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Setting the Stage

He’s a Hollywood star and one of Britain’s most famous actors, but he still fi nds time to be a patron of Battersea Arts Centre. Ruth Wyatt lifts the curtain on Toby Jones.

Toby Jones is justly hailed as one of the great acting talents in the UK today. His work is intricately nuanced and utterly believable, whether he is a lovable house elf or a diabolical villain.

The internationally-renowned star of stage and screen has credits that range from superhero and fantasy blockbusters (think Captain America, Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Jurassic World) to Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, Infamous, Frost/Nixon and Sherlock. He is dear, loyal Dobby; creepy, charismatic Alfred Hitchcock, despicable, demonic Sherlock villain Culverton Smith, perennially frustrated Captain Mainwaring. And more. One thing he is not: a typical Hollywood actor. In fact, he’s not very starry at all; there’s a distinct lack of wanting to talk about himself for one thing. For another he is incredibly generous. As patron of Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), he gives generously of his time and his profile.

“Our supporters love hanging out with Toby and it’s testament to his generosity, warmth and good humour that he’s got to know loads of our supporters. He’s on first name terms with everyone and he’s become one of the gang,” remarks BAC Chief Executive and Artistic Director David Jubb. Despite a back to back filming schedule – he’s just finished Jurassic World, Zoo and the third series of BAFTA-winning series The Detectorists with Mackenzie Crook – and a hectic writing schedule (yes, he writes and directs too), Toby took some time out to answer a few questions about his beloved BAC.

You have been Patron of BAC since 2013 – what attracted you to the position?
Battersea Arts Centre was where I saw the shows that first inspired me as an actor. I’d just finished my training and there was a community there, of sorts. As a young actor, there is often a terrifying isolation but BAC provided a context in which we could all meet and discuss and in retrospect, there was a kind of scene.

What does being Patron entail?
I was very flattered to be asked to be Patron but I didn’t really know what it meant either. [BAC Artistic Director and Chief Executive] David Jubb has been a long-time friend of mine, he administrated the company I belonged to for a few years. He’s ingenious at discovering new strategies and systems for integrating theatre with the local community of Battersea, and with the wider, national and international network of independent theatre makers. He’s fascinating to be around. So, I find myself agreeing to do things that promote his vision of what an arts centre might be. I promote the place!

You mentioned that you have had a 20-year relationship with the BAC, dating back to your completion of drama school…
In no particular order: I’ve acted and directed shows that I’ve helped to devise and improvise, like The Right Size, Told by an Idiot and Clod Ensemble. I wrote, scratched and performed some of my own work. With our company, The Table Show, designer Jane Heather, director Edward Kemp and myself researched and wrote and designed an epic poem on the history and community of Lavender Hill. We wanted to engrave the pavement with its own history. I’ve seen countless shows, given feedback, got disorientated and downright lost.

What makes the BAC special to you? Why is it so important for the community?
Well I have personal fondness for the venue. I’ve tried things out on stage that no one else would have facilitated. I realised a couple of years ago that the churning sense of metamorphosis, of theatre spaces being swapped, transposed and reconfigured is central to the BAC. There is no final vision of what it should end up looking like; it shifts as its patrons and performers shift. The building is a labyrinth. There’s always another room I haven’t seen. So, it’s full of surprises and it is still a town hall in which the principle of participation is relentlessly explored.

What does the BAC hope to achieve through the fundraising auction that takes place this month [see below]?
Right. So, the Grand Hall is perhaps the most significant space in the building to the greatest number in the local community. After the fire (in 2015), there was a wave of generous donations and support in kind to help the BAC handle the challenges and counteract the loss of earnings from its biggest space. The Grand Hall has been important to so many people for so many reasons. It will return to its former glory but only after three years. BAC estimates that the time needed for the Hall to re-establish itself will result in a loss of £1m. The aim of this auction and the next year is to raise £150k before the re-opening of the Grand and Lower Halls next year. Money raised from the auction will go some way towards that target!

You have pledged to host a bespoke group workshop; what will that involve? To whom might it appeal and how much do you hope to raise with it?
I haven’t discussed the price range yet! I used to spend a lot of time teaching workshops to very different groups of professional and non-professional performers: singers, teachers, actors, improvisers, dancers, candlestick makers… The aim will be to have a half-day session that is ‘serious fun’. That means the workshop won’t feel like work, but it will take the fun of playing, acting and creating very seriously. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the work I do as a matter of course, but more importantly I hope to inspire people to make their own observations and stories.

What are your hopes for BAC in 2018?
Well, anyone who has seen the gradual redevelopment of the building take shape over the last couple of years will be excited to see what the fire has left behind. And with that he is off, sucked back into the vortex of pre- and post-production.


One-off artworks by renowned artists, such as Grayson Perry and Sir Anish Kapoor, clothes by Dame Vivienne Westwood, and exclusive experiences, including tickets to the London premiere of Paddington 2, are some of the lots going under the hammer to support Battersea Arts Centre at a charity gala held by Christie’s on October 3rd.

The auction also includes a half-day performance workshop for five to 20 well-known people held by Toby; a tour, tickets and afternoon tea with the Director and Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Emma Rice; and a behind the scenes experience of Channel 4 News with Jon Snow.

The money is being raised to help the arts centre through the final phase of redeveloping the Great Hall, which was destroyed by fire in March 2015. The Grand Hall is the organisation’s biggest revenue earner, which it will have been without for almost three years when it finally reopens next year.

Those interested in entering bids remotely can find out more about the auction and how to bid here:

©Rory Lewis - london Portrait PhotographerToby JonesToby Jones