Friday, August 17, 2012
Many people in the borough have never even heard of the Bromley Amphitheatre – a part of Church House Gardens – but Mike Fox is reinvigorating the space with Shakespeare and rock concerts.
The gardens were built by Abel Moysey in 1832. In 1926, the house and its grounds were bought by Bromley Council for £7,000.
A boating pool was constructed in 1933, followed by a trout lake which survives today as the amphitheatre lake.
Band concerts were once a regular weekly activity but in recent decades the site had become dilapidated.
Mike’s journey began in 2005 when he and his wife moved to Bromley from Forest Hill.
The comedy fans discovered a sparse comic scene and their pleas to clubs in surrounding boroughs to bring acts here fell on deaf ears.
They had no choice but to establish their own night at the Churchill Theatre and they now regularly travel around the country and to Edinburgh on the lookout for top comedians.
They bagged Russell Howard, Russell Kane and Reginald D Hunter long before they became household names.
It was one evening several years back, on a pre comedy-show amble, Mike happened upon the amphitheatre shrouded by trees. “I instantly thought, ‘It would be amazing to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream there’,” he recalled.
He had first seen Shakespeare’s comedy, begrudgingly, with a friend in the 1980s at Regent’s Park and loved it.
“I didn’t want to go but once I was there I let the words wash over me. The play is set in a forest and the beauty of the Bromley Amphitheatre suits it perfectly– the trees are magical.”
At that time, the stage was behind the lake and the council had informed him that it was condemned so he was unable to go any further with his idea.
But five years later, in 2010, he was delighted to discover it had been rebuilt in front of the water, with much better acoustics.
Purely by chance he met a director who was touring a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in August that year they staged the first show.
Last year followed more events – Twelfth Night, Pink Floyd and David Bowie tribute nights, The Life of Brian and a Proms-style evening.
But all is not rosy in the garden of outdoor entertainment. The terrible weather at the beginning of summer, coupled with the Olympics, has led to a drop in sales.
Whereas last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream garnered a crowd of 400, this year’s attracted just 150.
“The first part of the summer was the worst weather on record – it massively affected tickets,” said Mike.
Now, despite ticket tribulations, he has fallen in love with the space and is adamant he will carry on staging events.
“It’s a completely different experience watching theatre in the outdoors. It has incredible ambience. The mad thing is that so many people have never even heard of the amphitheatre,” he said.
This weekend’s events will be the last of the summer – there have already been productions of The Importance of Being Earnest and a Rolling Stones tribute night.
Mike is praying as many people as possible buy tickets for the Fleetwood Mac tribute on Saturday and Proms in the Park on Sunday.
Looking to the future, the former graphic designer working with Bromley Council on investment ideas to ensure that more people in the borough become privy to the amphitheatre.
But it’s hard work for one man, as Mike concludes. “I don’t have the money to do this all by myself. I’m just a normal bloke who wants to put stuff on.”
For more information and to buy tickets see www.bromleyamphitheatre.com.