Battersea Arts Centre

Battersea Arts Centre

The Inventors

Since 1985 Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) has been producing cutting-edge performances created by radical artists and producers. We are the home of Scratch, a process which allows artists to test new ideas and audiences to influence and enrich the work through their feedback.

We also pioneered one on one performance which pairs one artist with one audience member. We have developed radical shows for children and families that encourage them to explore our heritage and our building.

Battersea Arts Centre is proud to be the guardian of the former Battersea Town Hall, built in 1893 by Edward Mountford. Over the past 120 years this building has played host to many fascinating people and incredible stories with infamous speeches, radical politics, cutting edge performance and personal journeys. 

Battersea Town Hall has played host to radicals including the Suffragettes and John Archer, the first black mayor of a London borough.

the inventors, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
Jude Kelly, Battersea Arts Centre, 1980, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
Jude Kelly with Princess Diana, 1985, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Jude Kelly, 1980-1985

Battersea Arts Centre was established as an independent theatre under the artistic directorship of Jude Kelly. The opening weekend was on the 13th and 14th of December. Renovations of the interior were made, most notably turning the Council Chamber into a ‘black-box’ theatre and the Members’ Library into a gallery space. Her idea was that, rather than simply receiving ready-made shows from elsewhere, BAC should also actively foster work in a raw and unfinished state; Cheek by Jowl tried out some of its first productions here.

Jude Kelly is the Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre in London

Women Artists Slide Library, 1985

This Woman and Photography Day was organised by the Women Artists Slide Library. The photographer Cory Bevington found in her collection, photographs that she had taken at BAC in 1985 during the exhibition. Apparently, it was fundamentally organised by very strong feminists, who wouldn't allow any men into the building!

Woman and Photography Day, Cory Bevington, 1985, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Rufus Norris, 1993-2002

Earlier on in his career, the newly appointed director of the National Theatre, brought in different artists to Battersea Arts Centre. He worked with musicians, singers and dancers. At BAC he experimented a lot in music theatre. The big, traditional operas held little attraction; his interest is in more experimental work.He had his directing debut in 1993 with Things Curious by Louise Warren and in 2002, he directed Tall Stories, a staged song-cycle written by Orlando Gough and Richard Chew, and performed by The Shout. Tall Stories is a series of songs, each of which tells a story of different groups of immigrants.

Tall Stories, The Shout, 1993, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Bruce McLean, 1977

Bruce McLean is a Scottish sculptor, performance artist and painter. He was Head of Graduate Painting at The Slade School of Fine Art London. Bruce has had numerous one man exhibitions including Tate Gallery in London, The Modern Art Gallery in Vienna and Museum of Modern Art, Oxford. In 1985, he won the John Moores Painting Prize.Bruce McLean & Silvia Ziranek’s presented ‘Sorry – A Minimal Musical in Parts’ at Battersea Arts Centre in 1977, and Hayward Annual in 1979.

Sorry, Bruce McLean, Silvia Ziranek, 1977, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Tom Morris, 1995-2004

Tom Morris turned around Battersea Arts Centre during the Nineties, bringing in funky experimentalists such as the Cornish company Kneehigh and producing breakout hits such as Jerry Springer – The Opera. Then Nicholas Hytner brought him into the National Theatre, where he nurtured productions such as War Horse. Tom was Artistic Director at Battersea Arts Centre from 1995 to 2004 where he revolutionised the programme, oversaw a radical management restructure and led the organisation from the verge of bankruptcy to financial stability.  Whilst at BAC, Tom wrote Ben Hur, Jason and the Argonauts and World Cup Final 1966 with Carl Heap and directed many shows including BAC Opera, Macbeth (with Corin Redgrave), and Othello Music.  Tango and Crash performed corde lisse as part of the British Festival of Visual Theatre. This was one of the many seasons and festivals of devised theatre overseen by Tom Morris.

Tom used Battersea Arts Centre as a sort of laboratory in which artists can climb what Tom called “the Ladder of Development”. The bottom rung is a monthly “Scratch Night”, which offers the opportunity for all comers to present 10-minute extracts from work in progress to an audience that will be canvassed for its feedback in the bar afterwards. Based on the feedback, the work would then be given a two-night run at greater length, followed by more sifting and refining and full, relatively finished productions for the few that make the final grade.

Tom Morris is now the Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic.

The Works: BAC Opera, Tom Morris, Battersea Arts Centre, 2000, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
The Works: BAC Opera, Tom Morris, Battersea Arts Centre, 2000, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
Jerry Springer, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Mona Hatoum, 1980

Mona Hatoum, born 1952, is an artist currently based in London.  She has participated in numerous important group exhibitions including The Turner Prize (1995), Venice Biennale (1995 and 2005), Documenta XI, Kassel, 2002, Biennale of Sydney (2006), the Istanbul Biennial (1995 and 2011) and The Fifth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2013).

Don't Smile, You're on Camera, Mona Hatoum, 1980, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

5 days at Battersea Arts Centre, 1980

During the last week of March 1980 and under the threat of the closure because of cuts in the arts, Battersea Arts Centre was the host of five days of installations, films and performances by established and up and coming artists at the time. Among the artists who exhibited at this group exhibitions there were the names of Silvia Zinarek, Bill Furlong and Mona Hatoum, it was one of Mona’s first video performances.Mona Hatoum’s video performance on the first evening of the exhibition, displayed the concepts of gender bending and her desire to look behind the surface of social constructs. Hatoum pointed her video camera directly to the audience in a full house of punters, who experienced an optical trickery. Hatoum broke through the anonymity of the audience, introducing an almost voyeuristic pleasure of seeing oneself and other members of the audience as a performer.That was the time when Hatoum experimented with the issue of surveillance and the concept of this performance was born right after the rejection of a similar proposal for an exhibition at the ICA and at SLADE. In the late 70’s and beginning of 80’s Battersea Arts Centre was a very radical art exhibition space. Artists like Bruce McLean and Mona Hatoum found a home to present their avant garde art at the time.

1927, 2010

1927 theatre company returned to BAC following their successful 2008 début show Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. 1927 was formed when illustrator Paul Barritt and writer and actress Suzanne Andrade were joined in 2006 by musician Lillian Henley and actress Esme Appleton. The result was a successful mix of animation, film, cabaret and storytelling drawing on influences as diverse as the film Metropolis, Kurt Weill and Roald Dahl.

Alen Ginsberg, 1979

Allen Ginsberg, one the leading figures of the beat generation who is most famous for his work 'Howl' describing life in America as well as alluding to his mother's mental health issues and the nation's ideas about sex and sexuality.

Allen Ginsberg performed a poetry show at BAC in 1979. The evening's line-up also featured Peter Orlovsky and Steven Taylor.

Allen Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg, 1979, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
Evidence for the existence of borrowers, 2004, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Kazuko Hohki, 2000

Kazuko is widely recognised as the artist who coined the term ‘Scratch’ (introduced by BAC and widely adopted across the UK and international theatre sectors to refer to a process of sharing and evolving work in dialogue with audiences), Kazuko’s productions are developed over extended creative processes with work in progress performances shared with audiences at key stages in the creative development process

scratch, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Scratch, 2000

Battersea Arts Centre’s  Scratch events derive from a history of experimentation and audience collaboration. 13 years ago, David Jubb, co-Artistic Director of BAC, and Tom Morris - now of the Bristol Old Vic – invited a close audience of 40 participants to sit in on work that was in its developmental stages. Since then ‘Scratch nights’ have become enshrined in the ethos of what  BAC deliver in their programming and what support they offer for emerging practitioners and audience members alike.

‘Described as “Britain’s most influential theatre” (The Guardian), at the heart of BAC’s approach to making performance there is a process called Scratch, that places the artist and audience in a creative dialogue to develop new ideas.

Scratch plays a principle role in the programing of work at BAC. BACfirst looks to start creative conversations with artists, in order to develop relationships that lead to residencies and Scratch performances.

Neil Bartlett, 1987

Neil Bartlett is one of his generation's most respected and innovative theatre directors. Before becoming the Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith in London, Neil performed his Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep during the wave of the British AIDS outbreak, at BAC. 

A very rough text with a lot of references to Solomon and Dickens, it was a criticism to the press hysteria at the time. 

Neil found the right space to perform his show in collaboration with Robin Whitmore who transformed entirely the foyer of Battersea Arts Centre, creating a midnight blue phantasmagoria. Every inch of the interior was covered with a dreamy, start-spangled sky-scape populated by angels.

A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, Neil Bartlett, 1987, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Ivor Cutler, 1976

Ivor began performing his off-beat poetry and songs accompanied by his trusty harmonium. He is one of the only people to have been played on Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4 as well as being championed by John Peel and The Beetles to name two. Ivor Cutler performed his Virgin in the Ridiculusmus? show in 1976 at BAC.

Ivor Cutler, Ivor Cutler, 1976, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Short BAC and Sides, 1996

In the Nineties, Battersea Arts Centre delved in the world of alternative comedy. Famous comedians like Harry Hill, Graham Norton, Stewart Lee, League of Gentlemen, etc  started their successful careers through a series of curated comedy nights like Short BAC and Sides. BAC brought to South London the atmosphere and the energy of Edinburgh Festival

Short BAC and Sides, Battersea Arts Centre, 1998, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
Harry Hill, 1996, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
League of Gentlemen, 1996, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
Stewart Lee, 1996, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

DV8 Physical Theatre, 1986

DV8 Physical Theatre's work is about taking risks, aesthetically and physically, about breaking down the barriers between dance and theatre and, above all, communicating ideas and feelings clearly and unpretentiously. It is determined to be radical yet accessible, and to take its work to as wide an audience as possible. The company was officially formed in 1986 when BAC commissioned My Sex, Our Dance.

My Sex, Our Dance, Chris Nash, Lloyd Newson, Nigel Charnock, 1986, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Punchdrunk, 2007

Punchdrunk is a British theatre company, formed in 2000, the pioneer of a form of “immersive” theatre in which the audience is free to choose what to watch and where to go. Prior to Punchdrunk's commission, Battersea Arts Centre used three black box studios. Punchdrunk enabled BAC to look at the Old Town Hall Building with fresh eyes, seeing the potential in every room, corridor, stairwell and cupboard, opening up areas that had been shut away for years. The Masque of the Red Death enabled us to test out a series of ideas across the site.

The Masque of the Red Death was hailed by the Guardian's Lyn Gardner as “the theatre event of 2007”. Combining the classic tales of Edgar Allan Poe with the buried Victorian origins of Battersea Old Town Hall, The Masque Of The Red Death lured audiences into a macabre world of mystery and the supernatural. 

Exploring some of Poe's most disturbing themes and obsessions and populated by a large cast of bizarre characters. The Masque of the Red Death was a co-production between Punchdrunk and Battersea Arts Centre. It ran for seven months and was experienced by 46,000 people. It completely changed the way we thought about the building.

The Masque oF the Red Death, 2007, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
The Masque of the Red Death, Battersea Arts Centre, 2007, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre
Masque of the Red Death, Stephen Dobbie, 2007, From the collection of: Battersea Arts Centre

Kate Tempest, 2012

Kate Tempest is an English poet, spoken word artist and playwright. In 2013 she won the Ted Hughes Award for her work Brand New Ancients, which was developed at Battersea Arts Centre. Kate first performed when she was 16, at open mic nights at Deal Real, a small hip hop store on Carnaby Street in London's West End. She went on to support acts such as John Cooper Clarke, who performed at BAC in 1980.A force of nature, Kate is a spoken-word performer who incorporates rap, hip-hop, music, singing, theatre and poetry into spine-tingling tales that draw equally on ancient myth and ordinary life in her South London neighbourhood. Kate won the 2013 Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry, and last year the show went on to win a prize at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. She has been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize Album of the Year 2014.

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