What happened when we saved the Coal Mine Theatre

Martha Henry “As far as I’m concerned, they’ve never had a bad year.” In a much-cited 2009 Financial Times report on the theatre, Martha Henry calls the Coal Mine Theatre “the great theatre of…

What happened when we saved the Coal Mine Theatre

Martha Henry

“As far as I’m concerned, they’ve never had a bad year.”

In a much-cited 2009 Financial Times report on the theatre, Martha Henry calls the Coal Mine Theatre “the great theatre of London,” and “the only playhouse I’ve seen that works.”

That ten-yearn output is both incredible and singular. It’s also a miracle, given the Powder Mill Theatre’s humble beginning: As a showcase for new writing in Soho in the early 1980s, the Coal Mine Theatre developed a strong reputation.

But it took a small cataclysmic event to propel the theatre’s lifespan – and survival. Following the closure of the Royal Court Theatre in 1985, benefactors Roy Hooper and Sam West held a general meeting and, with the blessing of the board, requested a two-year trial period in which to resuscitate the Coal Mine Theatre. Six months after that meeting, the board reluctantly agreed to stay put at its current home on King’s Road, which had recently been sold, and to commit some money to spruce it up.

“But then Sajid Javid decided he wanted the venue,” Henry explains, referring to then culture secretary Javid’s sole recommendation to save the Royal Court. “I think the board didn’t think the deal was binding, and so they ripped it up.”

Henry became embroiled in the situation, and ended up resigning in frustration – but not before a promise was made to her. Over the course of several days, she eventually managed to persuade Peter Brodie to buy the theatre and keep the dates that would have been part of the Royal Court’s contract.

And in the end, those dates worked out to about £350,000. “The minute the money came through, I knew it was done, because we knew we had more than enough money to run. I probably spent more time worrying about it than anyone else did.”

Follow the Coal Mine Theatre on Twitter @marthaharc and Facebook.

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