It’s great to see this fabulous arts venue re-open its doors after a stunning refurbishment. Boasting a colourful 160-year history, the buliding was first built as an engine shed. It was later transformed into a bonded warehouse for Gilbey’s Gin before Arnold Wesker the playwright came along in 1964 and established Centre 42 at the Roundhouse, insisting it became one of the most cutting edge performing arts venue in the country. Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd played several memorable concerts there and it is these performances that have sealed the Roundhouse’s legendary reputation.
London seems to hold a fondness for her curvaceous walls - the blend of industrial past and Victorian grandeur means it grabs your attention on the way down Chalk Farm Road. By the 1980s it was a crumbling wreck of its former self and it has taken £27 million to buff it up so to speak. A shiny, angular, glass three-storey extension has been attached to the original, windowless, dark-grey drum. As many as 4,000 people can now cram into the building at once, as many as the National.
But that's just the surface; inside you are met by a grand atrium with a wide staircase spiralling up to sweeping balconies and glass-sided walkways. The main auditorium is heaps bigger and brighter than before. I’ve heard stories of a dank interior in the past but this one is flooded with light and the cast-irons columns seem sparklingly illuminated.
More than just a space for performing, it will be a centre for youth theatre projects. The buliding has been designed with this new tack in mind. Underneath the auditorium, hidden among a labyrinth of rooms and corridors, are a raft of recording studios, edit suites, television studios and rehearsal spaces. Referred to as the Roundhouse studios, this area is exclusively for young people aged 13-25. The idea is to enable up to 10,000 youngsters a year to learn new creative skills. They envisage poetry slams, live music or just a whole group of enthusiasts networking.
It’s a fabulous venue and will no doubt host a myriad of fantastic performances. The first was Fuerzabruta – an alternative circus-influenced theatrical show. Incredibly captivating, it was a visual treat. Tickets for main performances can be a little steep but you can rest assured that you’re supporting one of the best artistic initiatives in North London.