Community venue makes theatre accessible to all

In a leafy corner of Hove, there’s a theatre intent on doing things just a little bit differently. A Community Interest Company, The Purple Playhouse Theatre hosts a diverse array of performances in a friendly and inclusive venue.

Alongside drama productions, The Purple Playhouse Theatre hosts a monthly comedy night, wedding receptions, book launches and the occasional party. “Having a variety of people, groups, and organisations use us is very important,” says theatre and events manager, Henry Bruce. “We had a production last year entirely in Russian, with a live English translation. As a result, we saw quite a few hires from their community. That’s the way things work, it’s an organic thing.” This flexible space on the corner of Old Shoreham Road and Montefiore Road has almost seen it all, from workshops with Glyndebourne uncovering promising young opera singers to a live election night broadcast with Sky TV.

It’s part of the Grace Eyre Foundation, a charity supporting adults with learning disabilities. Located in a repurposed church, the theatre features a vaulted wooden ceiling and a large stained-glass window above a light-drenched stage. In use for some 25 years, but only in the last five years has its potential been realised. Because of the services they provide, the building is set-up to be truly accessible – offering lifts to every floor and a hearing loop.

Helping venues to go beyond statutory provisions for deaf and disabled people, the charity Attitude is Everything recently awarded the Purple Playhouse a Bronze Award. “They encourage venues to sign up to their template. They produce a tome of what you need to do. Fortunately, because of what we do, much of this is in place already. We’re one of only four venues in Brighton & Hove to be certificated alongside Brighton Dome, Brighton Centre and Brighton Open Air Theatre.”

Presently the social care industry is evolving. Moving away from providing services in large day centres, current logic dictates adult care is better served by smaller regional hubs. With these changing attitudes and increased pressures on social care funding, the Grace Eyre Foundation is having to look at how it sustains itself. Making best use of this building,

it’s licensed café/bar and theatre, is obviously going to help feed vital revenues back into the main charity.

As with almost every venue in the city, Purple Playhouse is very much involved in Brighton Fringe this year. “For some reason, magic shows are this year’s thing. This is our sixth Fringe, and having never had one before – this year we’ve got two” A rich timetable is hitting the stage during May, including Medea on Sat 5 – Mon 7 May, which interprets a Greek classic through a personal experience of immigration and assimilation, and Fast on Thurs 10 – Fri 11 May, a dark, psychological drama questioning how far you would go to find the perfect cure. There’s also Vanessa on Thurs 31 May – Sun 3 June, a tender look at same-sex marriage through a mother’s eyes, and the venue’s in-house production (and BN1 Magazine Bursary winner), Grace Eyre Street, on Weds 23 & Weds 30 May. The latter came to fruition last year, as part of a five-month project focussing on the therapeutic value of performing. “It was successful on many levels. It was the first show we sold out completely, and it was successful because the performers with learning disabilities who’d taken part in the project, were given tangible empowerment and confidence.”

Being accessible and promoting inclusivity are the two threads running through everything Purple Playhouse Theatre does. Grace Eyre’s service users are given an opportunity to work in front of house or in the bar. “These are employment opportunities which aren’t otherwise open to them. So many things we do here have a ripple effect. One of them is opening people’s eyes to what life with a learning disability is about.” Somehow, the venue also finds the energy to participate in the Artists Open Houses Festival, winning the award for Best Open House last year. The work created in the centre’s workshops is of an impressively high standard. Henry tells of a book event, where a tactile piece was bought by a publisher to hang in his Malaga home. “I said to him: ’You’ve got to take a picture of it in situ.’ Everybody who had been involved knew what they’d done was now in somebody’s house in Spain. That’s the sort of stuff you can’t put a price on.”

For more information on Purple Playhouse Theatre, click here.

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