Park Theatre Company

by Mike Hopkins

If you take a walk round Finsbury Park – the park itself, not the N4 postcode – do you notice all the people there, and wonder about their individual stories? Do you think about the history of this 110-acre space? Park Players Ensemble group had the opportunity to work on the park’s story as part of the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the park’s opening. As a result, group members, under the guidance of tutor Amy Allen, with support from Natasha Kathi-Chandra, created a new  theatre piece entitled Park Life.

The creation process was fun and collaborative. Starting with exercises, games and warm-ups, ideas began to flow. The script started to cohere as the weeks progressed towards the Park Players  Showcase in the Park 200 on 21st July.

Some of the script was based on real events, such as the planting of five cherry trees in the park in the Spring of 2019 as symbols of peace and unity. A sequence of recreated acts from the old Finsbury Park Empire theatre (sadly no more), featured Laurel and Hardy, George Formby and Marie Lloyd (performing a rousing rendition of “My Old Man Said Follow the Van”). There was also an imaginative re-enactment of the moment when an elephant rampaged in the park in 1893, with a poem specially composed by a group member.

Two imagined characters seated on a park bench – one of whom turned out to be the subject of a memorial plaque - reflected on the comings and goings in the park. Pilates exercises, scooter riders, musicians and dog trainers were all portrayed, as well as a homeless person, who was given a clear voice for all to hear.

The origins of the park were not neglected, with a visit to Parliament in the late 1860s (based on historic record), where the redoubtable William McCullagh Torrens MP, member for Finsbury, argued forcibly for retention of the original park acreage (250) and no sell-off of parkland for building. He was alas outvoted by other members, who favoured a more “pragmatic” (ie cheaper) approach. How times have changed…

There was a sad reminder of some of the darker times of crime and neglect, but also hope in the form of new funding from Haringey Council, and the activities of the Friends of Finsbury Park. When our piece was put on  again in the show marquee in the park itself, on 8th August, there had been some changes of cast  (particular thanks to those Company members who stepped in for the re-run), with a fine audience turnout and a very positive response.

It was a rewarding creative experience. We were proud to represent the Park Theatre on this occasion, and look forward to next term’s showcase – whatever that may be!

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