I'll confess right now - I've lived in Tooting for 26 years and I've been privileged to do so. It is London in miniature - with all the good (and most of the bad) that statement implies. One of the very few things Tooting has lacked is a theatre (though it makes up for it with its magnificent Art Deco er... bingo hall - well, it used to be a cinema). Rachel Edwards of Tooting Arts Club is putting that ommission right, having set up the venture in 2011 and now busy overseeing its third critically acclaimed production, Barbarians (reviewed here). Gary Naylor met her while she was setting up the bar for another night in her makeshift venue.
"Tooting has a great energy about it. It's very mixed, very buzzy, very safe. But I was always disappointed that there wasn't much of an artistic scene really - but there is now and it's not just ourselves. I thought it would be interesting to see if we could find some spaces in Tooting in which to put on some really good work."
"I've built up a lot of contacts over the last ten years working in theatre (I trained as an actress) and I began to assemble a team of people who might be interested. But you always start with the play, and the first play we did was "Invasion" at the Selkirk pub. I found a director and, with the director, came a great sound designer who is still with us now. It's brick by brick really. The Selkirk was already set up with a room and a bar, so we used that for our first production - it was an easy way in and The Selkirk were great with us."
"Our venue for Barbarians used to be a Youth Enterprise Scheme and we knew it would work for this play. To get the rights, we approached the agency and explained what we wanted to do with the play and Barrie Keeffe was absolutely brilliant, so that side of things was straightforward. We then spoke to Audrey Helps, the Tooting Town Centre Manager, who was very, very supportive... and, so, now we're here!"
"I'm amazed that Barbarians has not been performed in London for 20 years. It's a warning piece and it's a strong and impacting play about the how these three youths feel rejected and what happens when we don't take care of our young people, don't respect them, don't empower them. The feelings they experience and what they become as a result, are types that transcend the generations. It's why I wanted to put it on. It's saying, "Look here - these are good guys."
"I did a lot of reading before settling on this work and I read Gotcha (reviewed here, last year at the Riverside Studios) Barrie Keeffe's play about the lad who holds his teachers to ransom, so it was suggested that I look at Barabrians. I didn't want to be heavy-handed with the politics and Barrie Keeffe isn't at all - the play is very funny and we can empathise with the characters."
"The lads in the play are all likeable, even Paul, who is repellent by the end. We do care about him - and the others - and we're led into understanding their feelings of isolation and rejection. The strength of the play is that we want them to make the right choices. We're willing them to do well, but things have not gone right for them. We don't like what they become, but there is an explanation and the characters are given their humanity."
"I don't know where Tooting Arts Club goes next. I'm going to do some more reading and seeking out of venues that will make a happy marriage with a play. We'll start with the space - it'd be lovely to come back here - but I don't want to shoehorn a play into a space that doesn't suit it. I'm on the hunt!"
You can read more about Tooting Arts Club by clicking here.