Although the heavens opened their gates and flooded us with a damp squid, there were mercifully several hours of quality community engagement at the Walworth Festival on 22 July 2017. The Melodramatic Elephant was out on the road. We aimed to connect with older residents who had visited the Coronet when it was a cinema (1932-1999) and also invite children to sketch images that might adorn our theatrical scale model.
First to visit the stall was folksy singer Stephenie Robinson who was performing a set later on. She was born in the 1950s and recalled the ABC cinema watching B movies such as the Lone Ranger. As a young kid she confessed to letting off fire extinguishers in the cinema - naughty Steph! Her abiding memory of the ABC cinema at 28 New Kent Road was that after sneaking in through the side doors and getting a prime seat in a near empty cinema, seated and waiting in anticipation for the main feature - the film reel would break. Drat! Boo! This response harks back to the good old days when the building was a theatre (1872-1928) and where a villain in melodrama would elicit such hissing feedback from the audience. Stephenie's favourite film incidentally is 2001: A Space Odyssey and she also adores the Marx Brothers.
Patrick Clifford was a child of the 50s and used to go to the ABC on the Old Kent Road every Saturday as a kid. Once again The Lone Ranger was a popular attraction. He also mucked about in the cinema throwing food down from the upper stalls. He recalled the gangs and youth culture of the 1950s when his father had the back of his coat slashed with a knife wielded by Teddy boys outside the cinema. He would love to see a new cinema in the area especially as the West End prices are so exorbitant. Patrick's all time favourite film is It's A Wonderful Life. In particular, the finale, where an angel shows the James Stewart character what his community would have been like if he had not been born. Life is precious, perhaps even more so when we are at a low point or not seeing a clear way forward.
One might add that art has this life enhancing quality in spades. Speaking of spades! The charming Hallett family entertained us with some colourful drawings. Eden set to work in drawing an amazingly tranquil beach scene, where sand was shaped into castles with spades and buckets. But who is that we hear? "Help!" Look! There is a person all at sea. Thankfully Eden had drawn a life guard or boat to save the day. Maia, with dad as assistant, designed a snazzy graphic sign for a new Coronet building that appears to be screening films again - Stephanie and Patrick will be over the moon! Parents Jacqueline and Bart told us about the cinemas of their youth when they were going on a birthday treat and then later on when they were dating. Peckhamplex is their favourite cinema as all tickets are £4.99 every day. It's lovely to go to a local that isn't part of a chain.
Next up was Diego and his two lovely children. Emilia designed a diamond of love in all the colours of the rainbow. Fab! Young brother Stefano was playing with Thomas The Tank Engine in our model of the Coronet. He had a lot of fun thinking about how destructive this play action would be in real life. Almost a scene from one of those sensational classic melodramatic plays of the nineteenth century which Professor Jim Davis and Dr Janice Norwood talked about in a previous blog where life size train engines threatened the life and limb of a heroine tied to a railway track. We should note that Diego was saddened to hear about the closure of the Coronet as he had attended several musical events over the years!
Our final art work was made by two smashing lads, Jamal and Abdulah. Jamal is a Manchester United fan and imagined himself scoring a goal in the Champions League Cup Final. His brother did a neat study of the scale model and copied its entrance and main arena. Or was he thinking this was a football arena where his brother scored the winning goallllllll!
Our day ended with two more reflections from senior citizens of Walworth.
Sylvia Kelly was also born in the 1950s and first visited the ABC cinema at the Elephant and Castle when she was 7 or 8. She recalled it being a nice cinema when she first went with her parents. Later on as a teen she was a big David Bowie fan and went to six of his Ziggy concerts. She recalled the good old days of getting half a crown from her parents, going with all her mates to the flicks and then treating themselves to the best pie and mash shop in the area.
Brian Colgan completes the set of veterans who are all born in the 1950s. He had vivid memories of his first cinema experience as a child - the Saturday movies where he was a member of the ABC Minors club. Kids were issued with a badge and a monthly magazine. He recalled the typical film programme starting off with a cartoon like Tom and Jerry, followed by a trailer of what was coming next week and then the main feature or two: this might be a series of films lasting 8-10 weeks and featuring Batman, Superman, Buster Crabbe or Dick Tracy. There was also a Pathe newsreel that was showing what was going on in the world. Not bad for 10 bob (50 pence)! Brian also recalled that celebrities often visited, including Coco The Clown who was the main spokesperson for the ABC and who instructed the children about the Green Cross Code. His favourite film stars are Bob Hope and Roger Moore. Later on as cinema was in decline, Brian was watching films on video and must have been one of the few people in the country to own a laser disc. For him, cinema was always something to look forward on a Saturday when the programme lasted from 10.30 till 1.00. As tickets were cheap, you could also indulge in sweets and ice cream. Cinema was an all round delicious treat!
Just as we were shutting up shop, a young film crew making a documentary about the festival, visited the stall. Charlotte, Shanaz and Dylan interviewed Constantine Gras about The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle. Hopefully they were intrigued and inspired to hear about the 147 year history of the Coronet and it's leading theatrical players like Marie Henderson and Tod Slaughter. Also how black actors performed here from Morgan Smith on the Victorian stage to Sidney Poitier in the movies as these were featured in the posters on display. Perhaps at a cinema of the future, one that is built on the redeveloped site of the Coronet and shopping centre, they will screen their documentary about Walworth and that this will show us how life can be as wonderful as cinematic dreams.
Reflecting the views of artists, actors, residents
and participants in
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle.
An art project about the Coronet from 1872-2017.
Final Curtain Call
Directing and acting
Jacko at the Coronet?
Ale and steak pies
This Is Where I Came In
Pollock's Toy Museum
Adventure with the Mayor
Reach for the stars
Ghost of Marie Henderson
Shop till the zombie drops
Faith, Hope and Charity
Singing and sketching
History and legacy
Dark Side of Metropolis
Walworth Street Festival
Interview with Sam Porter
Blood and Thunder
Culture and Capital