The South London Theatre Giving Young Black People A Voice

By Londonist Last edited 18 months ago
The South London Theatre Giving Young Black People A Voice

Theatre Peckham is a multi-award-winning cultural venue that champions young people and underrepresented voices. Here Suzann McLean (CEO/artistic director) and Wayne Glover-Stuart (creative producer) explain how the charity and its team are dedicated to artistic excellence and social change.

Suzann McLean has been CEO and artistic director at the theatre since 2008.

Theatre Peckham began life in 1986 in a 'no-go zone'. It was founded by Teresa Early MBE in the North Peckham Estate, an area where children were robbed of their self-esteem.

The idea was to provide hyper-local opportunities for young people who were facing barriers to engagement in the arts.

Hollywood actor John Boyega, was discovered during a Theatre Peckham youth programme. Image: Gage Skidmore via creative commons

In 2001, a Theatre Peckham after-school drama project at the local Oliver Goldsmith Primary School, discovered a certain John Boyega. John's talent and passion for performing shone through and he regularly attended classes. Today he's a Golden Globe Award winner, a BAFTA Rising Star, and we are really honoured to have him as our patron.

The exterior of the contemporary theatre building
Theatre Peckham began life in 1986, and has been giving underrepresented locals a voice ever since.

In 2018, I took over the mantle as CEO and artistic director and under my leadership the venue has grown to become a multi award-winning cultural venue for artistic excellence and social change. People from Black and ethnically diverse backgrounds are significantly underrepresented in the arts and creative industries as creators, consumers, participants, and employees — and their voices are marginalised in the process.

The programme at Theatre Peckham and our year-round work with artists and young people, aided by Wayne, is driven by the hope for a fair and equitable society.

A young woman in a blue shawl lying against a gorse bush
In the Key Of Love is is a conceptual piece combining multi-disciplinary art forms, which is part of the theatre's Young, Gifted & Black season. Image: Olivier Yoan

Wayne adds: "Our programme is unique and meaningful, we amplify stories that do not always get told. We then explore those stories, nurture, and challenge the creative team and continue to question the narrative. This allows our hyper-local community to see themselves and their lived experiences played out on our stage. We invite every person that engages with Theatre Peckham to exist unapologetically while walking safely in their truth".

Wayne Glover-Stuart and Suzann McLeanhave created a space in which creators can "respond, reinvent, experiment and feel empowered".

The venue has an exciting year ahead which includes our annual Young, Gifted and Black season celebrating people from the African diaspora. The programme explores themes of identity, friendship, loss, self-discovery, and Black womanhood.  

A co-production with the Theatre Centre follows, and brings award-winning playwright Ryan Calais Cameron's visceral play Human Nurture that explores race, privilege, allyship and male vulnerability to Peckham.

And the year ends in joy, music, and laughter with the venue's version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol; Scroogelicious is a unique remix by playwright and actor Geoff Aymer. The tag line "It's bare humbug, innit!" reminds me of how I am forever grateful for what Theatre Peckham provides; a relatable, valuable, accessible platform, a safe space for every child, young person, artist and creator to respond, reinvent, experiment and feel empowered.

Theatre Peckham's Young, Gifted & Black season runs from 3 October-2 November 2022.

Last Updated 07 October 2022