As we say au revoir to Fairfield Halls, theatre and dance will live on in Croydon

By - Friday 24th June, 2016

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, says Theatre Utopia’s founder, Jamal Chong

Theatre Utopia.
Photo author’s own.

Hello. You probably don’t know me and I probably don’t know you, so let me introduce myself. My name is Jamal Chong and I, along with a couple lifelong friends, run Theatre Utopia, or as you may know it, “that black room inside Matthews Yard”.

You may have heard of us, but more likely, you haven’t. That is why I’ve taken to the Citizen to write this article. I was first contacted to write something for the Citizen when we opened last October, but was reluctant to do so, as this venture was never meant to be about me or my views and opinions. Any media attention we had, from an article in the Stage to even a television interview with London Live, was solely used to promote the space and push what we are trying to achieve.

As I’m sure you are all aware, Fairfield Halls will be closing for some time and there will be a resulting lack of theatre, dance, culture and sense of community in the area. But before the word of Fairfield closing spread, I never heard people talk about the place. Yes, it does so much for the community and will be missed dearly, and maybe a phased work process would be best, but as ever there are politics involved. But the programming of such a huge, significant and historic building was terrible. They missed out on all the best touring companies, shows, comedians and even the more interesting, daring and risqué productions. How many times do Hairspray and Annie need to be shown at the same venue? On a personal level, I will miss Fairfield, as having a theatre on my doorstep was so appealing, as shows I witnessed from Omid Djialili to Avenue Q, Madam Butterfly, Twelve Angry Men, The Mousetrap and even Don McLean. but during these performances I started to notice that sometimes I was one of the youngest audience members there.

I have witnessed first hand how funding for the arts is always the first thing to be cut

This isn’t a rant, but more of an open letter, I’m just thinking out loud. I’m a Croydon lad, schooled at Riddlesdown, ‘colleged’ at Coulsdon, and I always strive for the best in the area. But I have witnessed first hand how funding for the arts is always the first thing to be cut. I don’t remember this much media attention when the Warehouse Theatre shut, and I don’t remember anyone saying a single word when the theatre inside the Town Hall closed. For many years, I was a member of Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation (CYTO) in South Norwood, and we were forever having to battle budgets and funding just to keep the building open.

I don’t want to crowdfund for Theatre Utopia, and a one-off fund or grant would be amazing to help update the space, but I never want to rely on them, as you never know when they will be gone. I’m not expecting anything from our council, and even our local newspapers don’t seem too interested in what we’re all about. We offer a 50/50 box office split for shows, as we want companies and performers to walk away with a profit for their hard work, and with £12 per hour to hire, we aim to be at the lowest end of charge rates. We’re not motivated by money, but passion and compassion. We do it for the love.

So, why have I written this? Well, it’s because we are here, your new independent theatre, along with the Spread Eagle Theatre and Stanley Halls. Here at Utopia we will be bringing you something a little bit different. We are a fringe venue and what fringe means is that you never know what you are going to get. We are here to allow new performers and companies the chance to put on new writing, daring work, and productions with relevance! Since we opened our doors in October 2015, we have had over thirty productions ranging from one/two act plays, puppetry, pantomime, film nights, dance shows, cabarets, live stand-up comedy, scratch shows, poetry, spoken word and even a magic show.

Remember that there is still culture out there

We also have over twenty classes per week, from all forms of dance to yoga, hoopla, samba drumming, and more little surprises coming your way.

So in the midst of one venue closing, remember that there is still culture out there. It is alive and well, and it’s in safe hands. Yes, we have no delusions that we can match Fairfield in size and space, but we can offer something with that familiar feeling but also a little bit different, and remember: different is good! And in a couple of months’ time, we will have the rest of the year booked out with shows, so I’m pretty sure that there will be at least one that you’ll like.

Anyway, I am sure that I’ve bored you enough; please follow, or check out all of our upcoming shows. Or swing by Matthews Yard and I’ll most likely be there.

Jamal Chong

Jamal Chong

Jamal Chong along with three friends, owns and runs Theatre Utopia at Matthews Yard. As well as running a theatre venue, he also has his own independent film and theatre company, Misprint Theatre, who performed their first play, a new piece of writing at Utopia in August 2015, and will aim to use the space to premiere their productions.

More Posts