South Central  

Southwark, on the south side of the Thames in London, has attracted another leading arts organisation, with the RCSSD’s recently opened Bankside studio spaces. Susan Elkin went to investigate

The world of theatre and education seems to be enjoying a spate of drama school moving, or diversifying, into south London. In our last issue we wrote about Mountview relocating to Peckham next year. Rose Bruford has always been in Sidcup. Now Royal Central School of Speech and Drama has opened new satellite studios in Southwark. Central Bankside is so new that the paint’s barely dry, but it looks set to facilitate big changes in the way Central operates.

Founded at Royal Albert Hall by Elsie Fogarty in 1906, Central is the alma mater of Dawn French, Cameron Mackintosh, Amanda Donohoe, Nonso Anozie and Jamie Glover among many other A-list names. It has also always been committed to education and has trained many drama teachers and voice specialists. Long established in attractive premises (currently being expanded and improved) at leafy Swiss Cottage, it sits close to the underground station and immediately opposite Hampstead Theatre. Now comes a new departure – additional working space seven stops along the Jubilee line near The Globe and Tate Modern.

“Central Bankside inhabits two floors of an existing, multi-floor refurbished warehouse” says Megan Hunter Central’s Press and Public Relations Manager. “It was previously used as office space. However, we were granted change of use consent to make the space fit for our purposes. After further refurbishment it is now converted into five new studio spaces.”

Meanwhile Central also has the builders in (Graham Construction) at Swiss Cottage, where its new block will include five double height studios including one for sound and film and a dedicated dance and movement studio. Designed by Tim Ronalds, the space will also provide a courtyard theatre and ten stories of breakout and office rooms. “It will allow us a complete rethink of arrangements for academic support and research here in Swiss Cottage” says Megan.

Moving between Central’s two bases shouldn’t be difficult for staff and students needing to work at both venues either thanks to he Jubilee line. They could hardly have found a more convenient or appropriate location given the development of Bankside as an arts hub in recent years. The proximity of Union Theatre, Unicorn Theatre, Southwark Playhouse and the Menier Chocolate Factory, for instance, can only be a bonus to Central and its students and staff. And the new theatre planned by Nick Hytner and Nick Starr will be just along the Thames to the east between London and Tower Bridges.

“It is an added dimension to our estate placing Central at the heart of a burgeoning new Off West End theatrical community.”

While increasing Central’s overall studio and teaching capacity Central Bankside also relieves pressure from the school’s busy Swiss Cottage site during work on the new North Block development project, but there’s more to it than that. “Taking on new premises at Bankside does more than simply replace accommodation that we are demolishing to make way for our new building at Swiss Cottage” says Central’s principal, Professor Gavin Henderson. “It is an added dimension to our estate placing Central at the heart of a burgeoning new Off West End theatrical community. And symbolically we will be on the site of the very foundation of the English Playhouse with the Globe and Rose Theatres”.

In time Central plans to use its Bankside site for further provision for the wider aspects of training. “There will be greater scope for breakout, short courses, community and youth projects” says Gavin, adding that the ease of access to Canary Wharf will allow for additional course development in business training.

It all adds up to a lot of breadth and a school in its second century looking clear-sighted ahead. I wonder what Elsie Fogarty (whose students were required to wear uniform tunics in voice classes) would have made of it?