As the Melodramatic Elephant project draws to a close and before it is deposited in Southwark Archives as the last heartbeat of the 147 year old Coronet, this is a fitting time to look back and present some highlights.
We could go back 5 years in time, when this project was being conceived in the mind's eye of Constantine Gras, trying to recapture a lost memory of a horror film seen in his early teens at an ABC Cinema.
"This project was in search of lost time. It began about five years ago when I actively tried to remember the name of a horror film that I saw over 30 years ago at the ABC Edgware Road. The after shocks of that film lingered even as that cinema had long since disappeared. The recovery of that memory as a film called Terror, emboldened me to artistically connect with the lost cinematic spaces and sensations of my youth. I then discovered the Coronet used to be an ABC cinema and was being threatened with closure. The perfect space to explore my love affair with cinema. But as I looked into the archive, I chanced upon the name Marie Henderson and she took me on a journey that I could not have imagined."
Or about a year ago when John Whelan, theatre director of People's Company, got on board and helped shaped the theatrical outcomes of the project.
"The journey began with exciting workshops and it was really interesting to use the visual stimulus that Constantine brought into the process and all of the fantastic history of Melodrama, as exemplified in one of its stars, Marie Henderson and of course, the Coronet itself. Then it was time to start putting everything together and create the narrative of the Melodramatic Elephant. I had to write the script and watch for Constantine’s always encouraging nod. It was a roller coaster and probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my career. But what a wonderful colourful elephant it became, involving a unique collaborative process with the various artists and the fantastic acting talents of People’s Company. But the amazing results made all of the blood, sweat and tears, as Marie says within the play, worth it!!! When watching the performance piece I was so honored to have been part of this creative process."
Or about six months ago when the People's Company of talented actors started their workshops and got their teeth into melodrama and the life of Victorian actress, Marie Henderson, in a role created by Shelagh Farren.
"And then I was amazed to find that on the day of the technical rehearsal, when we got into the Coronet, how calm I felt. I became quite philosophical; I knew there was nothing more that I could do. I even stopped worrying about forgetting lines. I was totally serene, with no nerves at all on the day of the performance. I like to think that Marie Henderson helped me, but that's romantic nonsense. I think that she probably would have put it down to hard graft, or, maybe, she would expect anyone portraying her to do a good job - naturally!
Would I have liked her? I bet she was interesting and a handful to boot! A working mother, wife, actress, manager. Would she have liked me? Would she have put up with my amateur efforts or would she have been "oh dearing", bawled me out or sacked me? One thing I do know. She would have appreciated the full house on the night and I suspect that she would have been in the pub afterwards, possibly very much the grand dame.
And not forgetting the community engagement at 4 street festivals in Walworth where children made set-design images and adults shared their memories of the Coronet. Southwark Pensioners also held a reminiscence session at the Coronet.
And then on 8 November 2017, The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle, was staged to warm applause at the Coronet. It was a play that weaved together all the archive information about Marie Henderson and the Coronet with a multimedia display of films, music and drawings. Even the Mayor of Southwark got in on the act and attempted to put out the fire that consumed the theatre building in 1878. It was also a poignant occasion as Lucy Wright, the great, great grandaughter of Marie Henderson, came on the stage at the finale of the play to bask in the limelight. She commented:
My paternal ancestry had always been a mystery to me; a source of regret that I had not known them or not known of them. My father had died young, long before I had the opportunity to inquire about his family history. This is why the discovery, 29 years later, of the story of my great great great grandmother, Marie Henderson was so exciting for me. Knowing about one's family history definitely gives one a sense of place in the world and I am thrilled to finally be able to share that history with my two daughters. I hope they will be proud of the reputation of Marie Henderson, and what she managed to create in times of poverty. She created an escape for all from everyday hardship and valued the ideals of a community venue such as the Coronet. And she was surely a role model for female equality, proving just what a strong woman from an ordinary background can build. She was innovative , brave and hardworking.
All of these are documented in films, drawings and installation art at the exhibition at the Art Academy Gallery and will be deposited into Southwark Archives from 2018.
Or perhaps we shouldn't stop at this point in time. Maybe we should be bold and project into the future. Imagine a student of the London Cyber Academy, on the site of the former London College of Communication. They have come across a reference to the Melodramatic Elephant and want to discover more about the lost world of art and entertainment that once held sway in this area. They dig out an obsolete DVD or memory stick and manage to wire old school technology into the limbic lobe of their brain. Hopefully, they will have a pleasant high when they experience the Haunted Castle of 2017.
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle
A play performed by the People's Company at the Coronet on 8 November 2017
An exhibition at the Art Academy Gallery, London, SE17 1RS, 9 - 20 December 2017
Here are some reviews of the play and exhibition:
I would like to thank everyone involved with the show. I had a great night and thought the cast and the play were outstanding.
Councillor Charlie Smith, Mayor of Southwark
I just wanted to say how brilliant last night’s performance was. It was so poignant, and well-put together and felt like you really captured the audience’s sentiment about the space and the developments in the area.
Elizabeth Morrow, Communications & Volunteer Officer, CoolTan Arts
Thanks for the moving show and memorable evening, you are a dedicated bunch of people who are doing a lot for the community!
Thank you so much for the brilliant play last night - it really was so cool, visual and diverse.
Lucy Wright, great-great granddaughter of Victorian actress, Marie Henderson
An absolute privilege to have seen this energetic production and how lovely to re-visit the experience on screen at the exhibition.
The recent show was excellent and very well acted and this exhibition is a worthwhile celebration of that too!
Jeremy Leach, Walworth Society
Wonderful project to bring the space to life. So much I didn't know. Fondly remember going in the mid-2000's to the short-lived community film club. Sad to see the Coronet go. It merits the melodrama!"
I came past as I was interested in the building, but found this passionate and thoughtful account of the area. I hope to see more of this in the coming years. Much needed.
Norman A Murray.
A good exhibition that shows how atmospheric the Coronet is. South London and Southwark needs a community space and theatre like this. It will be missed!
I love that the sense of community and history is captured so eloquently.
Enjoyed watching films in my old library
Great drawings. I think you did a great job capturing the diverse information surrounding the Coronet.
My parents met at the Coronet. All the stories I grew up hearing about the cinema from them and my grandparents. Beautiful building. Such a shame.
Fantastic to stumble upon an exhibition about such an important part of South London's history. Long live the Coronet! (Will be very much missed).
The creative imagination of all involved in this wonderful project for the Coronet, inspired within me the need to petition and advocate for those without a voice. The work beautifully encapsulates a multilateral web of issues from mental health to the loss of our rich history as regeneration rises up to consume the memories of old.
The exhibition was a beautiful introduction to both the history and continuing story of the Elephant and Castle area. I'm leaving gripped by a desire to see the theatre and look behind the things surrounding my new home here.
A beautiful and important documentation of Elephant and Castle's rich history and culture before the regeneration takes hold of the area. The loss of the Coronet saddens me - but it has been captured in this project for future generations!
Katie Campbell, Newcastle University architecture student
Wonderful to see connections between local artists, performers past and present and the Bethlem Royal Hospital where I work as an occupational health therapist.
You have all done wonderful amazing work which honours and respects all the people, performers and human creativity which occurred inside the theatre doors. I have hope a new, grounded community will arise and fill in around the disappearance of the Coronet.
Fantastic exhibition! So interesting and fun. It captures the spirit of the Coronet and its history.
Happy memories as a cinema and club. Learnt things I never knew. Great tribute.
What a fantastic way of sending off the old theatre. A great exhibition, films and display. Well done to all involved.
Thank you for putting on this exhibition. I have grown up here my life and watching the film and seeing the important legacy of cinema has brought back wonderful memories of my trips to the Coronet as a cinema. It's bittersweet, but the legacy will live on.
Adania J Muzu
Great exhibition. Nice to see more about the play. The whole project was really a wonderful idea and a great way to bring the community together as well as bringing local history to life.
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.
Past present future
Music and animation
Euan Vincent on Horror
Tiberius Chis on Chaplin
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
Interview with Sam Porter
Blood and Thunder
Culture and Capital