All About The Megabowl Theatre

“Laughably impractical”, “an affront to the Arts and to the people of Streatham”, “there are rooms above pubs better suited to presenting theatre to the public”, “a whitewash apology for a theatre”, “simply incapable of doing the job as anybody who has worked in theatre can see immediately,” “naïve and unworkable,” “enough space for a lute song recital”, “crazy – get with it Lambeth”.

These are just a few of the flood of angry comments from stage professionals signing a petition over  the proposed theatre to be built as part of the massive redevelopment of Caesars and Megabowl.

The developers London Square have submitted plans to change the scheme slashing the space for the theatre by almost two thirds, from 840 to 303 square metres.

And Lambeth Council looks set to approve them.

These changes, which include cutting the amount of new shopping space on the site, also by two thirds, while increasing space for cars and the number of flats to 259, are significant alterations to plans for the site first passed in 2010. But they almost went through unnoticed, being described as a variation of conditions, disguising the extent of the changes.

The  proposed design of the theatre has provoked a storm of protest now that it has become known what is to be on offer.

The 120-seat "theatre" has no wings, no workable backstage space, a single unisex dressing room with space for five performers with a modesty curtain down the middle and a small office/store room. The "auditorium" is a long rectangle with one access door and retractable seating at one end, with no flexibility for different configurations of seating.

It is more suited to giving a talk, but almost unusable as a venue for theatrical performance.

Front of house there is to be a small cafe, with seating for 16 people, but no room that can be used for rehearsals or let out to raise revenue.

As a former councillor for Streatham Hill for 12 years, who has worked in theatre and who pushed for a theatre to be built on the site, I was dismayed when I spotted what this community was now being offered. The closure of Caesars and the Megabowl has meant the loss of 12,527 sq metres of entertainment and leisure space. In its place the developers want to give us a measly 303 sq metres, 2.5 per cent of that. But worst of all a botched and half-baked plan.

Local stage professionals have joined the chorus of disapproval, after attending a meeting I set up at the Hideaway Jazz club to raise public awareness. Many have submitted objections to Lambeth Council which is currently deliberating on the plans.

Performer and director Sarah Redmond says “The theatre needs to be a creative space for community and professionals…..the current layout would massively restrict the people able to hire it.”

The venue will rely on the community and community projects, she says, “which could rightly involve children….there would be no suitable and private changing and toilet facility” for them, or for any cast with more than five in it.

Actress Barbara Barnes is also concerned about the “extremely small” backstage and dressing room area “and that there is no provision for rehearsal space”.

And local actor and writer Claude Starling “This is an ill conceived plan with no thought given to the sustainability or operational viability of the theatre itself.”

While Streatham councillor Scott Ainslie, with over 20 years experience as an actor, calls for a “constructive workshop with the developer/planners/architect and local theatre professionals to come up with a development plan?” The building’s footprint is “too small to make this theatre/community space sustainable”.

It would be totally wrong to claim critics of the plans are trying to block regeneration of the area.  It was the theatre and the vitality it would bring to the area which was seen to be key to such regeneration which should never be just about building as many flats as possible.

To sign the petition and to get more information read our blog  

It is not too late to submit an objection to Lambeth Council planning, either emailing [email protected] quoting reference 14/06765, or object on the council planning portal on reference 14/06765  after registering and logging in.