The children’s Polka Theatre on the Broadway finally relaunches at the weekend in spanking new state-of-the-art premises with a performance and month-long run of Red, a play inspired by Little Red Riding Hood that features wicked wolves and a dethroned queen.
This is the first show back on at the theatre after an £8.5million refurbishment which Merton Council donated £95,000 to from its Neighbourhood Fund in 2019.
A firm favourite in the borough since it opened in the former Holy Trinity Halls in 1979, the theatre has hosted works by writers such as Alan Ayckbourn, Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman.
The theatre, which recently added veteran Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench to its board of patrons, has welcomed more than 3.5million visitors over the last four decades, and more than 18,000 disadvantaged and disabled children attend tailored community and schools initiatives every year.
The renovation, led by architects Foster Wilson Size, began in February 2019 after the theatre secured funds from bodies such as the council, a £2.5million grant from the National Lottery through the Arts Council, and support from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund, but had to delay its planned reopening in Summer 2020 due to the pandemic.
The work has created a new early year’s theatre, rehearsal and development studios, and a creative learning studio aimed at children with sensory needs. There is also improved access throughout the whole complex. The building’s cafe and shop have also been updated, and venue space for private hire has been developed to provide long-term sustainability to ensure the theatre’s longevity.
Lynette Shanbury, Polka’s Executive Director and Joint CEO, said: “This redevelopment has been over 15 years in the planning and it is extraordinary to finally be open at a time when people, particularly children, need creative outlets more than ever.
“Alongside two significantly improved theatre spaces, the new facilities for our audiences – free open-access indoor and outdoor play areas, larger cafe, hireable spaces, and spaces for school use – will ensure Polka continues as a vital community hub.
“We want to thank all our supporters and funders from the bottom of our hearts because without their commitment and faith in this project we would not have got to this point.”
Councillor Brenda Fraser, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Skills, said: “We’re delighted that Polka Theatre can open its doors again and enchant thousands more local children.
“Merton’s theatres are some of our greatest cultural assets, and Polka has been entertaining our younger residents for more than 40 years. After such a difficult 18 months, it is brilliant to see it reopening with such a strong programme of events, including Cindarella returning for panto season!”