The History of our Home: The Actor’s Church

A rare green and peaceful haven in the bustling Covent Garden Piazza, St. Paul’s Church has now been home to Iris Theatre for 10 Years. Aside from making its mark on London’s Open-Air Theatre season each summer, the church hosts everything from live classical concerts and poetry readings to mass for local schools and of course, regular parish services.

The church itself is a very special environment to work in daily, and there is a lot to see, do (and eat!) in the surrounding area. However, for those of us less-seasoned Iris employees coming on board for the build up to this year’s performances, a curiosity was sparked to learn more about the history of this beautiful building.

Churches are notoriously known for making great performance spaces, due to the expansive space and great acoustics they offer. Our resident Iris Set Construction Manager and church volunteer Nigel Winder explained to us that aside from these qualities, St. Paul’s was a “totally modern space.” Strip back the decorative lighting, raised platforms to the altar and pews (which are not original fixtures) and you are left with the altar and a large, minimalist hall. This simplicity is characteristic of church interiors before fancier additions where made in the Victorian era.

Something else you might not know is that St. Paul’s has always had rich theatrical connections, long before Iris’ time. Commissioned by the Earl of Bedford and built in 1633, this large, open hall not only fulfilled its duty as a religious space, but doubled up as a banqueting house for the Earl’s esteemed guests and for post-wedding parties. Like many buildings in the area, the brains behind the operation were those of Inigo Jones, the King’s Architect and Theatrical Designer – hence St. Paul’s also being known as The Actor’s Church. Bedford Palace would have been just a quick pop round the corner where the Strand now unravels, and, if you have a beady eye, you can spot the Bedford crest somewhere in the church today!

For those who wish to have a proper look around the church, you can find the opening times here. Alternatively, why not book tickets for a promenade performance of either the epic Macbeth or the adventurous Hansel & Gretel, and relive the amazing history of St. Paul’s in a totally unique way!