Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rescuing the Mermaid; the Mermaid Theatre Is Threatened with Demolition, but Former Member of Staff Maggie Sutton, Right, Is Campaigning to Save It

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rescuing the Mermaid; the Mermaid Theatre Is Threatened with Demolition, but Former Member of Staff Maggie Sutton, Right, Is Campaigning to Save It

Article excerpt

Byline: ALAN STRACHAN

NEXT Tuesday, at 11.45am, Maggie Sutton and supporters will set out on a Save the Mermaid march from the Royal Exchange to the Mermaid Theatre to Guildhall, led by the Town Crier. At first sight Sutton, a slightly built working mother, seems an unlikely latter-day David to be squaring up to the modern Goliath of vested corporate City interests. But the Mermaid's plight has aroused the formidable wrath of Scots-born Sutton who, 25 years ago, worked in its accounts department.

The Mermaid, in Puddle Dock by Blackfriars Station, opened under the visionary Bernard Miles in 1959 with Lionel Bart's Lock Up Your Daughters.

Created from the shell of a blitzed Victorian warehouse on the Thames, it was the first theatre to be built in the City of London since Shakespeare's day and was largely funded by public subscription: some 60,000 City workers and institutions contributed to its Buya-Brick campaign.

The building's whole ethos was rootedly democratic: a unique 500-seat single-block, open-stage auditorium with unparalleled, unbroken brick-walled continuity of stage and auditorium giving it perfect acoustics and sightlines. It united actor and audience in a way which, for many, made it the best theatre in London. Its 1960s and 1970s heyday included a Sean O'Casey season, Pinter's production of Joyce's Exiles, Mayakovsky's The Bedbug, Hadrian VII and the hit musicals Cowardy Custard, Cole and Side by Side by Sondheim.

In the early 1980s, thanks to redevelopment, a road was built between the Mermaid and the Thames and its unique walls were encased in an office block.

After it reopened in 1982, Miles was shamefully removed and its slow descent into its current ignominy began. Gomba Holdings, run by the shadowy Shamji family, allowed the theatre to run down.

Actors who had worked there previously were saddened by the buckets to catch leaks, the malfunctioning box office, the unwelcoming atmosphere, although even with no coherent policy and increasingly long "dark" periods, occasionally galvanising productions (notably by Steven Berkoff) proved that the theatre was still a great Brookian dramatic space and could still draw large audiences.

BY the early 1990s, after years of neglect and mismanagement, the building ceased effectively to function as a theatre under the current leaseholders, Blackfriars Investments PD Limited (the City owns the freehold).

Today, a faded sign forlornly announces its availability for trade conferences, and the bar, restaurant area and front-of-house are closed.

Blackfriars plans to demolish the building as part of a scheme to develop a jigsaw site on Upper Thames Street; this also involves part of the Blackfriars Station site and possibly - depending on negotiations - the BT Faraday House next door. …

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