Sometimes it takes longer than expected to realise a dream. More than 50 years after Joan Littlewood came up with the idea of ‘fun palaces’, they’re set to pop up all over the country. Sara O’Reilly is ready to play.
Back in 1961 the late, legendary director Joan Littlewood (she founded the Theatre Workshop whose best known success was the stage musical ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’) and architect Cedric Price came up with the notion of ‘fun palaces’. What they envisioned was a network of places where people of all ages could come together to be creative, to learn something new or enjoy watching as others explored and experimented.
What Littlewood called ‘a university of the streets’ or ‘a laboratory of fun’ didn’t make it beyond the concept stage at the time, but now, to mark the centenary of Littlewood’s birth, author Stella Duffy and freelance producer Sarah Jane Rawlings have rekindled the flame with a new festival celebrating the same principles. In its first year, 100-odd Fun Palace happenings will take place nationwide, with more than 40 planned in London. Some have been organised by museums, schools and art centres, others by community groups. Many are looking for volunteers, so there’s still time to get involved.
The fact that most of these events have little or no funding doesn’t seem to have hampered the creative process. In fact, it has prompted some gloriously off-the-wall ideas (mermaids and dinosaurs both figure in plans for the weekend).
The process of making the fun palaces is as important as the end result and the range of activities on offer is so eclectic that even Duffy and Rawlings don’t pretend to have a complete handle on what will happen. ‘Expect the unexpected,’ they advise. Or as Littlewood would have put it, ‘Lie back and look at the stars.’
To give you some idea of what’s in store, we’ve picked out a trio of events. Then kick up your heels and join the fun.
Fun Palaces is on Sat Oct 4 and Sun Oct 5. Free.
BROCKWELL LIDO FUN PALACE
The watery theme of this fun palace won’t come as a surprise but the opportunity to swim with a mermaid might. Other options include learning to paddle a canoe, discovering the physics behind swimming and opportunities to pick up some sign language skills or pose for an underwater photo. Dulwich Rd, SE24 OPA. Herne Hill rail. Sun Oct 5, 11am-6pm.
CRYSTAL FUN PALACE
A highlight of the activities in this corner of south-east London will be ‘Dinosaur Doctors’, a theatrical performance that sees medics set sail for Crystal Palace Park’s Dinosaur Island to heal its prehistoric residents (Saturday 3pm). Will the iguanodon let anyone get close enough to examine its aching tooth? Watch from the shore to find out. There’ll be a scientist on hand to answer questions about the park’s prehistoric VIPs, and children who take their dinosaur toys along to join the fun will be able to see them shipped to the island for a selfie with one of the statues. Afterwards, stick around to have a picnic: Brown & Green’s at Crystal Palace station will be selling delicious themed goodies to make things easy. Crystal Palace Park, the ‘Triangle’ (Westow St, Westow Hill, Church Rd) and Gypsy Hill. Crystal Palace rail. Sat Oct 4, 11am-4pm; Sun Oct 5, 11am-2pm.
DEPTFORD FUN PALACE
Lots of local venues and organisations including The Albany, The Deptford Lounge Library, Lewisham Education Arts Network, Art Mongers, visual arts festival Deptford X, street theatre company Circadian and Goldsmith’s University are collaborating to lay on a day of free activity and spectacle. The programme features a science playground, a musical staircase, a flash mob, street circus, giant investigations, pigment battles, sea shanties and exhibitions. Central to the celebrations are six outdoor music and theatre performances, and ‘Source’ (Sunday 3pm), an epic tale of London’s lost rivers from Cirque Bijou and Nutkhut, followed by a party in The Albany’s main theatre. The Albany, Douglas Way, SE8 4AG. www.thealbany.org. Deptford rail or New Cross Overground. Sat Oct 4, noon-4pm; Sun Oct 5, 3pm-10pm.
Looking for more fun? Take a look at these 82 wonderful things happening in London this October.