The St. George's Theatre, 49 Tufnell Park Road, London
Formerly - St. Georges Church - Later - House On The Rock
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former St. George's Theatre, Tufnell Park - Click to Interact
The St. George's Theatre, Tufnell Park, opened in April 1976 and was the brain child of the actor George Murcell who turned this former Church of England building into a venue similar to Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre on the South Bank.
The building's wonderful circular interior, which had similar dimensions to the Globe, was perfect for the recreation of Shakespeare's iconic Theatre, with its wooden Elizabethan style thrust stage built into the Church's Altar end and temporary dressing rooms constructed behind the building.
Murcell used the former bell tower of the church for offices, and the front of the building as a foyer, cafe, and bar where live jazz sessions were regularly performed to keep the building alive on Sundays.
Right - A Poster for the opening of the St. Georges Theatre in April 1976, advertising productions of 'Twelfth Night', 'Romeo & Juliet', and Richard III'. The cast advertised for the opening productions were Alan Badel, Sarah Badel, Lynn Farleigh, Richard Gale, Elvi Hale Rosemary Leach, John McEnery, Peter McEnery, George Murcell, Eric Porter, and Ronnie Stevens. - Poster Courtesy Lisa Norman.
George Murcell performed in, and directed many of the productions at the Theatre, and being an accomplished musician was also a regular band member in the Theatre's Sunday Jazz Concerts.
Many well known actors, including George Murcell's wife Elvi Hale, performed on the Theatre's stage over the years, usually for the meagerest of fees, but with the same passion that George Murcell had for introducing young people to Shakespeare's cannon, and the Theatre's workshops, which accompanied the productions, were always very well received.
Left - A programme for the St. Georges Theatre production of 'Richard II' with Bernard Hepton, Joseph O'Conor, Alexander Davion, Sam Dastor, Angela Brinkworth, Richard Hampton, Richard Kay, Jenny Oulton, Eric Lander, Kim Begley, John Moreno, Colin Starkey, Adam Kurakin, Daniel Davies, Peter Holmes, Alex Guard, Edward Phillips, Robin Langord, Edward Phillips, Sandra Miller, and Sara Mason.
Right - A programme for the St. Georges Theatre production of 'Julius Ceaser' with Bernard Hepton, Sam Dastor, Keith Buckley, Edward Phillips, Daniel Davies, Richard Hampton, Richard Kay, Eric Lander, Colin Starkey, John Moreno, Alexander Davion, Adam Kurakin, Peter Holmes, Sam Dastor, Joseph O'Conor, Alex Guard, Robin Langford, Angela Brinkworth, Jenny Oulton, and Kim Begley.
The Theatre was originally run by George Murcell and his PA Suzie Hardie, along with education officer Cathy Griffin and administrator John Charnley, who worked tirelessly to bring Shakespeare to the masses.
I worked there myself for several years in the late 70s and early 80s, as Chief Electrician and Lighting Designer (using Joe Davis's original lighting rig for the Theatre), along with George Murcell's son Jamie as my assistant, and must have seen every Shakespeare Play performed there in my time.
Right - A programme for the St. Georges Theatre production of 'The
Winter's Tale' with Alex Scott, Sian Frederic, Ralph Watson, Brian Oulton,
Philip Raymond, Peter MacKriel, Eric Lander, Francis Lloyd, Philip Raymond,
Robert Gary, Barry Thomas, Richard Seymour,
The first two years at the Theatre were short seasons but in 1978 the Theatre opened full time. The Theatre also dabbled with some non Shakespeare repertory productions and conferences for a short period in the winter seasons during the early 1980s.
Sadly the Theatre closed in 1989 and for many years was left abandoned. George Murcell died in 1998 and his son Jamie did restore the building for a short reopening but it was later sold on to the House on the Rock who now use it as one of their Churches.
From a programme for 'As You Like It' at the Theatre in 1978
Following seven productions of Shakespeare's plays spread over two Seasons, St Georges is now opening for its first full year of operation. Many of the lessons that we have learned are now being implemented into the production method and the operation of the theatre itself.
Extra seating has been achieved in the main body of the auditorium, a study for the addition of a Balcony, which will add approximately 300 seats to the playing space, has been concluded and in mocking-up this new structural addition to the auditorium as a temporary measure, we shall be testing both the acoustic quality of the new balcony and analysing its stylistic impact on the existing architecture of the building. This is thought to be an important stage in the improvement of the facilities and testing them in performance, prior to their inclusion as permanent features, vital.
Right - A programme for the St. Georges Theatre production of 'As You Like It' with Joseph O'Conor, Eric Lander, Richard Kay, Bernard Hepton, Kim Begley, Richard Hampton, Colin Starkey, Robin Langford, Sam Dastor, Peter Holmes, Paul Wilce, John Moreno, Edward Phillips, Daniel Davies, Adam Kurakin, Alex Guard, Rosemary Leach, Angela Brinkworth, Jenny Oulton, Sara Mason, and Sandra Miller.
This Season has been sponsored privately and as yet the Theatre receives no running grants from any of the usual public sources although the Arts Council of Great Britain has made a small contribution towards our Appeal Funds and the Greater London Council has agreed to help the Theatre with the construction of the new Balcony which improves the amenities and revenue of the enterprise.
For the third year in succession we are glad to employ the Musica Antigua of London, Director Philip Thorby, as the Theatre's own Band of Musicians who have been an important stylistic factor in the Theatre's productions.
The above text on Previous Productions at St Georges was first published in a programme for 'As You Like It' at the Theatre in 1978.
From a programme for 'As You Like It' at the Theatre in 1978
Since it opened St Georges has been visited by some 20,000 London school-children every year who are studying Shakespeare and drama for GCE examinations. The pupils and their teachers have declared that the experience of viewing the plays within the context of the Elizabethan Playhouse and the faithful interpretation of the texts make the performances more enjoyable and understandable.
Right - A Google StreetView Image of the former St. George's Theatre, Tufnell Park - Click to Interact.
At University level the Royal Holloway College (part of London University) has introduced a new drama degree course incorporating the work of St Georges Theatre.
We believe that we are the first Company in London with a full time Education Officer co-ordinating the work of the Theatre with the needs of the schools.
The above text on Education at St Georges was first published in a programme for 'As You Like It' at the Theatre in 1978.
From a programme for 'As You Like It' at the Theatre in 1978
George Murcell is the Founder and Artistic Director of St Georges. He was born in Italy of British parents and was educated in Europe and in England. His first contact with Shakespeare was through opera as a child.
He has spent over 25 years working in theatre, television and in films and has been a member of all the English Classical Theatre Companies.
The list of theatre, television and screen credits for George Murcell is impressive - as can be seen from his entry in Who's Who in the Theatre! He has worked with many of the best and internationally famous actors and directors for most of his working life.
For the last 10 years he has worked to promote and establish St. Georges Theatre. In this he was greatly assisted by the late Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Michael Benthall, both of international classical theatre fame with whom he worked at the Old Vic. Sir Tyrone Guthrie was the first Chairman of St Georges. This is a project firmly rooted in the English tradition which is making an important contribution to our theatrical heritage.
The opening of St Georges Theatre on a permanent basis as the London home for Shakespeare, is not the end of the story but the beginning of another chapter.
The above text on George Murcell was first published in a programme for 'As You Like It' at the Theatre in 1978.
From a programme for 'On Approval' at the Theatre in 1980
St Georges Church was consecrated in 1867, replacing a temporary wooden structure erected in 1858. The designer was George Truefitt, who, it is said, modelled the Church on the 5th Century crusader Church of St George in Salonika. The cost of construction was £7000 and it seated a prosperous middle class congregation of 1020. The value of St Georges both from an architectural and urban design standpoint is considerable. The Church itself is especially notable for its unique circular interior space and excellent wood frame ceiling. It is one of a few churches based on a circular plan in this country. The fact that the building is listed attests to its architectural merit.
Right - A programme for the St. Georges Theatre repertory production of 'On Approval' Directed by Bob Cartland in 1980, with Elvi Hale, Catherine Chase, John Quentin, and Brian Poyser.
St Georges survived two world wars although some damage was caused in 1944 by a flying bomb, incendiary scars can still be seen on one portion of the wooden ceiling. The only threat to the building came when it fell into disuse, was vandalised and proposals were afoot to knock it down. It was at this time that George Murcell and a group of other professional theatre people were searching desperately to find a building in which to explore their ideals. In 1968 an extensive search revealed St Georges. Support for the Church's preservation from such groups as the Council for the Care of Churches, the Historic Building Division of the Greater London Council, The Victorian Society, The Royal Fine Arts Commission and Sir John Betjeman, ensured the building's preservation.
In 1970 Sir Tyrone Guthrie became Chairman of the Charity, St Georges Elizabethan Theatre Ltd. Plans for conversion of the Church were approved by the Privy Council.
In 1971 Sir Tyrone Guthrie died and Michael Benthall succeeded him as Chairman in 1972. A purchase price for the Church was agreed and on April 23rd 1973, St George's day and Shakespeare's birthday, the purchase of the property was finally completed.
Working to a limited budget the conversion has been slowly and painstakingly achieved. The next stage will be to provide the Auditorium with a gallery.
It is interesting to note that 1976 was the 400th anniversary of the very first Elizabethan Theatre; it was constructed in Shoreditch not far from St Georges.
The above text on the history of St Georges was first published in a programme for 'On Approval' at the Theatre in 1980.
From - The Building News and Engineering Journal, 1867
The church, as illustrated on another page, is being erected from the designs of Mr. George Truefitt, architect, of 5, Bloomsbury-square. We are glad to lay it before our readers because it is so entirely different to the many churches erected, and which are all so very much alike. The difficulty the architect had to deal with was to get the building at all on such a sharp triangular piece of ground, but the way he has done it shows he does not believe that a church must of necessity be of the usual nave, aisle, and chancel type, about which there is perhaps really no design whatever.
In this church the interior effect has been principally thought of, and as a building partaking of the circular plan always looks externally smaller than it really is, so the interior, which in this case is very spacious, surprises all who enter, as it seems so much larger than it appears from the outside view.
There will be sittings for 1,020 adults, without galleries, the cost £5,400, being without the tower and spire, which it is hoped the heir to the estate will build when he comes of age. The site is presented by the Tufnell Park estate, the subscriptions coming principally from the seatholders of the temporary church, but, as only about half of the money has been collected, the building is now stopped for want of funds. The indefatigable treasurers are at work, however, and hope to see the building finished before long. At present the roofs are all on and slated...
Above - Ground Plans of St. George's Church, Tufnell Park by its Architect George Truefitt - From The Building News and Engineering Journal of 1867. The caption for this plan reads:- 'Last week we gave a perspective drawing of the exterior of this handsome and unique church recently erected at Tufnell Park, Holloway, from the designs of Mr. George Truefitt. We now give section and plan of the same church. The architect having a rather odd bit of ground to deal with has, it must be admitted, turned it to good account in an original way.'
...The materials are Kentish rag and Bath dressings; the columns, of cast-iron, ten inches in diameter. The roofs, which are open, are all rough from the saw, without stain or varnish, and are boarded and tongued with iron. The pewing will be varnished, the seats being all open. The chancel and passages will be all laid with cement or concrete, ready for future tiles. The walls, as at present arranged, will be plastered to a height of six feet only, leaving the rest to be done at a future time - in fact, everything is being carried out with regard to economy, as far as the fittings and finishings are concerned, so that the architect's original estimate of £5,400 may not be exceeded. The builders are Messrs. Carter and Sons, of Hornsey-road.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal of 1867.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: