Heads up! We’re working hard to be accurate – but these are unusual times, so please always check before heading out.
You’re wondering what we’re doing here, aren’t you?’ says theatre director Ola Animashawun to a bemused elderly gentleman. The bemused elderly gentleman nods.
It is a glorious afternoon and we are at venerable Tachbrook Street Market, a long-standing fixture of working-class Pimlico that has entered a decline in recent years. Gentrification has bitten. There is still a fish stand and a fruit ’n’ veg stall, but regular Neil tells me that in the last few years ‘it only gets busy at lunchtimes’. ‘You have to go to Walworth Road for the nearest pound shop,’ sighs a lady.
In theory, the worst idea for Tachbrook’s community identity would be to have Sloane Square’s formidable new writing hub the Royal Court theatre set up a stall in the market. Its wares are whimsical: ‘Pimlico Playground’, six short audio plays set around the market that you listen to on headphones for free; and Espresso Plays, in which a writer rustles up a short play to order that is ‘served’ to you, again for free, in a coffee cup.
But nobody around here has a bad word to say about Animashawun and his team. The stallholders are happy about anything that might reinvigorate the place. The posher punters are more interested in the lunch-break-friendly freebies (as I arrive a shopper is enjoying an Espresso Play about a sausage). Those from the estates seem more impressed by the £5 tickets to Court shows (the box office price for new play ‘Hang’ is £35).
The Court team are at ease here, which should be no surprise – the market stall is just the public face of a three-year involvement with Pimlico that has taken in workshops, playwriting schemes and more. Even the location of the stall is smart: there are gangs nearby, but Tachbrook is designated neutral territory, so young people can visit without fear.
The key is the group’s combination of puppyish enthusiasm and condescension-free respect for the locals – a willingness to let the community shape the future of the project. ‘A lovely guy came along this morning,’ Animashawun says with a grin, ‘a local songwriter and he was genuinely inspired. He said “You could do a Bob Marley movie!” And I said, “We can, actually, if that’s what you want to do.” Let’s have that conversation: how do we do that, how do we make it happen?’
Royal Court Market Stall is at Tachbrook Street Market until Aug 31, Thu and Fri 11am-3pm