Letitia Wright: Black Panther star’s former youth drama group ‘can’t afford’ Tottenham theatre space

“We can’t afford it - the simple reason was the cost. They wanted £50 an hour... made it too expensive.”

A Tottenham drama group that trained Black Panther star Letitia Wright says it cannot afford to rehearse at an arts centre named in honour of the area’s former black MP Bernie Grant.

Marvel actress Letitia Wright, who has also appeared in Top Boy, Doctor Who and Black Mirror, grew up in Tottenham and acted with the Black Arts Production Theatre (BAP).

But now the organisation, which offers theatre, performance and stagecraft training to adults and young people in Haringey, has said it is unable to afford professional rehearsal space after the Bernie Grant Arts Centre - named for the late MP - upped its prices.

Andrew Reid, who runs BAP, told LondonWorld: “If we have something like that it should be accessible for people who want to perform on the stage. It should be a community right.

“It shouldn’t be at a price that we can’t get to. If you give people a good space to work in, you get positive results.”

Andrew Reid, left, with drama tutor Richard Reid and children from the BAP theatre group. Photo: LondonWorld

He has now asked Sadiq Khan to look into the issue, after the London mayor visited the borough at an event aimed at tackling violence and knife crime.

“I think he’s going to look into the issue in terms of community spaces, community rates, so local communities can access the major theatres,” Andrew said.

The Bernie Grant Arts Centre , including a 274-seat auditorium, opened in 2007, and is named in honour of the late MP, after the project began before his death in 2000.

The venue’s Twitter bio reads: “Tottenham arts venue championing Black artists telling their own stories.”

Mr Grant was elected MP for Tottenham in 1987 - at the same general election which saw Diane Abbott become Britain’s first black female MP.

Black Panther star Letitia Wright trained with the BAP Theatre in Tottenham. Photo: Getty

He later unsuccessfully stood as deputy Labour Party leader, and in 1989, founded and led the Parliamentary Black Caucus.

The group, modelled after the Congressional Black Caucus in the USA, aimed to advance opportunites for ethnic minority communities in Britain.

Until 2018, the group, which runs classes on Saturdays rehearsed and performed at the £15m multi-arts centre, in Tottenham, north London, at a cost of around £35 an hour.

But before the pandemic, prices at the centre were raised to £50 an hour - which the group couldn’t afford to pay - forcing them to relocate their classes to the St Ann’s Library Hall.

Andrew said: “We can’t afford it - the simple reason was the cost. They made it too expensive.

From left, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng, Neil Kinnock, Keith Vaz and Diane Abbott. Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“They wanted £50 an hour at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre for the space that we were using so we had to stop using it.

“Now at St Ann’s we spend £20 an hour.”

Andrew continued: “Once we allow a community to come and use the space, you’ll find they come out with better results and they take care of their environment, and what’s around them.

“They won’t litter the place, because they’re invested into the community, the village mentality, where everyone takes care of each other.

“You put people in good spaces and you get better results. If you want to put them at the back in a grubby place, don’t expect them to come up any different.”

He added: “We do lots of plays about social issues, knife crime, drugs, violence against women and girls which is so prelevant at the moment.

“It’s the confidence building for the kids - their speech, their sight reading, being able to communicate with their peers, they’re learning all those skills.

“Even if they don’t end up in a theatre they have these skills so when they have to make a presentation in front of anybody they are really confident in what they can do.”

BAFTA rising star award winner Letitia, who is now 28, joined the group at the age of nine, Andrew said.

“We had her with us until she was 16,” he said.

Sadiq Khan with the Black Arts Production drama troupe in Tottenham. Photo: LondonWorld

“When I saw her perform as Rosa Parks at the House of Commons, I said yes, she is a special type.

“The way she performed that part - she even had one of the people watching her in tears.

“She acted the part so well that she believed she was Rosa Parks.”

The group does receive some funding, but Andrew said it can take awhile to receive the money, meaning courses risk being delayed while organisers await cash.

A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “Grassroots cultural organisations play a huge role in our city by providing opportunities and developing the skills of young people.

Leitita Wright poses with her rising star award at the BAFTAs in 2019. Photo: Getty

“The mayor is committed to doing all he can to support the future of these groups and has encouraged the Black Arts Production Theatre to continue to work with City Hall and the local council to discuss any support that can be offered.

“The mayor has also previously warned that the government’s decision to cut £70m arts funding will not only deliver a devastating blow to our city’s creative sector, but also damage the UK’s recovery from this pandemic.”

Hannah-Azieb Pool, artistic director and chief executive of the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, said: “Bernie Grant Arts Centre develops and presents new and cutting edge multi-disciplinary work by black artists.

“We want a world where black-led work is given space, status and a chance to thrive - a world in which black artists, creatives and performers no longer have to fight to have their stories made.

“To achieve this, we invest in the creativity of black artists, aiming to amplify their voices, elevate their profiles and showcase their work, and provide valuable career opportunities within the arts for those from underrepresented backgrounds - addressing the inequity of access that is endemic in our borough.

“A large percentage of the work we do is free, because we believe in the power of theatre to change lives.

“To be able to offer free and vastly reduced tickets to the community (our average prices are £7 per ticket), we rely on income generated by the hire of our spaces.

“This is an incredibly hard time for all of us in the arts, and to reflect this we’ve kept our hire charges as low as possible - we have many flexible spaces and our hire charges start at £33 per hour, to enable organisations of all sizes a chance to access our venue.

“Unlike many organisations of our size, we do not receive a regular public subsidy, however, we have applied to the Arts Council to join the National Portfolio - to secure our future and enable us to offer even more to the local community."