Southwark Playhouse is considering its long-term future as it searches for a new home and artistic director. The landlord of the theatre’s warehouse premises off Southwark Bridge Road in south London has asked the company to vacate the venue before the end of the year. Meanwhile, artistic director Gareth Machin - who succeeded Thea Sharrock (now artistic director of the Gate) in May 2004 (See News, 25 Mar 2004) - has left to pursue a freelance career.

Southwark Playhouse general manager Chris Smyrnios told “Our landlord has given us our notice to leave the premises because he wants to occupy the premises himself. Our lease runs out at the end of September, but we are in the process of applying for an extension. In any case, we think the Southwark Playhouse will no longer be there by the end of the year. We would like to get an extension until December because we do a Christmas show each year and that would be a nice one to finish on.”

An appeal in the theatre’s spring 2006 brochure underlines the uncertainty of its current situation. Under a “We Need Your Help” headline, it implores “friends and supporters to help in whatever way they can. In particular, if anyone knows of a suitable building or development plot in the Southwark area, or might be able to use their contacts to assist us in our search, we would love to hear from you!”

According to Smyrnios, speaking this week: “As a company, we are looking at temporary venues at the moment. We are in talks with Southwark Council and others, and long-term we plan to be involved in a development at Elephant and Castle in the next three to four years, with the same team intact."

He added that artistic director Machin had left before Christmas, though his departure was not as a result of the property dilemma. “He had finished his contract with us and decided to go and do freelance work, but he is still doing some of the programming for us. Once our plans are a little more concrete, we will find a new artistic director.”

Southwark Playhouse was formed in 1993 with the aim of creating thriving, dynamic and inventive theatre in one of the most deprived parts of London. The former Victorian tea and coffee warehouse has established itself as one of capital’s most prominent studio venues, nominated three times for the Peter Brook Empty Space Award.

There is no threat to the Playhouse’s current seasons. Productions scheduled until May 2006 - including The Shadow Box, The Revengers Tragedy, Hitting Town, Recurring Mice, Summer Begins and The Mushroom Pickers - will all go ahead as planned.

A spokesperson for Southwark Council told "We part fund the Southwark Playhouse, which is a great asset to the borough. We are aware of their venue problems and so we have working with them for some time to help them find a short-term and long-term solution."

- by Caroline Ansdell