We were sad to hear of the impending closure of 88 London Road, formerly known as The Emporium. The disused Methodist Chapel opened as a theatre in the spring of 2013 (it changed its name just before Brighton Festival last year) and could claim to be Brighton’s only professional producing theatre.
Meanwhile its cafe has been an important venue for artistic activities, social events and community group meetings. James Weisz has been the Artistic Director and, with Nathan Potter, the co-producer of 88 London Road Productions. We caught up with James to hear what’s happened and what comes next after the theatre closes its doors early in 2017.
Why is No 88 shutting down?
We were given notice from the landlord. We have always, and continue to have, an excellent working relationship with the landlord who has been extremely understanding and accommodating when sometimes lack of revenue meant rent payment was delayed. Managing the constant demands and upkeep of a building such as 88 London Road has taken its toll on income for us, hence the decision to close the café-bar, which wasn’t producing the required revenue. We had agreed a plan with the landlord which meant the theatre would have a separate street access and we could continue to bring quality home-grown productions to the city.
Are there plans to move the theatre elsewhere?
We are on the search for a new building in which to take up residency and continue our work for the community.
What will happen to the building?
My understanding is that the landlord will refurbish it and make the building available for new tenants in the coming months.
What were the biggest challenges in running a theatre and a vibrant social meeting place?
We took a huge satisfaction from the delights of – and feedback from – each production. The challenges were mainly around maintaining the building (heating, lighting and so on) and the café-bar. We put on so many events in the café area, which included the ever-popular Cockney Singalongs, art shows, classes, groups, the Happy Café, all night writing clubs, Saturday evening cabaret shows. But sadly it didn’t prove to be enough to keep afloat.
What do you feel have been the biggest achievements you’ve made over the last few years?
It was an ambitious project, but I am immensely proud of creating a working theatre that employed so many professional actors in the area. Bringing panto back to Brighton was also a real highlight, and we will continue to produce one each year. Building a core audience who return again and again to our productions is a real achievement and very special.
What’s the message that you and the staff would like to convey to the public at this time?
The outpouring of support locally and nationally has been extremely humbling, and spurs us on. I am determined our productions will continue to go from strength to strength, so watch out for more news on that front.
Tell us about the last remaining production: what we can expect?
The pantomime, ‘Beauty & The Beast‘, is just a joy to produce and stage. It’s an absolute delight in bringing a fun and silly Christmas entertainment to the stage for the whole family to enjoy.
Interview by Mike Aiken
Photos by Fran Moore, James Weisz and friends