Southwark (Br [ˈsʌðɨk]) Playhouse Theatre Company was founded in 1993 by Juliet Alderdice, Tom Wilson and Mehmet Ergen. They identified the need for a high quality accessible theatre which would also act as a major resource for the community. They leased a disused workshop in a then comparatively neglected part of Southwark and turned it into a flexible theatre space.
The theatre quickly put down strong roots in Southwark, developing an innovative, free-at-source education programme. It has worked closely with teachers, Southwark Borough Council, businesses and government agencies to improve educational achievement and raise aspirations. This programme is in great demand and attracts substantial funding each year.
Over the past fifteen years the theatre has established itself as one of London's leading studio theatres, presenting high quality work by new and emerging theatre practitioners. Under successive artistic directors, Mehmet Ergen (now Artistic Director of the Arcola Theatre), Erica Whyman (subsequently Artistic Director of the Northern Stage Company and deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company), Thea Sharrock and Gareth Machin (now Artistic Director of Salisbury Playhouse), it has become an indispensable part of small-scale fringe theatre in London. Its venue hire rates remain among the lowest and therefore the most competitive in London theatre, providing the opportunity to host the best of the emerging companies based in or visiting the capital.
Southwark Playhouse has moved venues twice in its 20-year history. After leaving its original home in Southwark Bridge Road in 2006, the theatre operated in vaults beneath platform one of London Bridge railway station, accessed from Tooley Street, from 2007 until early 2013. From early 2013 to 2018 the theatre is based at 77-85 Newington Causeway before moving back to London Bridge as part of a Section 106 agreement when the station is completed in 2018.
In July 2012 it was announced that, due to the redevelopment of London Bridge Station, Southwark Playhouse would not be able to keep its home underneath the arches of the station. After a high-profile public campaign backed by Stephen Fry and Andy Serkis, a space was secured in the new station complex as part of a Section 106 agreement with Network Rail which will allow the theatre to return to its London Bridge premises when the redevelopment is completed in 2018.
From 2013 to 2018 Southwark Playhouse is based at 77-85 Newington Causeway, in a 3-floor warehouse between Borough and Elephant and Castle tube stations. The temporary theatre, opened in May 2013, houses two performance spaces: a 240-seat 'Main House' and a 120-seat 'Studio'. There is also a rehearsal space and a bar/cafe area.
The Playhouse will also create a second venue at Church Row in Elephant and Castle as part of the major redevelopment schems in the area. This will be part of a residential tower block next to the new Council leisure and fitness centre.
The Southwark Playhouse's internal young company is a youth lead theatre company which was established in January 2009 with Ellen Hughes as director. Since then, every year the group puts on two professional productions and an open mic event every month. It was created with Ibrahim Shote, Judith Asman, and Lee Elston - among others - as board members.