‘’Loved. Lost. Reborn’’
Theatre intervals are usually only long enough to drink some warm white wine and go to the loo, but given nearly three and half years, the BAC has shown us what can really be done if you have plenty of time, with the official reopening of its aptly named Grand Hall, destroyed by fire back in 2015.
Built in the late 19th century as a town hall embodying all the architectural virtues of Victorian civic pride, the Battersea Arts Centre recognises and sensitively preserves its rich heritage while also being thoroughly modern. The building combines the old red brick with contemporary style, especially in its lighting, but what is particularly striking is how the beautiful old town hall has embraced the fire damage, making it part of the design, enhancing the atmosphere.
The Grand Hall’s high, airy space has been renewed with a dramatic new wooden lattice ceiling inspired by the original 19th-century design. Its regular pattern contrasts effectively with the preserved fire-scorched walls, reminding us why the ceiling has to be a new one.
The official reopening on Thursday 6 September was marked by a poignant and emotional performance of Gecko Theatre Company’s ‘’Missing’’, the show which was running in the Grand Hall when it was destroyed by fire, taking with it their set, props and costumes. ‘’Missing’’ has returned to complete its run in the first UK performances since the fire and you can catch it until Saturday 15 September.
And it’s well worth catching. ‘’Missing’’ is not a typical theatre or dance show, but combines acting and dancing with strong visuals and a range of sounds and music to portray a life, a life of a woman called Lily. It is not straightforward story-telling, the present and past are mixed together, and you have to use your own interpretative instincts throughout. There are some set characters but individuals become anonymous, fading into the shadows or emerging from the darkness as part of new action. The performance very effectively uses back-lit frames which distance us from the main action, like watching a TV or through a window.
‘’Missing’’ opens the BAC’s Phoenix Season, a five-month celebration of what the BAC calls ‘’creative risk-taking’’ and features shows by the National Theatre of Scotland, Bryony Kimmings, BAC Beatbox Academy, Dead Centre, Lekan Lawal, Little Bulb Theatre, The Paper Cinema, Lemn Sissay, the BAC Moving Museum and others, hailed as some of the UK’s most exciting theatre artists. You will certainly find something which will appeal, be it a beatbox version of ‘’Frankenstein’’, stand up Phoenix Comedy or something else.
The Christmas production of ‘’Orpheus’’, the epic Greek myth, particularly stood out and caught my eye. The Grand Hall will become an opulent 1930s Paris music hall where jazz musician Django Reinhardt plays Orpheus, as he descends into the underworld to reclaim Eurydice, his lost love. The show will be set against live, hot club jazz, opera and French chanson and you can book cabaret tables where you will be served French cheese, charcuterie and champagne.
Food and drink are an important thread through the building. The Scratch Bar is award-winning while the Grand Hall Bar features a vivid installation behind the bar by artist Jake Tilson, who recorded the aftermath of the fire, salvaging precious pieces of Grand Hall history.
Not just a theatre venue, the BAC is really more of a multi-faceted destination, an arts factory, where you can go to see a performance, explore local heritage but also create all forms of art. If avant-garde performance art is something you really appreciate and want to see more of, the BAC is the place to go, and its stunning new but old setting the perfect backdrop.
Battersea Arts Centre
London, SW11 5TN