Category Archives: Theatre

The story so far …

Visit our new page of Exhibitions and Talks and don’t forget that ‘Mike Gray – In Black and White’ photography exhibition is at Chats Palace bar throughout the Summer 2015 as well as the ‘Photographer Unknown’ next door in Chats gallery. Have a lovely Summer!

Mike Gray - In Black and White


Joan Littlewood and Stratford Fair

Adapted from ‘Community Art an Anthropological Perspective’ by Kate Crehan, 2011 

Free Form Arts Trust, which was instrumental in the foundation of Chats Palace (1976) and in starting the annual Hackney Marsh Fun Festival (1974 – 1995), had previously organised their first neighbourhood festival on the Keir Hardie Estate in Canning Town in 1972. It was a seven-week programme of different live arts events, many with a strong participatory component.

One visitor to the Festival was Joan Littlewood, one of the most influential figures in postwar British theatre. Working in an old Victorian theatre located in the East End rather than the West End home of middle-class theatre, her productions in the 1960s, as British playwright David Edgar put it in 2006, ‘popularised a high-energy, rough and ready, Anglicised version of Brecht’s suddenly influential political theatre’.

In the early 1970s, Stratford, the home of Littlewood’s Theatre Royal, was a somewhat desolate place, supposedly in the process of being ‘developed’. The local school had just closed, and there were many empty sites, left vacant by developers in the hope of future profits. Despite Littlewood’s declared aim of creating a ‘people’s theatre’ and while her theatre may have been more successful at attracting working-class audiences than traditional West End theatres, to many local people it was still essentially an outpost of alien middle-class culture.

Well aware of this problem, Littlewood was excited when she visited the 1972 Canning Town Fun Festival – like the Free Form artists, she had a strong commitment to making art, in her case theatre, that could reach working-class people. She suggested that  Free Form organised a programme of art events, to be called ‘Stratford Fair’, intended to bring her theatre out of its box and into the local community and to get the local community into the theatre. The story of this collaboration reveals something of the difficulty of bridging the gulf between high art and popular culture.

Martin Goodrich, co-founder of the Free Form Arts Trust, remembers:

To celebrate Joan Littlewood’s 100th birthday anniversary, Chats Palace is taking part in the nationwide weekend of Fun Palaces on Saturday October 4, 10-4pm. Come and meet the Fragile Archivists to watch a wide range of historical and modern footage, pick up material about the origins of Chats Palace and much more.

Forgotten photocopies

From the Chats Palace archive here are a selection of A3 photocopies, a sometimes overlooked or forgotten aspect of pre-digital communication and technology.

Publicising events from the late 70’s to the early 90’s they are rich with local echoes of the not so distant past…Oxy And The Morons…081…Free For All…Belt and Braces…Buses 35, 22a, 22b…crèche facilities…Exploring Black Arts…Chats Arkestra…silly games nite…The Crayfish Five…Double Edge Theatre Company…darts knockout…Music Hall…

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Happy New Year

Newsletter front

What has been done so far?

We started the weekly blog in September. It has been well received, with an average of 30 people viewing it daily. Many social history and local organisations have been extremely supportive:  

What is Chats Palace? is a great new website covering the history of the venue
The Radical History of Hackney”

…This archive is a real treat and a true part of East London’s design heritage…
Rob Alderson from “It’s nice that”

…The images will fascinate social observers, illustrating not just alternative society advertising styles but reflecting local political and social issues of the time…
David Altheer from “Loving Dalston”

Whilst a wide range of people have contributed stories and anecdotes…

…It (The Chambermaids) was an epic, joyful production…participants told me how good it was to be involved in something that was about people like them. Anyway, fond memories and I’ve still got the t-shirt, fading now, but…Kathleen

…I often reflect upon how getting involved in directing and writing at a young age has helped me transfer my skills on many different levels. The urgency to support and empower women and artists in the local community was totally needed but very rewarding…Iesha

…These are marvellous. What a nice Friday surprise. I remember some of those gigs. Brilliant. Thanks so much for making me smile today…Lesley


coming up in 2013

archival footage on super 8 and VHS
articles and artwork covering Music Hall, International Women’s Day, Senior Citizens, Carnival
interviews with the founders of Chats Palace and community activists

Breaking down boundaries…

Susan Croft and Danny Braverman from Unfinished Histories came to Chats Palace this week to talk about the origins of experimental theatre and radical theatre practice in the late 19th century, workers theatre movements in the 1930s in Hackney, and their archival project ‘British Alternative Theatre 1968 – 1988’.

Susan Croft and Danny Braverman talking about British alternative theatre at Chats Palace, November 2012

Susan: “Questioning is for me at the heart of alternative theatre movement. Who the theatre should be for? What theatre should look like? Who should it be made by? What should it be about? Where is it going to? Who is the audience?”

Danny: “Neither of the two opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games would have been possible without the alternative theatre movement.”

Check out Chats Palace December programme for a festive quiz night benefit supporting the Unfinished Histories with Quizmaster Extraordinaire (or so he says) Danny Braverman.

More to come in the following weeks on theatre.
For now – a poster selection of theatre productions at Chats Palace in the 1980s:

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