Eastern Angles’ secret theatre

Ask people to recommend a theatre in Peterborough and they will probably point you towards The Broadway, The Cresset or The Key Theatre on the Embankment. But those ‘in the know’ may also mention The Undercroft, a secret gem of a theatre space that has popped-up in the basement of Serpentine Green Shopping Centre. Home to Eastern Angles Theatre Company, this new venue is rapidly becoming a hive of activity hosting a whole range of theatre performances, drama classes, art installations, community workshops and participation projects all happening under the noses (and feet!) of Hampton shoppers.

Eastern Angles first acquired the unusual theatre venue back in 2014 leasing a series of connected empty shop units from O&H Hampton. The space was rough and ready but ripe for adapting into a quirky, pop-up performance area designed to welcome the local community and those who may be unused to attending more traditional theatres and concert halls.

‘As soon as I peered through the windows I got very excited,’ explains Eastern Angles’ Artistic Director Ivan Cutting. ‘I could see it had real potential for us. The location, in the bustling shopping centre, was perfect for attracting local people. And the sheer size of the space was astounding – like a huge underground car park. It had all the hallmarks of the places Eastern Angles are used to performing in – a unexpected “found space” and totally empty, allowing us to bring in our own seating, lights, set and completely transform the blank canvas into an impressive performance space.’

Over the past three years Eastern Angles have gradually acquired more of the basement area allowing The Undercroft to stretch to an area covering an enormous 10,000 square feet. The hard-working production team have also insulated the walls, laid a new floor, installed a bar and theatre lighting plus a bank of tiered seating to create a full-functioning theatre experience. These improvements have allowed the company to open-up the venue to other groups and organisations. So now, in addition to staging its own shows such as popular community plays River Lane and All Wrapped Up in Westwood (the story of Freemans catalogue workers), readings of new scripts, and other productions like The Fletton Railway Children by local playwright Julie Mayhew, Eastern Angles can also provide an environment for other work to flourish.

This extra activity has included Platform 8 Festival performances presented by JumpedUp Theatre and supported by Battersea Arts Centre. During a week in November the shopping centre venue hosted three Platform 8 events: Supa Mega Rockin’ Rock Show for 3-8 year olds, the Edinburgh festival hit Castle Builder and The Dream Catcher, a magical, digital installation by artists Andy Campbell and Judi Alston. The space has also become home to regular drama sessions for children and young people aged 8+ run by UROCK Theatre Company, a rehearsal space for Little Nose Theatre Company and a base for a whole raft of successful community engagement work and performances, including a Peter Pan Christmas show for kids, from Peterborough-based Lamphouse Theatre Company.

‘The Undercroft is a lovely, raw space that we have access to thanks Eastern Angles,’ says playwright Becky Owen-Fisher from Lamphouse Theatre Co. ‘We’ve based ourselves there to run workshops, organise creative walks and perform. It’s all about making a space that the local community feel they own. And people love it when they see it – it’s brilliant!’

One of the most recent highlights at The Undercroft was Eastern Angles’ partnership with Lamphouse Theatre to offer events as part of the Arts Council’s Creative People and Places programme. Working in partnership with arts consortium Peterborough Presents, Hampton became the focus for a range of events including an outdoor festival, the creation of a book of new Hampton Folk Tales and a procession from ‘The Tump’ to The Undercroft led by a mythical Giant puppet. ‘Hampton has many quirks in its landscape, including a big hill called the Tump,’ explains Tom Fox, Artistic Director for Lamphouse. ‘We wanted to provoke and be provoked by the residents of Hampton. I wanted to start my own legend – the Hampton Giant. We wanted people to be able to look more closely at the place they live in and say, “You see that hill? A Giant lives there!”’

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