Riverside Studios opened in 1976 after an independent Trust was formed to turn the former iron foundry in Hammersmith into a local community arts centre. Riverside’s original policy was to stage inhouse and visiting company productions of classical and contemporary plays and dance. Running concurrently with the main programme were regular events and activities including a film, music, education workshop and play reading programme.
Riverside Studios became fully operational in January 1978 with Artistic Director Peter Gill’s landmark production of The Cherry Orchard, for which Julie Covington turned down the lead in Evita. The venue quickly acquired an international reputation for excellence and innovation with productions including The Changeling with Brian Cox and Robert Lindsay (1979), Measure for Measure with Helen Mirren (1979) and Julius Caesar with Jim Carter and Lindsay Duncan (1980). Gill also offered residencies to artists including Bruce McLean and Ian Coughlin, the architect Will Alsop (who designed Riverside’s bookshop) and companies such as the Black Theatre Co-operative.
Visual art exhibitions (including ‘Prints’ by Howard Hodgkin, 1978) were originally curated in Riverside’s foyer, but following Gill’s departure in 1980, a purpose-built gallery was established. Exhibitions included work by such luminaries as Edvard Munch, Joan Miró, David Hockney, Louise Bourgeois, Antony Gormley and Yoko Ono.
In 1978, Riverside hosted the first of many popular Dance Umbrella seasons and began developing a reputation for ground-breaking international productions. These notably included the work of Polish theatre maestro Tadeusz Kantor and the Barcelona-based company La Claca.
In 1981, Michael Clark became Riverside’s resident choreographer and, over two years, created a remarkable body of work. David Leveaux’s production of A Moon for the Misbegotten with Frances de la Tour transferred to Broadway in 1983, and in the same year, the Italian playwright Dario Fo hosted a series of legendary theatre workshops with his wife and collaborator Franca Rame. On two occasions during the early 1980s, the playwright Samuel Beckett rehearsed productions in Studio 2, later describing Riverside as ‘a haven’. In 1987, Vanessa Redgrave performed the official opening of a 200-seat cinema, converted from the BBC’s old dubbing suite. Alan Rickman took the role of Hamlet at Riverside in 1992 and in the same year Tamasha presented Women of the Dust.
Riverside Studios was refurbished in June 1994 under the directorship of William Burdett-Coutts, whose early programming included Robert Lepage’s, The Seven Streams of the River Ota, The Master Builder with Brian Cox and Anthony and Cleopatra with Vanessa Redgrave. Television production also returned to Riverside, with Studio 1 becoming home to such long-running shows as TFI Friday with Chris Evans (1996-2000) and CD:UK presented by Ant and Dec (2003-2006). During the 2000s, Riverside’s productions included Scaramouche Jones with Pete Postlethwaite, Complicité’s Mnemonic, The Wooster Group’s To You, The Birdie! featuring Willem Dafoe, Embedded written and directed by Tim Robbins and The Exonerated with a changing cast featuring Stockard Channing, Aidan Quinn, Alanis Morisette, and Danny Glover. Meanwhile, music superstars David Bowie and Amy Winehouse performed concerts in Studio 1 which were broadcast live internationally. The early 2010s saw great success for Dr Marigold & Mr Chops with Simon Callow, the musical Salad Days, A Round-Heeled Woman with Sharon Gless and Mies Julie by Yael Farber in Studio 2. At the same time, Studio 1 hosted some of television’s most popular shows including Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Russell Howard’s Good News, The Apprentice: You’re Fired! and The Last Leg.