More than 400 volunteers, many of them professional actors, directors, costume and prop designers, give their time to Stoke Newington’s Tower Theatre.
Based in an iconic building in Northwold Road, this 90-year-old semi-professional company offers a packed schedule of performances; from plays to open-mic nights. The theatre itself is full of charm; 104 seats raised above a central stage and a vibrant foyer with a bar.
One of the three (all women) Artistic Directors, Simona Hughes said: “Because everyone here does it for love, there’s a very special energy which shines through every performance.
“Lots of people who work at the Tower work in the industry professionally or have worked in the industry at another stage of their life. We take it very seriously; our standards are always extremely high and many of our directors are highly qualified.”
The theatre manager is Tom Bailey, who has worked for the English National Ballet, Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican Centre and the three Artistic Directors are Ruth Sullivan, (who also works making sound effects for TV drama and film), Angharad Ormond (who is also a Clinical and Community Psychologist working in Islington) and Simona Hughes (a freelance theatre practitioner).
When Tom joined, Covid was devastating London’s theatre scene, they were closed to performances and meetings were held virtually on Zoom.
He added: “We used that time to plan for our future; to engage with local communities more and to really work out the programme and the balance we wanted. We are determined to take the Tower into the 21st Century – that means reaching a more diverse audience and having writers from many different cultures and backgrounds.”
Things are picking up – there are typically 16 full-scale performances each year, offering something for everyone and audience numbers are growing to around 70 per cent of capacity.
Simona added: “We try to offer a good balance – there’s serious drama, comedy, political plays, Shakespeare and more. Our dream is that our audiences and membership will better reflect the population of Hackney.”
This season is starting with Leave Taking by, the ‘godmother of Black British Playwrights’, Winsome Pinnock. Coming soon are two Alan Ayckbourn plays (Improbable Fiction – a play for adults and The Boy Who Fell into a Book – a family play). Both highlight the transportive power of the written word, with the characters getting lost in their imaginations.
The Tower Theatre started out 90 years ago as the Tavistock Repertory Company, based on Tavistock Square. They moved to Canonbury Tower in Islington in the 1950s and became known as the Tower Theatre Company. When that lease fell through, a 17-year search for a new permanent base ensued – ending happily in Stoke Newington.
The building the Tower Theatre now occupies in Northwold Road started life as a Methodist church and then a synagogue, before becoming a women’s-only gym.
Today, the swimming pool in the basement has been divided into a rehearsal space and the costume department. It’s a well-oiled machine, with hundreds of neatly pressed costumes and boxes full of hats, wigs and accessories – some dating back to the 1930s. Costumes are hired out to other London theatres.
The Tower Theatre is always keen for new members; whether you have an interest in performing, designing sets and costumes, marketing or working the bar, whether you’re skilled or keen to learn, they’d love to hear from you.
Watch this space for a new Youth Theatre Project (for those aged 16-21).