10 March 2023

The project, which was made possible by a grant of £88,300 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has enabled Westminster to develop and deliver outreach activities to build new audiences and increase engagement around the restoration of the historic Soho Poly Theatre, located in the basement of Westminster’s Riding House Street building. The regeneration of the venue has now entered its final stages following a successful two-year long fundraising effort.

The main focus of the National Lottery Heritage Fund-sponsored project has been the production of an Education Resources Pack, which has been a two-year long collaboration with London schools led by Dr Matthew Morrison, playwright and Head of Creative Writing at the University, and Guy Osborn, Co-Creative Producer and Professor in the Westminster Law School. It is aimed at building a more inclusive theatre for the future, and will be freely available on the University’s website, together with a Web App offering a virtual walking tour of London’s radical theatre history.

The event brought together members of the Westminster community, supporters and figures from the arts world, including acclaimed actor Simon Callow, who began his career performing at the Soho Poly when it was the leading innovator of so-called lunchtime theatre.

The evening began with opening remarks from Dr Morrison and Professor Osborn who spoke about the history of the Soho Poly and the ongoing restoration works. They also talked about the key components of the Soho Poly: Inspiring Future Generations project, such as the memoir writing workshops which were conducted with local older people in collaboration with the charity Open Age, and the oral history training that was arranged for 30 Westminster students under the guidance of historian Rib Davis and the British Library Oral History Department.

This was followed by the screening of the 2010 screen adaptation of Sus, starring Clint Dyer and directed by Robert Heath. Based on the play by Barrie Keefe of the same name, which was first performed by the Soho Poly in 1979, the film is set on election night in 1979 with Dyer’s character brought in for questioning by two white detectives on suspicion of murdering his wife. Emboldened by the prospect of a Conservative landslide, the interrogation becomes increasingly sinister and confrontational as the detectives try to get Dyer’s character to confess to the alleged crime.

After the screening of the film, Dr Mykaell Riley, Senior Lecturer and Director of the University’s Black Music Research Unit (BMRU), led a Q&A session with Dyer which addressed topics such as what experiences Dyer was able to draw on for the emotional scenes in the film as an actor of Caribbean heritage, how he would write the play today given that issues around institutional racism in the police force are still current, and how acting in the film compared to his experiences performing the part on stage.

Speaking about the event, Jordan Scammell, Head of Development and Fundraising at the University, said: “It was great to bring the Soho Poly to the big screen this week, to celebrate the completion of this important project made possible by the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and to thank our wider group of supporters of, and advocates for, the Soho Poly. I look forward to the opening of the theatre this summer, and the opportunity to host more impactful and engaging events like this one.”

Find out more about restoring the Soho Poly.