Bringing Back the Fun

Torriano Fun Palace, in North London are huge fans of the work of Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price. Although you don’t need to know a single thing about Joan or Cedric to make a Fun Palace, Torriano’s enthusiasm around the roots of Fun Palaces is joyful to behold, and they really managed to capture the spirit of Fun Palaces in October 2021. As Maker Emily Johns so clearly puts it:

“I think it [making a Fun Palace] means that the culture of science, of poetry, of dancing and art and making is fundamental and crucial…. If there’s any way to have a healthy and better society, it’s to have Fun Palaces every day for 365 days…. everything we need is inside us”

The below Maker Story was written as an account by Penny Diamond, from Torriano Fun Palace in Kentish Town, North London. Here she captures the fun, joy and vast array of activity at their 2021 Fun Palace.

“It’s raining, it’s the first weekend in October, so it’s time for the Fun Palace. Happy birthday Joan! I cycle off through the early morning Kentish Town murkiness to ignite the fun. Our brilliant enormous cardboard tube saying Fun Palace props the door open to welcome everyone in. When I arrive, door is open, kettle on, biscuits to the fore. Emily, in multicoloured layers, is setting up the make-your-own-art table in the middle of the room. Who will be first through the door…? A family from Camden Town appear. Emily takes charge of the children and I proffer tea to the adults. People start to pop in ~ old friends and first-timers. Agnes has set up orange peel sculpture corner and is enthralling people with her dancing rabbits. I decide to recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 ~ “When in disgrace…” The sofa’s filling up, and Lucy the dog, a Torriano habitué arrives. Outside it’s still pouring, but fun continues.

Anthony Best, part of the resident theatre company, The New Factory of the Eccentric Actor, launches into Keats’ ‘Endymion’ and reminds us that Keats was a local resident and we all discuss another local, Amy Winehouse,’s spiritual connection to Keats. After several reams of the memorised poem Anthony subsides to tremendous applause.Then a young boy of our first family of the day quietly walks up to the piano and delights and stuns us with his beautiful playing, was it Sibelius?

More food appears on the side table, people keep bringing it, homemade apple cake, pears, more biscuits, nuts, coffee and Balint brings wine.
Integral to the Fun Palace days is a tall stepladder for anyone to deliver a lecture or recital from the top of. Emily reads Ferlinghetti’s piece about himself the young artist arriving in San Francisco and the old artist a lifetime later being driven out by property ‘developers’ of an ‘artists quarter’.

An annual event is a reading from ‘Joan’s Book’ about the idea of the Fun Palace, it takes place from the top rungs too. “The essence of the Palace will be informality, nothing obligatory, anything goes”.

We like to think that our Torriano Meeting House Fun Palace embodies the spirit of Joan’s vision. Our Cedric is urged up the ladder to deliver a participatory lecture/quiz on climate science, which foxes us all.

We welcome Amie from Fun Palace HQ. People drop in for a chat, yet another pot of tea is made, new neighbours want to know who we are, what we are doing. Agnes’ niece’s mathematical lecture on the topology of orange peelings has been written as a contribution for the Fun Palace and sent by her from Budapest University, an actor reads it out in dramatic style, it is also pinned to the wall for in-depth perusal.

Wild flamenco is danced, the wooden floor resounds. By popular demand there is a reprise of Endymion while adults and children are engrossed in lino and rubber cutting with sharp tools and collectively printing a huge piece of paper.

We practise writing our Roman letters and Chinese characters in reverse. Hungarian, Italian and Chinese is being spoken, Irish, Welsh and Russian is sung.

On the walls there is an exhibition of drawings of London corners in lockdown. We cut up the big piece of rubber stamp printed paper and make a card to send to Eddie who is in intensive care at the Royal Free with COVID, we are missing him because Eddie is always a big force for Fun in our Palace.

Torriano Meeting House has been almost funless for 18 months. Nobody is in a rush to go home. It is still raining. “

Penny Dimond