Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to Vauxhall! If you were living in London during the 18th and 19th centuries these words would evoke a universal understanding of a magical garden filled with revelers enjoying art, entertainment and refreshment.
In 2010 two theatre carnies landed in Vauxhall, learned of this fabulous history and settled in to open a venue on the Pleasure Gardens. In 2013, once the Tea House Theatre was bedded in, the stage was set to look to the Gardens as an output for their artistic work and a ten year plan was bandied about carelessly (not quite appreciating quite how much hard work this would be, having run through all our local good will in year one, our money in year two and our industry friends and favours in year three).
In its heyday the whole summer season at Vauxhall, celebrated throughout London and imitated around the world, was filled with music, theatre, painting, sculpture and joy. Today we are a pale imitation of what was, but our festivals do bring people to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in spring, summer, autumn and winter for a wide range of entertainments, that the whole family will enjoy.
The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Season starts in April with the St George’s Festival. Entertainments from Punch and Judy to Shakespeare, archery to falconry, surround the Steel Henge arena on the Queen Anne Field. Inside the Steel Henge the finest modern Knights, martial artists in the discipline of Full Contact Medieval Combat come to London with the hope of becoming London Champion and beat the hell out of each other with axes and swords (no lie, it is awesome). London Champion is a title which will inspire fear and respect among their opponents as they travel the world, sword in hand.
In July the focus turns to music, with the Summer Proms. Inspired in its first year by the tale of Handel, who made a home for his music at Vauxhall. His Music for the Royal Fireworks was played at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for the first time in 265 years. The idea of a “promenade concert” started in the historic Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, ladies and gentlemen, walking and talking while the orchestra played (the BBC said we had more of a right to the word “proms” than they did). The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Summer Proms are an afternoon of music and dance from the best modern artists London has to offer. The evening brings a concert of popular classics and the modern “last night” favorites. The picture to your left is Handle, this statue once stood in the Pleasure Gardens and was sold on the cheap to the V&A when the historic Gardens closed.
Between Halloween and Bonfire Night the Fire Festival comes to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The best in contemporary dance and fire performance, with a rock and roll soundtrack. We tell ancient stories of Samheim and the Norse myths, with a dance macarbre of fire, in front of the Famous Vauxhall Bonfire. In the cold night we end the year with warmth, laughter and sacrifice (usually a small child), (uncircumcised), (virgin), (hard to find in Vauxhall). The last two Fire Festivals have been number one in Time Out’s things to do on Halloween and we are very proud of this fact. Hopefully they will pick up on all our other stuff, (she has emailed me about year 4 and I really must follow up).
In the dark of midwinter, at the end of January, an art installation appears for one night, The Festival of Light, a nod to the sculptures and mystical machines of old, we hope to catch your eye and make you smile as you hurry through the Gardens in the bitter cold. As with all our art, this is free to enjoy. It does have a subtext, and hopefully expresses the human need for dark skies in our urban metropolis, that can truly quieten the soul, far from the madding crowd. Our future is in the stars, if our children can’t see past the sodium street lights and CCTV, how can they dream? (Tim Peake is a hero).
Our philosophy of theatre has always been that great art is for everyone. We are blessed to find a historic venue that spends most of its time as a lovely urban garden, surrounded by people who live and work in this part of what is fast becoming Central London (and of course the philistines who wish to build on it). It is a joy to be able to bring a show for local people, as well as wider London (yeah them north of the river); who can watch for free on their local open space. It is with their blessing and support that we create our work.
Alongside our arts festivals we use the sports facilities on the Gardens to host The Maureen Johnston Memorial Tea Cup: a Five-A-Side Football Tournament. The Cage, the MUGA Multi Use Games Area), has many many bloody names, it is in fact a five a side football court, in a cage, surrounded by 28 disease resistant Elm trees, the largest planting of Elms in the country since Dutch Elm Disease wiped this species out in the 1960s. So we call it Elms Court and we live here, so that is what it is called. To give the local lads a cup to play for is a huge pain and they really don’t appreciate all the work we do and then moan about it when we miss one because we have been up all night tending to a bonfire. Competition is fierce and as the names rack up on the cup, bragging rights are assured, although you are only as good as your last game.
So click on the links above to read more about each of our festivals, see what we have done in previous years and plan your visit to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens!