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interview: A Hop Across The River To Penge

Artistic Directors Luke Adamson and Joseph Lindoe on three years at Bridge House Theatre

Who would believe that it has only been three years since Artistic Directors Luke Adamson and Joseph Lindoe relaunched The Bridge House Theatre in Penge? Within that time they have had an amazing impact on London’s fringe, creating a distinct geographical presence and being nominated for multiple awards.  We were delighted to get a chance to chat with Luke and Joe and ask them about their time at this game changing fringe theatre. 

Hello both! Well we have to say, your work’s been noticed… Everyone seems to be talking about the great job you’ve done bringing fringe theatre south of the river! Can you tell us about how you got together at Bridge House Theatre and started on this amazing journey?

Luke: Well Joe and I have known each other for what seems like a lifetime now, we met at drama school in 2008 and have been making work together as JLA Productions for years. When I started working with Matthew Parker at The Hope Theatre in 2015, learning the trade of the Pub Theatre Artistic Director, I knew that one day I wanted to run my own theatre. I live about a 20 minute walk from the Bridge House so when I discovered the previous theatre management team were moving on I arranged to meet with the owners of the pub and pitched them our plans for the space, they were excited by our bold vision and it all started there!

Joe: Luke and I have been working together for years, we’ve been best friends for over a decade now and know we work well together so it was a no brainer to “make it official”. We both have years of experience producing, directing and doing the technical side of things in addition to our training and work as actors so we knew we could trust each other to tackle some of the parts of the job that other people who haven’t got as broad a spectrum of experience might struggle with.

You have a unique ethos underlying your choice of programming. Can you talk a bit about who and what you try to represent?

Luke: We offer a safe and low risk space for artists to tell stories that may not get a look in elsewhere, shows from and featuring demographics that have been historically overlooked or underrepresented in the theatre. This includes, but is not limited to, Working class artists, Artists from the Global Majority, Non binary or gender fluid artists, LGBTQ+ Artists and the Neuro-divergent community. These need not be plays specifically about the particular demographic, but does it offer opportunities to people from those demographics to participate? Not every show is an ‘issue play’ but every show features creatives, actors or writers from these, and other underrepresented demographics.

Joe: Our programming ethos is the work has to be socially conscious AND entertaining. That’s a difficult thing to get right but it’s very doable, you can’t have comedy without truth, you can’t have dark without light and vice versa. Sometimes people sneer at the prospect of a show just sounding like ‘woe is me’ but everything we put on is far more than that and it’s definitely beginning to be recognised.

What can you tell us about the theatre space and the venue itself?

Luke: I can tell you, and I’m clearly being objective and not at all biased here, that it’s bloody gorgeous. We’re a black box, 50 seat studio with audience on three sides of our 3.5m x 4.5m thrust stage. It is intimate, yet not small. The seating is comfortable, flip down chairs so no numb bums here! We have a 5m x 5m green room for the performing company that contains a sofa, arm chair, coffee table, changing and make up areas and also houses our tech store. We’re also incredibly lucky to be above a gorgeous, friendly, award winning pub and situated right next to Penge West Overground station that makes getting here a doddle!

Joe: The most common response we get when someone comes in to check the space out for the first time is “oh I love this!” In many ways it’s not that different to a lot of pub theatres, it’s all black walls, it’s 50 seat capacity, it’s above a pub. But I think it’s the little things that make it feel special, the fact the seats are more comfortable than a lot of spaces but still in an intimate layout, the tech box being at least slightly separated from the audience where many have it right there with them. You can tell we’ve really thought about it when we were designing the space.

Have your audiences changed much over the last three years?

Luke: Yes, in the best of ways – they’ve got bigger. In our first few months it wasn’t unusual for shows to play to audiences in the single figures. This barely happens now. We’re also delighted to see that people are returning to see shows again and again. Our local community are invested in the space and we now know many of our ‘regulars’ by name and quite often sit and have a drink with them in the pub after the shows! We also have a beautiful mix of demographics that support the work here and are mindful of that when it comes to programming, offering a variety of work that appeals to different areas of society.

Joe: Yes and no, as Luke says they’ve gotten bigger and more consistent, but we are still seeing the same core group of people that have been coming since we opened but that local community is still spreading. Word is getting around further as well, people who perhaps just came to support a friend in one show or were in one show are making it back time and time again.

The last time we spoke you were at the Offies Awards celebrating not one but two nominations for That Girl versus the World.  How does it feel being so prominently recognised for your work, particularly at a time when theatre generally is struggling?

Luke: It is simultaneously immensely gratifying and humbling. To know that the blood, sweat, tears and money that we’ve poured into this project over the past three years has been worth it. The Off West End award nominations are so exciting, especially when considering the venues we’re up against; we were finalists this year in the Sound Design category that was won by a show at Soho Theatre! To have been a finalist at successive London Pub Theatre Awards is also wonderful, and the ceremonies are a great chance to get together to celebrate the brilliance of pub theatre.

Joe: It’s really lovely to be recognised as part of that community getting the opportunity to see the industry come together. Seeing people and companies we know, love and have often worked with ourselves or welcomed to the space also getting nominated or winning is equally gratifying. It makes you feel like you’re doing something right when you’re up there against quite big theatres like Soho and the companies you value are getting that support as well.

You’re planning a celebration of three years of success. Who will be coming along and what can they expect to see?

Luke: We’ve got a wonderful mix of people coming together to celebrate with us; various press, cast and creatives from previous and upcoming shows, our sponsors, supporters and members as well as anyone else that wants to join us! The evening will be a look back at our journey so far and a glimpse into what the future holds. It will feature snippets of performance from our award nominated shows as well as previews of shows that are coming up. There will also be a free drinkie on arrival for all ticket holders.

Joe: In short drama, drinks and dancing! (N.B dancing not guaranteed – it depends how many drinks Luke has)

What about the new season coming up – can you tell us what is on the programme?

Luke: We’ve got a hugely varied programme featuring bold new plays, brand new original musicals, local company British Touring Shakespeare return for their third run with us following hugely successful productions of Dracula and The Hound Of The Baskervilles, this year it’s Jekyll & Hyde. There’s another in-house production in the works, and our award winning panto will be back in the form of Sleeping Beauty at Christmas.

Joe: Yeah, what he said!

It’s been great talking with Luke and Joe about their celebrations, and we wish them even more success for the coming years. The Bridge House Theatre is definitely a venue to watch out for! You can see what’s coming up on their website here.

About Mary Pollard

By her own admission Mary goes to the theatre far too much, and will watch just about anything. Her favourite musical is Matilda, which she has seen 16 times, but she’s also an Anthony Neilson and Shakespeare fan - go figure. She has a long history with Richmond Theatre, but is currently helping at Shakespeare's Globe as a steward and in the archive. She's also having fun being ET's specialist in children's theatre and puppetry, and being a Super Assessor for the Offies! Mary now insists on being called The Master having used the Covid pandemic to achieve an award winning MA in London's Theatre and Performance.