“A local and a national treasure”
Polka is one of the few theatres in the UK dedicated exclusively to children. Based in Wimbledon since 1979, Polka creates world-class theatre to entertain and inspire young audiences.
Over 90,000 children visit Polka every year to experience engaging, fun and exciting theatre, often for the first time. We strive to spark the imagination, stir the emotions and fuel a sense of discovery in all children.
There’s always space at Polka to play, laugh, discover and create. Our welcoming theatre is home to a friendly café, playground, garden and a fun-filled foyer with toys, books, dressing up and colouring in. It’s a unique, magical place where you can share a special moment with your child.
Creative programming keeps Polka’s work fresh and relevant. Over two spaces, the Adventure Theatre and Main Stage, young audiences can expect new plays, dynamic performers, resonant subjects and inventive adaptations of popular stories.
Learning and participation is at the heart of Polka’s work, encouraging children to explore and develop creatively. We offer opportunities for all children, regardless of age, ability, culture or background, to engage in the arts through a regular programme of holiday workshops, term-time groups, after-show events, free storytelling and workshops that take Polka into the community. Schools visiting the theatre can benefit from online free resource packs and show-related workshops.
Polka is first and foremost a local theatre, loved by the people of Wimbledon, South London and the wider community, but enjoys an international reputation, known throughout the world as a pioneer of theatre for children, consistently setting the standard and raising audience’s expectations.
Polka Theatre started life as a touring company in 1967 under the Artistic Directorship of Richard Gill. Gill was spurred on by a commitment to fine design and craftsmanship and a passion for puppetry, taking the company’s work to many of Britain’s major theatres. By 1971, following a successful Arts Council application (the first annual grant to any company working in the field of puppetry), Polka was attracting staggering audiences of 250,000 each year.
But touring to other people’s theatres imposed restrictions: small casts, shows that will fit every stage… Gill had a policy of bringing skill, craft and colour to Polka’s productions, and now he wanted to do the same to a building which could be a home for Polka’s work. In 1976, Polka found the Holy Trinity Halls in Wimbledon and in 1979, following a lengthy fundraising campaign, Polka’s dream of a permanent home for children’s theatre became a reality.
When Polka – The Children’s Theatre opened its doors on 20th November 1979, it became the UK’s first theatre venue dedicated exclusively to children. This momentous event was marked by a Gala Performance attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
This year marks 40 years of Polka in our Wimbledon home. In celebration of this milestone, and our major redevelopment, we launched Polka40, a programme of activities deepening our engagement with our community, children and families across the Borough of Merton during closure.
Early Years Theatre
Polka Theatre for the very young is a vital part of Polka’s artistic programming. Our Early Years work is internationally recognised, establishing Polka as a centre for innovation in this field. Babies and toddlers from birth to 5 years are brought into a colourful and stimulating environment where simple stories are told in a sensory and visual way. Early Years shows also visit Polka from across Europe encouraging the telling of a diverse range of stories in a varied and exciting way.
Polka is privileged to be the UK partner in Small size, the European network for Early Years’ Theatre, enabling Polka to support artist development and showcase some of the very latest theatre being created for babies and toddlers from the UK and Europe.
Polka is also part of Mapping.
A Map on the aesthetics of performing arts for early years is a Larger scale cooperation project supported by Creative Europe, Culture sub-programme.
Mapping is an artistic research project focused on creating a sensory-based relationship with very young children, from 0 to 6 years, through performing arts. In particular, it explores the idea of “children-spectators of today and not only of tomorrow”.
Children, especially the youngest ones, are “new subjects of the world”, they are still discovering it, as much as they are discovering themselves. They have not established specific classification criteria yet, but they perceive what is aesthetic at any level of representation.
By observing them, we can detect the signs, the aesthetic moments experienced by the children in contact with artistic proposals, when they are “extremely sensitive”, that means in harmony with what they perceive.
The research work around the Map crosses and connects all the activities of the project. The Working Groups – Image, Sound, Movement and Word – meet in the frame of the Mapping Festivals to develop the research and the Common co production process: 16 new productions for Early Years that will be performed in festivals and, all together, in the frame of the Final Event in 2022.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Historically, Polka have been dedicated to widening access and participation by making theatre as accessible to as many children as possible – no matter what their background. Our partnership with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation enables Polka to develop new ways to work with community partners to increase engagement with hard-to-reach families and communities in the London Borough of Merton.
The project has worked through strengthening partnerships with Merton schools, libraries and SEN schools, with the aim of engaging new audiences with Polka’s work.
In 2019 Polka and the Stavros niarchos Foundation published a report by Dr Emma Miles, Senior Lecturer in Education at Anglia Ruskin University, exploring perspectives on the barriers and incentives to live theatre access for family audiences.
Artistic Director & Joint Chief Executive
Executive Director & Joint Chief Executive
Board of Trustees
Sarah King (2012) (Chair) Management Consultant
Michael Bradley (2019) Head Teacher
Mairi Brewis (2012) Strategist
Vivienne Creevey (2012) Publisher
Bilal Hafeez (2017) Economist
Nigel Halkes (2014) Non-Executive Director
Alison Harpur (2020) Publishing
Rebecca Holt (2017) COO, BAC
Katy Manuel (2015) Arts Marketing Consultant
Gerard Silverlock (2019) Head Teacher
Nicola Theron (2016) Property Advisor
Emily Vaughan-Barratt (2019) Theatre Producer
Sir Alan Ayckbourn
Malorie Blackman OBE
Sir Kenneth Branagh
Vicky Ireland MBE
Joanna Lumley OBE
Dr Sir Ken Robinson
Derek Tullett CBE
David Wood OBE
Lord McNicol of West Kilbride
We take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks to the many grant-making bodies, companies and individuals who recognise the value of our work:
General enquiries: 020 8545 8320
240 The Broadway,
Please note the building is temporarily closed to the public, reopening in summer 2020
Child Protection Policy
As a venue dedicated to children, the safety and protection of children are paramount. Our Board of Trustees and all staff employed by Polka Theatre have a duty of care to children and young people who visit our theatre and attend our activities. We recognise our commitment to safeguard and promote children’s welfare and follow a policy of best practice that protects them.