatre will continue. The building will host different events going forward.
In a personal capacity, I would like to see the theatre embrace the radical spirit of Joan Littlewood, putting on some productions that address the challenges of life today – Climate Change, knife crime, sex trafficking and Brexit could all form part of the canvass for future.
The venue could also host other events like stand-up comedy, music and dance. The possibilities are truly endless.
So now is not the time to mourn the loss of the Kenneth More Theatre but to look forward to a new era. A time of new opportunity for theatre and the arts to flourish in the Ilford Town centre and beyond.
– Cllr Paul Donovan