Our story begins in the 1930s, when the graduates of Christ Church Oxford established a sports club for disadvantaged young people in the London Borough of Lambeth. In the 1960s, visionary directors Peter and Joan Oliver transformed this club into Ovalhouse, a groundbreaking and inclusive theatre space for local young people, community members and traditionally marginalised artists, writers and performers.
Over the past fifty years, Brixton House (formerly Ovalhouse Theatre) has established an international reputation for pioneering fringe theatre and supporting experimental theatre companies. Snoo Wilson, The Low Moan, the People Show, Hot Peaches, and others have contributed to new forms of theatre and performance in our spaces.
We premiered Howard Brenton’s first play Christie in Love, David Hare was a stage manager and a Director of the touring Portable Theatre, and many young artists discovered their talents and built their careers with us, including Pierce Brosnan, Emil Wolk, Stephen Rae, Jim Sweeney and Chris Bowler.
Ovalhouse Theatre was central to the emergence of gay, lesbian and women’s theatre throughout the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. We staged the seminal theatrical production of A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney, and gave a platform to the voices of many now prominent artists including Stella Duffy, Tamsin Greig and Salman Rushdie. Gay Sweatshop was created at Ovalhouse, producing the first plays of Noel Greig and Philip Osment, alongside companies such as Bloolips and The Gay Times Festival.
In acknowledgement of the connection between community politics and art, the theatre resourced the first Pride Festivals in Kennington Park. We have also been a home and meeting place for social justice groups including the British Black Panther Party, Black Theatre Co-op and the Theatre of Black Women, with notable activists like Beverley Bryan and theatre-makers such as Mustapha Mutura, Bernardine Evaristo and Paulette Randall as members.
In 2021 Ovalhouse is making a definitive step forward in its history by relocating to the new purpose-built Brixton House.
Ovalhouse has a long noted artistic legacy. It has been an unsung hero of supporting exciting theatre makers. It is now relocating to the heart of Brixton to build on its community outlook and artistic inventiveness. The history of Brixton is proudly political, and its rich blend of cultures will inspire the new theatre to be a cradle for startling stories and extraordinary art.
Our aim as a team is to be forward thinking, community focused and rebelliously outspoken. I am delighted to be the theatre’s new artistic leader and very excited by our ambition to cultivate an inclusive, innovative, and thrilling environment for life and art to interact with people from Brixton and beyond.Gbolahan Obisesan, Artistic Director and CEO, Brixton House