Mayhew also laughs when I suggest that now they’ve got their grant, Wilton’s can rest on their fundraising laurels. “We’ve still got £2.2 million to raise!” Hopefully, part of this will come from a Lottery application for £1.6 million, but that still leaves an awful lot of money to be found. This is because, while it’s hard to see at first glance, Wilton’s is a far more complex structure than it seems; it is, basically, a row of houses rather than simply one hall, and this means there are lots of spaces to be reclaimed and refurbished. The plans include increasing the bar space upstairs to include a snug, creating props storage and an archive room, as well as rehearsal rooms and spaces for heritage work or smaller performances. There is also the venue’s commitment to its local community: much of its educational work has been stopped due to the strict health and safety rules surrounding school visits, but this will hopefully resume once the renovations are done. “We’d like to be open all day for visitors and activities… not exactly a community centre, but more open than we’ve been able to be,” says Mayhew. She is also keen that the valuable history of the venue is both preserved and enjoyed: “The Museum of London is currently looking after all the ‘finds’ we’ve made during the works, but we’re hoping to create an exhibition, and to have people coming to Wilton’s to do heritage work.”
Fittingly, one of the last shows to be staged before the closure of the great hall is one which makes the most of its unique charm: an immersive performance of The Great Gatsby. “You hardly ever used to see adaptations of Gatsby,” explains Mayhew. “It’s a very difficult book to adapt, since it’s a lot of descriptive narrative and not much dialogue, plus until recently it was in copyright so very expensive to produce. But I saw a production I thought was clever. The director [Peter Joucla] usually does touring productions, so he’s used to distilling classic texts into portable, clear-to-understand shows. We’ve wanted for a while to use every room, and offer a full theatrical experience but we’ve never been able to afford it.” Luckily, their ambitions were aided by the cooperative ‘all in this together’ ethos of the Wilton’s team, which has seen them take on multiple roles to get the show to the stage. “Everyone does more than one thing!”
They have also been boosted by the resurgence of interest in the 1920s, no doubt fuelled by interest in the Baz Luhrmann Gatsby film that comes out later in the year. Although there are a number of other adaptations coming to London, Wilton’s is the first and, hopes Mayhew, the most involving – after all, there are few buildings in the city which are so visibly steeped in the past. It should also be enormous fun: “Not that Gatsby is fun, exactly,” she concedes, “But I think people are interested in that world of prohibition, you’re seeing 20s fashions on the catwalks, and here you’ll be able to come in, wander round the rooms, there will be stuff to do and see…” Clearly, her instincts are spot on: “This is the fastest selling show we’ve ever had!” It’s good to see the grand hall bowing out – mercifully temporarily – on such a high note.