Broadway theatre reopening puts Catford back in the spotlight

Broadway theatre in Catford - full auditorium
The Broadway held its grand reopening earlier this month

One of SE London’s best-loved venues has re-opened after a £7 million refurbishment. NIKKI SPENCER got a tour behind the scenes of the Broadway theatre in Catford.

“Welcome to the beautiful Broadway theatre,” declares the theatre’s manager and principal producer, Carmel O’Connor, as she leads our tour into the stunning 775-seat auditorium and up onto the stage of the Grade II* listed building.

Looking out over rows of red velvet-covered seats and up at the ornately-decorated arched ceiling is certainly an impressive sight.

The live music, comedy and theatre venue, which opened in 1932, was designed as an extension to the town hall next door, which was demolished in the 1960s. It is a stunning blend of Art Deco, Tudor and Gothic architecture.

Over the years it has had a number of incarnations. In 1965 it became the Lewisham Concert Hall and played host to performers including Dizzy Gillespie, the Supremes, and Gladys Knight and the Pips. In the 1980s it became the Lewisham Theatre, with a studio theatre added in 1987.

After a refurbishment in 2001 it was renamed the Broadway Theatre, and will now be known more simply as the Broadway.

Broadway theatre in Catford - empty
The main theatre has been completely refurbished

“The refurbishment has been about making it more contemporary and opening it up to new audiences, but also honouring its heritage,” explains Carmel, who has worked at the theatre for 27 years and became its manager in 2019.

She is clearly passionate about the building and draws our attention to the unique features that make the place so special. “It was built as a concert hall, which means that the acoustics are fantastic,” she says. “And there’s a lovely wooden sprung dance floor.”

At the side of the stage there is a Compton organ that she describes as the “Yamaha of its day”. It includes percussion so it sounds like a whole band.

The theatre closed at the start of the pandemic and Lewisham Council decided to use the time to invest in mechanical and electrical works, upgraded seating, a more contemporary bar area, improved facilities for those with restricted mobility and new digital signs for the frontage.

Empty studio theatre at the Broadway in Catford
The studio theatre will be used by Nouveau Riche

Comedy has always been a cornerstone of the theatre’s programme and the first show to take to the newly renovated stage was a sold-out Valentine’s comedy special.

On Friday and Saturday, the comedy podcasters Ellie Gibson and Helen Thorn – aka The Scummy Mummies – will be performing their Greatest Hits show with songs, sketches and stand-up to celebrate ten years since they met at a gig in Deptford. “We have a wealth of talent locally,” Carmel says.

The Broadway has a reputation for championing Black theatre and the award-winning theatre collective Nouveau Riche have joined as associate artists to programme shows and events in the studio theatre.

Their play For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets too Heavy sold out at the Royal Court last summer and has transferred to the West End for a six-week run at the Apollo Theatre.

Broadway theatre in Catford
New signage has been installed at the front of the building

Carmel was “blown away” by the show and got in touch with Nouveau Riche. Ryan Calais Cameron, their artistic director, grew up in Catford and has described their involvement as “like a homecoming”. Their inaugural event, on March 4, will be Nouveau Nights, billed as “a night of joy, reflection, hope and of course, music”.

The Broadway will also host community and amateur productions and on March 7 and 8 Live Dance will celebrate the talents of young people in local primary and secondary schools as part of the annual Lewisham Live festival.

As she takes us backstage, Carmel shows us a huge table with light-up mirrors that was left over from filming a trailer for RuPaul’s Drag Race UK four years ago. “They made it for the shoot but didn’t want it, so we got to keep it,” she says

Babs, the BBC’s Dame Barbara Windsor biopic, was shot at the Broadway and singer-songwriter Katy B filmed her video for Lay Low in the theatre. The building was also used as a production base when Ed Sheeran’s video for Bad Habits was filmed in the nearby Catford Centre in 2021.

In the grand foyer Carmel points out the craftsmanship that has gone into the terrazzo floor that lay beneath the old carpet, the newly-restored wood-panelled bars, as well as other architectural details including the small brass birds and animals that sit in the windows on the stairway. What was the theatre’s sweet shop is now accessible toilets.

On the wall there’s a plaque from the building’s opening by the Duke of York in 1932 and another from 2001 when Queen Elizabeth II reopened the theatre. Throughout the building there are posters and photographs celebrating past shows and concerts. There’s even a “panto corridor” featuring a very fresh-faced Lenny Henry, who appeared here in Little Red Riding Hood in 1979. After a four-year hiatus, panto will return to the Broadway this Christmas.

Downstairs, in addition to the Art Deco-style 90-seat studio theatre, there is a small gallery space for temporary exhibitions, along with two function rooms for weddings and civil ceremonies.

It’s been a fascinating tour which has taken us everywhere from the old projection room at the back of the auditorium, which was used for silent movies, to the pipe chambers for the organ which are hidden away above the stage.

Broadway theatre bar
The Broadway’s bar has also been refurbished

Carmel sees the theatre as being very much a part of the local community and a friends scheme has been launched so people can support the Broadway. Memberships start at £3.50 a month and entitle cardholders to discounts on drinks, priority booking and a chance to meet cast members.

Our tour has taken place a few days before the first show and, after living and breathing this project for so long, Carmel is quite emotional about the prospect of the Broadway being full of people once more:

“It’s been three years since we have had an audience in this building so I know I will be crying. I cry to even think about it!”

Tickets, memberships and tours are available at

NIKKI SPENCER is a freelance journalist who has also written for The Guardian, The Independent, Lewisham Ledger and Peckham Peculiar.

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