Announcement of the closure of iconic venue The Poor School left many people fearing we were about to lose another valuable cultural education hub in the capital. However, the building on Pentonville Road won’t, in fact, become another collection of speculative apartments; instead it’s set to be reborn as the Pauline Quirke Academy (PQA) Studios. Yep, her from Birds Of a Feather fame.
But this is no new venture for the actor. PQA have already taught over 10,000 young people at 150 weekend locations across the UK during the last ten years – and yet they’ve never had a permanent home. They jumped at the opportunity to take over the space, as it couldn’t be more ideal for their story, and ambition.
“A young Pauline Quirke started life in Islington and attended drama class here,” says artistic director Adam Davenport, “so to establish our academy here feels serendipitous and very exciting.”
Rewind a few decades and it’s fair to say the telly star’s life changed aged nine, when she joined the (local) Anna Scher Theatre School, whose alumni include Kathy Burke, Martin Kemp, Patsy Palmer and Natalie Cassidy. When setting up her own Academy, Pauline wanted to similarly nurture and give confidence to talented young students from truly diverse backgrounds, preparing them for the demands of further education in musical theatre, comedy and drama, or film and television.
“To make education in the arts accessible to the local community at a time where many schools and charitable organisations lack the vital resources is hugely important to us too,” continues Adam. “It’s quite unusual for children to receive training in film and television from a young age, but we’re the biggest provider of this service in the UK, and both students and teachers have already been so engaged.”
He walks us through plans for the transformation of the lacklustre Pentonville Road studios, restoring long-hidden features, such as a high vaulted ceiling. It dates back to 1923, originally built as a billiard hall run by a Welsh temperance movement, to offer locals an alternative diversion to the demon booze.
Now its continuation as studios and in-house theatre is secure, potentially changing the lives of many more aspiring young stars from in and around King’s Cross.