Renowned British experimental theatre troupe Complicite marked its 21st birthday today with an event at north London’s Alexandra Palace, where it hopes to establish its first semi-permanent base next year (See The Goss, 5 Jul 2004). The company needs to raise an estimated £500,000 to make the Grade II-listed theatre (pictured), built in 1875 but closed to the public since 1936, into a viable performance space.

At today’s event, Complicite artistic director Simon McBurney said, “Although we have 21 years behind us, it is possible that we could get a few more years out of our tired bodies.” The present and future for the “peripatetic” company - which has performed more than 40 productions around the world since its establishment in 1983 - is at the north London landmark. “Perhaps for a little time, this will provide a place to see the beginning of other opportunities.”

McBurney told that Complicite planned to spend only enough to make the disused theatre safe. The aim is to raise the necessary funds within the next six months and to relaunch the Victorian venue with a new site-specific, Dickensian piece about London life. If successful, the company may make Alexandra Palace a more permanent base, but said McBurney, “it depends on how it does. We take it moment by moment.”

In addition to Measure for Measure, now running at the National as part of the Travelex £10 season in the NT Olivier, and the September return of The Elephant Vanishes to the Barbican, Complicite anniversary projects for 2004 include a UK regional tour of Hideaway and a free film screening in Trafalgar Square of Battleship Potemkin, with a new score written and performed live by the Pet Shop Boys.

Amongst future Complicite projects, always in flux, are: two more Japanese pieces to form, with The Elephant Vanishes, a trilogy; a one-man show about telepathy and the Amazon; a follow-up to the hit Mnemonic using David Deutch’s The Fabric of Reality; and a tour of Measure for Measure.

As part of its fundraising efforts, Complicite has launched a new “Accomplices” scheme in which 100 individuals, paying £500 a year over three years, will “enjoy an intimate relationship with the company”. Amongst the high-profile supporters present at today’s celebratory event were actors Juliet Stevenson, Lindsay Duncan and Bill Paterson. For further information, visit the Complicite website.

Alexandra Palace Theatre

Situated in 196 acres of parkland, Alexandra Palace first opened in 1873 as a recreational "People’s Palace", including a 2,500-seat theatre inspired by the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Sixteen days after it opened, the complex burned down. A new Palace was reopened in May 1875.

From 1901 until the First World War, the theatre, housed at the back of the Palace, adjacent to the ice rink, was frequently used as a cinema. In the 1920s, it resumed theatrical performances, including a preview of Walk This Way, Gracie Fields’ London debut.

In 1935, the BBC leased the eastern part of the complex. The Palace was the setting for the first public television transmissions in 1936 and remained the BBC’s main transmitting centre for the next 20 years. At the same time, the Theatre was closed to the public, becoming a props store for the BBC until 1982.

Three years ago, the derelict space was almost completely inaccessible, the foyer floorboards having rotted away. Prior to Complicite’s involvement, the Friends of the Theatre were established and succeeded in securing an English Heritage grant for essential repairs. They also enlisted the support of local celebrities, led by Stevenson, to save the theatre.

- by Terri Paddock