Gbolahan Obisesan named new Ovalhouse Theatre artistic director

The south London theatre will also be changing its name to reflect its move from Oval to Brixton in April

NEW DIRECTION: Gbolahan Obisesan (Photo: Dominique Nok Photography)

OVALHOUSE, THE theatre powerhouse in south London, will have a new name and a new artistic director from April.

The new theatre will be located in the heart of Brixton on Coldharbour Lane and the venue will be renamed Brixton House. The venue will house two studio theatre spaces, performance space, several rehearsal rooms and multi-use meeting rooms, as well as public spaces, a café and bar. 

To coincide with the change, Gbolahan Obisesan, has been appointed the new artistic director for Brixton House succeeding Deborah Bestwick who steps down after 20 years at the helm.

Nigerian-born Obisesan will be leading the theatre into its new venue in Brixton. 

Obisesan said: “Ovalhouse has a long noted artistic legacy. It has been an unsung hero of supporting exciting theatre makers. It is now relocating to the heart of Brixton to build on its community outlook and artistic inventiveness. The history of Brixton is proudly political, and its rich blend of cultures will inspire the new theatre to be a cradle for startling stories and extraordinary art. 

“Our aim as a team is to be forward thinking, community focused and rebelliously outspoken. I am delighted to be the theatre’s new artistic leader and very excited by our ambition to cultivate an inclusive, innovative, and thrilling environment for life and art to interact with people from Brixton and beyond,” said Obisesan.  

The theatre will continue its commitment to developing new work and engagement for everyone in its new home. There will be an offsite programme of work launching in the spring 2020 before the doors open to the new theatre in spring 2021. 

David Bryan, chair of Brixton House said: “The appointment of Gbolahan and the creation of Brixton House are simply life changing events. Brixton House will be a significant vibrant cultural focus with a grounding in relevant theatre. Gbolahan brings a reputation for quality as a writer and director. He is part of the next generation of creative leadership that we, as a board, are enthusiastic to put our full support behind.  

“Ovalhouse had 55 years of presenting innovative experimental theatre and providing opportunities for young people. Brixton in 2020 will be the start of future decades of creativity, inclusion and a space for diverse talent to be seen as part of the area’s and London’s vitality”. 

Obisesan was previously a Genesis Fellow associate director at the Young Vic Theatre where he directed the Olivier Award nominated Cuttin’it. He adapted The Fishermen for New Perspectives in 2018 at Home Manchester, followed by Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Trafalgar Studios in 2019. As a writer his short play Zaida and Aadam was staged at the Bush Theatre.

He also wrote Re:Exhibit for Offstage Theatre and Walking the Tightrope for Theatre Uncut season which performed at the House of Commons. His adaptation of the novel Pigeon English was staged at Bristol Old Vic in 2013 before a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

During his illustrious career Obisesan has won the Jerwood Directors Award for a production of SUS at The Young Vic and UK tour. He was also awarded the Director in Residence at the National Theatre Studio as the recipient of the Bulldog Princep Director’s Bursary in 2008. His play Mad About the Boy won a Fringe First at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. His most recent directing work includes directing The Last King of Scotland at Sheffield Crucible.

Ovalhouse has a long legacy of ground-breaking theatre and home for emerging and established artists including Roy Alexander Weise, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Pierce Brosnan, Arinze Kene, Stef O’ Driscoll, Paulette Randall, Ambreen Razia and Tim Roth.

The new theatre will be named Brixton House and has been funded by the sale of the site in Kennington, which has been sold to the Surrey County Cricket Club, securing a £3 million grant from Arts Council England and a partnership with Lambeth Council.

The organisation has also received support from funding from Cockayne, The Wolfson Foundation and The Garfield Weston Charitable Trust.

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