Southwark Playhouse

Southwark Playhouse
AddressNewington Causeway
London, SE1
Coordinates51°30′16″N 0°05′01″W / 51.504555°N 0.083634°W / 51.504555; -0.083634Coordinates: 51°30′16″N 0°05′01″W / 51.504555°N 0.083634°W / 51.504555; -0.083634
Public transitLondon Underground Elephant & Castle
National Rail Elephant & Castle
TypeOff West End Theatre
ProductionGuest productions
Opened1993; 26 years ago (1993)

Southwark Playhouse is a theatre in London, located between Borough and Elephant and Castle tube stations.


The Southwark Playhouse Theatre Company was founded in 1993 by Juliet Alderdice and Tom Wilson. 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.[citation needed] It has worked closely with teachers, Southwark Borough Council, businesses and government agencies to improve educational achievement and raise aspirations.[citation needed] This programme is in great demand and attracts substantial funding each year.[citation needed]

Over the next fifteen years the theatre established itself as one of London's leading studio theatres,[1] 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.

Tooley Street venue

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[2] before moving back to London Bridge as part of a Section 106 agreement when the station is completed in 2018.[3]


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,[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

The Playhouse will also create a second venue at Churchyard Row in Elephant and Castle as part of the major redevelopment scheme in the area. This will be part of the Highpoint building, a residential tower block next to the new Council leisure and fitness centre.

All in a Row Controversy[]

In January 2019 it was announced that Alex Oates' play All in a Row, starring Charlie Brooks, Simon Lipkin, Michael Fox and Hugh Purves was going to be produced by Paul Virides Productions at the Southwark Playhouse.[7] The play is based on Alex's ten years of experience caring for severely autistic children and adults and won the Top Five Play Reading at the Bolton Octagon.[8] The producers revealed that they consulted with many autistic people during the two year research and development period and recruited two autistic people to the creative team/cast.

The play is about the parents of a profoundly autistic eleven year old boy and how they're feeling the night before he is taken to a residential school because social services feel he needs more support than can be given in their family home.[9]

Criticisms of the play started to emerge when a video trailer for the production was released showing the autistic character portrayed by a puppet, with Frances Ryan, without seeing it, criticising the play by calling it a "grotesque step backwards".[10] The National Autistic Society who initially decided to help the production by providing consultation reacted to the twitter furore by releasing a statement saying "while recognising some of the play’s strengths, we decided we could not support the play overall due to its portrayal of autism, particularly the use of a puppet to depict the autistic character alone.”[11]

However, in a statement on Twitter the Artistic Director of Southwark Playhouse said that the decision was "in the interest of child protection [because] the themes and some dialogue in the play are of an adult nature", going on to state "we understand that this has been controversial but within the aims of the project, and context of the piece, we support the decision by the writer and creative team on the show to use puppetry as a way to depict the character of Laurence."[12]

The Mighty, a disability publication, compared and contrasted both sides of the argument.[13] Former Artistic Director of the Rose Theatre Stephen Unwin commented on the production, stating that "if you want to create a play about an autistic child and his family, by all means deny the politicians and social workers their reality, even let the parents be represented by shadowy figures, but, please, for God’s sake, give us the breathing blinking eyes of a living young boy, not the corpselike greyness of this ugly puppet."[14] He went on to publicise his own play and discuss how he decided to write out the disabled characters, saying "Indeed, when I wrote (and directed) my own play, All Our Children, about the Nazi murder of disabled young people, I decided to keep the victims offstage."

Alex Oates told the Newcastle Chronicle and the BBC that his decision to use puppetry was based on practical reasons, his admiration for puppetry and the fact that the character in the play has been made a metaphorical puppet by the system who is deciding his fate. He also stated that two members of the cast/creative team of All In a Row who are directly responsible for the portrayal of Laurence are Autistic and fully support the show but do not wish to be 'outed' as autistic. Oates himself claimed "I wrote this play because I worked with disabled people for over 10 years and it's something that's really important to me."[15]

Anna Kennedy of Anna Kennedy Online was invited to an open rehearsal and said that they used a puppet instead of a child because it would be inappropriate to have a child actor for this kind of play. She also said " It has great potential to raise autism awareness and to show the impact of making such a HUGE decision and my opinion to be given a fair hearing.". Dr Kennedy voiced her concern that "autism may become a “toxic” subject in people’s minds and future films documentary or plays and reporters and artists etc may be afraid to go near it – and I am sure none of us want that as an autism community."[16]

By 14th February 2019, when the play was due to open, a petition 'This Play Dehumanises Autistic Children - Pull It Now!', featuring an image of a different puppet from early stages of the play's research process and highly emotive language received over 7,000 signatures from people worldwide who haven't seen the play.[17]


  1. ^ Gardner, Lyn (2 August 2011). "Noises off: Don't leave Southwark Playhouse without a home". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 July 2013. one of the most important venues on the London fringe
  2. ^
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  4. ^
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  6. ^ Trueman, Matt (14 November 2012). "Southwark Playhouse announces details of new temporary home". The Guardian. London.
  7. ^ "All in a Row". Southwark Playhouse Official Website. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  8. ^ "Top 5 scripts chosen out of 800 entries for theatre stage". The Bolton News. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  9. ^ "World Update". BBC Sounds (Podcast). BBC. 2019-02-11. Event occurs at 16:57. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  10. ^ "Casting a puppet as an autistic child is a grotesque step backwards". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  11. ^ "Critics say new play that uses a puppet to portray an autistic boy 'dehumanises' those with the condition". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  12. ^ "Statement from Chris Smyrnios, Artistic Director of Southwark Playhouse". All in a Row is Ableist. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  13. ^ Stumbo, Ellen. "Play's Use of Puppet Instead of Human for Autistic Character Sparks Outrage". The Mighty. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  14. ^ "Puppetgate". Stephen Unwin Blog. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  15. ^ Sharma, Sonia (2019-02-13). "Writer hits back at critics over play that uses a puppet to portray autistic boy". nechronicle. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  16. ^ "'All in a Row' Review". Anna Kennedy Online. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  17. ^ "Petition hits over 7,000 signatures". All in a Row is Ableist. Retrieved 14 February 2019.

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