Battersea Arts Centre

6 September, 2018

Maggie Foyer

Battersea Arts Centre, Grand Hall Photo: Fred Howarth

Battersea Arts Centre, Grand Hall
Photo: Fred Howarth

Theatres have a painful relationship with fire.  Often, when visiting a theatre, it is the second or third building on the site, as previous wooden structures have been victims of the flames. Battersea Arts Centre, however is a massive stone structure built in 1893 as a community centre in an age of civic pride. Even so, in 2015 it caught fire in spectacular fashion: a blaze on Battersea Rise that could be seen for miles.

On 6th September 2018, like a phoenix rising from the ashes it returns to life in a fresh artistic incarnation. Previous unused spaced like  the loft is now a busy office space – with fabulous views –there are several versatile rehearsal  and performance spaces, accommodation for visiting artists and communal areas to eat, drink and chat.

The new BAC is quite unique in its interior design and decoration, or lack of it. Artistic Director, David Judd said that the decision had been taken to allow the building to show its history including the scars of the recent fire. As a result the walls are partially plastered and painted in a singular design style that could be called, ‘historical distressed’.

Gecko in "Missing" Photo: Robert Golden

Gecko in “Missing”
Photo: Robert Golden

Gecko, was the company in residence when the fire occurred.  It happened in the afternoon so while no-one was injured, the company lost all their costumes and sets. Help from many sources, including a local carpenter who turned up with a bag of tools and an offer to rebuild the set, enabled the company to honour later commitments. However they’ve had to wait three years to complete their BAC season – but it was worth the wait.

Missing is a search into choreographer,  Amit Lahav’s personal history: an upbringing played out against the breakup of his parents’ marriage. It could have been any of a thousand similar lives and poignantly investigates how memories deceive and reveal, how persistent searching through the layers finds new truths and different perspectives. This complexity is ingeniously played out in the staging.

Gecko in "Missing" Photo: Robert Golden

Gecko in “Missing”
Photo: Robert Golden

The set is minimal but innovative in the use of moving walkways, framing and lighting. Images recur, the child doll, the sensual Spanish dancer and the warring couple caught in fiercely focused lighting (Chris Swain and Amit Lahav) to heighten the drama. Images are distorted and fractured, one part highlighted, other parts left in darkness. It all ratchets up a sense of unease, dislocation and the fragmenting of cultures through migration and, while never comfortable it is tantalising and engaging. Katie Lusby as Lily, holds the centre ground in this uncertain world of past memories.

Battersea Arts Centre is back in business with a huge groundswell of goodwill and wonderful new spaces to be explored by a range of imaginative artists. Gecko has set the benchmark for a brave new future.