As I sat down in front of Dan and Louis at the bar of a bustling E1 eatery, I couldn’t help being a little disappointed that the backdrop for the interview wasn’t the very venue we were here to talk about: STYX.
I hope that many reading this article have already popped into the Ashley Road warehouse space, whether it be for an after work drink, a play (perhaps one from their recent uproarious 90s season) or a music event. This is essentially what what the performance collective RIFT, the people behind STYX, have been up to – putting on a variety of events to introduce their space to the community.
But there’s more coming up for this Mill Co. Project owned hub, much to my delight and I’m sure to yours too.
So how did it all start? Dan explained to me that after being offered the space on Christmas day 2014, RIFT went in and gutted it until it became a blank canvas, a setting where their famously experiential theatre could be sited.
The first show they put on was called ‘STYX’ “an audio-sensory experience where in the last moments of the show you’re wheeled out onto our river in a coffin”. What an image. STYX ultimately became the name of the venue and the start of this journey.
Dan describes RIFT as “the border guards between fact and fiction” which for me really rings true when you hear about STYX (the show) or if you dig deeper and uncover their past works like their famous overnight production of Macbeth in the Balfron Tower, and also the ambitious The Trial, which led the audience into one to one encounters with people from the Machine guiding them through various East London locations.
Once you have a space to make theatre, what follows? Well a bar was the obvious answer for the RIFT crew. It’s clear that whilst there’s no doubting the quality of the theatre they make, a bar serving cocktails out of a shipping container during the summer is going bring the crowds. And it does.
Louis says “it really feels like it developed organically” into what now might be called a focal point of Tottenham Hale.
Tottenham Hale is jokingly referred to as “immersive avenue”. This description is strikingly accurate, as you’ll see by my past conversations with Block9 and Punchdrunk, who bring immersive installations and theatre to large audiences. The consensus with both these organisations is that STYX is the place to be if you’re a Tottenham-based creative.
This collaborative feeling has been in part instilled by LIFT, a biennial international festival of theatre, who, like STYX, also have been name dropped on every step of my Mill Co. journey. LIFT run artist hangouts for Tottenham residents. “It’s a really nice evening with people from the area creating work, and everyone asking ‘how can I help? how do I get involved?’” says Dan.
Dan and Louis themselves were keen to big up the programme at Bernie Grants Centre. It’s clear that the love is strong between the cultural makers in Tottenham, with collaboration taking precedence over competition at every turn, with the shared aim to serve the community and develop Tottenham’s offer as a cultural destination.
Asking “how can I help? how do I get involved?” seems to me where RIFT started. Flinging open the STYX doors to great ideas and creative people. Whether it’s Soho Theatre taking over for a 6-week run of Karagula, or JME performing as part of a music event across the capital, STYX was the host with the most. But what’s very exciting is that now we’ll be getting a more programmed space to really get that STYX feeling.
I was curious to know how their first dedicated season of STYX programming (their 90s season of plays, talks, live music, a residency and club nights) went.
“The season was a massive success, we sold out Blasted, got four stars from the Guardian for Normal and Caryl Churchill enjoyed our version of The Skriker so much she came twice. Having so much positive energy coming in for each different event was really rewarding. For me a real highlight was our residency programme which culminated with three nights of rehearsed readings at STYX. There was so much talent on display each night,” explains Louis.
Looking forward, what can we expect? Louis and the rest of the guys from RIFT are deep in evaluation so they can offer us another successful themed season of plays and parties this Autumn with a guaranteed “new batch of artists at the helm”.
But in the meantime there’s lots at STYX to get your teeth into.
This Bank Holiday Sunday, Styx hosts the North London Carnival – a rum-fuelled day and night party with a strong selecta line up.
Other events to keep your eye on include the Black Lives Matter Fundraiser dance party on 12th May and the new monthly series summer parties, dansa Selecta Sundays, which kick off on 14th May. Expect music, freshly made rotis from Island Social Club, locally brewed beers and hopefully some glorious rays of sunshine (although they can’t promise that).
These just scratch the surface of what will be an immense summer at STYX. Get yourselves down.
Words: Selma Willcocks
Photos: André Ainsworth
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