The big news for Merton culture this week was that the Arts Council has firmly committed £2.5m to redeveloping the Polka children’s theatre in 2019.
The announcement means that the £6.5m scheme can go ahead on time, bringing a welcome injection of cash into the local economy from the building works on Wimbledon Broadway, and a surge of extra visitors once the venue reopens with its splendid new facilities.
Polka is going to get a new studio theatre, a learning centre that opens onto the foyer, a bigger cafe, a sensory garden, a separate shop, its first dedicated rehearsal rooms, and more improvements that will make the buildings easier to use and able to host bigger, better productions.
Polka is also going to get a higher profile, as it positions itself as the UK’s national centre for early years theatre. You can read more about the plans on my blog.
Polka is close to Merton’s heart, and has a powerful impact. There can hardly be a primary age kid who hasn’t passed through its doors or benefited from its outreach work. The telling thing for me is if you try to imagine Wimbledon without Polka – it seems a smaller, poorer, less welcoming place.
There was no single frontrunner when the Oscar nominations came out on Wednesday. Get Out, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri are in contention. There is strong UK interest, with Daniel Kaluuya nominated as Best Actor for Get Out, and two WW2 films in the Best Film category that cover the same episode in British history from utterly different viewpoints.
Dunkirk, from Warner Bros, is a big budget epic with Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance that spares no detail of the plight of 400,000 British troops stranded and under bombardment. Darkest Hour, a small budget psychological drama, is all about the towering performance by Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, trying to master his own party and his own fears as Britain comes close to annihilation. I saw Darkest Hour this week, and think Oldman is in with a strong shout as Best Actor: read my review here.
VAULT festival in Waterloo offers not just interesting shows but also imaginative partying every weekend for the next eight weeks. The LATES programme of curated parties will include an anti-Valentine’s ball, a Mardi Gras spectacular, a burlesque lock in, an ‘I ♥ EU’ silent disco and a St Patrick’s Day underground ruckus. The fun starts on Saturday with Trough London, a hedonistic night of Berlin-esque anthems, spectacle, laser light shows and men dancing. 10.30pm-4am, £21.50.
There is some beautiful, colourful work on display to cheer you up this bleak January at Wimbledon Fine Art‘s Exhibition of Scottish Artists. Free, daily until February 4, Church Rd, Wimbledon.
Book now for pianist Zoe Rahman’s Wintery Jazz concert (main picture) at Christ Church, West Wimbledon on Friday 2 February, 8-10pm, tickets £15 (£5 concessions, under 18s free).
I’m looking forward to a dose of nostalgia when I go to see Noggin the Nog at the Rose Theatre tonight – watch out for my review. There are shows on Saturday at 11am, 2.30 and 5.30pm, and Sunday 11am and 3pm.
Have a great week, and keep an eye on Twitter for more arts and culture events round Merton.