Few bits of theatre news have delighted me more this year than hearing that Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, has taken possession of the Poor Priests Hospital in Stour Street – a large, iconic history-filled 14th century (in parts) building which until recently housed the rather lacklustre Canterbury Heritage Museum. The Marlowe will use it for all its excellent youth, community, outreach work and creative projects from April 2018. Its new name is the Marlowe Kit. It’s to be a skills toolkit named after Kit Marlowe – get it?
Led by charismatic Andrew Dawson, the Marlowe’s creative programmes reach hundreds of children and young people every week. There are youth theatre at several levels and community (yes, lots of adults are involved too) some of which take promenade form around the city. There are writing workshops, partnerships with schools and links with both the RSC and National Theatre The Marlowe’s NT Connections play The Monstrum was picked to play in the final South Bank festival this year. There is an enormous amount going on and, of course, there will scope to do even more in a few months’ time.
The Marlowe Kit will also be open to the public and host a mix of theatre, exhibitions, music, poetry, conversations and storytelling, all exploring and celebrating the city’s rich literary heritage. Youth theatre participants are already using some of the rooms while the rest of it is being substantially refurbished.
The project has been jointly developed by Canterbury City Council’s teams in the Museums and Galleries Service and at The Marlowe, supported by funding from the National Great Places scheme.
I’ve known the Marlowe Theatre for forty years. When we first moved to Kent in 1977 with a young family we went to several shows and concerts at the old, old Marlowe – a converted cinema where the Marlowe Arcade shopping centre now stands. I especially remember taking our elder son, then nearly 6, to a Wizard of Oz panto there the first Christmas we were in Kent.
Then came the new old Marlowe – another converted cinema but much bigger and better. That was on the site of the current Marlowe and stood for 25 years. I saw all sorts of shows there including Shakespeare, musicals and other things. The new Marlowe opened in 2011 – after a no-Marlowe interval during which I reviewed at least two pantomimes staged in a massive temporary marquee.
And things continue to change and develop rapidly at the Marlowe too. Today it “receives” many large scale touring shows including War Horse which began its national tour there earlier this month. It also produces some work of its own in both the main house and the Studio which it acquired in the new building.
Mark Everett has been at the Marlowe for 23 years as director and has overseen and masterminded many of these developments. He is now retiring and the Marlowe is to be reborn as a charitable trust. That will mean the appointment of trustees and a trust chairman who will, eventually appoint a new artistic director.
The Marlowe seems to be a place which never rests on its laurels. No wonder you can feel the buzz as soon as you walk through the door. And I’m sure the Marlowe Kit, which I look forward to seeing round very soon, will be the same.
Things have changed for me too. I’m no longer based in Kent seventeen miles up the road from Canterbury. The Marlowe is 55 miles from my new home in south London but it’s still well worth travelling to and I’m there frequently. Next up, for me, is the panto (Peter Pan) at the end of November.