As The Bard tells us, all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players… so we all have a part to play in World Theatre Day on Saturday. With a special message to theatre lovers from Dame Helen Mirren, the global celebration of the art form we all love will consist of a full day’s streaming of performance videos submitted from all over the world on the link below.
For our part, as we continue to make plans for the eventual reopening of our performance spaces so we can welcome back the wonderful audiences that we miss so much, we’ve gathered views from three quite different perspectives on the current state of play in the wonderful world of Theatre.
Tamsin Fessey is co-Artistic Director of Lighthouse Associate Artists Angel Exit and has presented a range of work at Lighthouse including The Ballad of Martha Brown, The Secret Garden, The Drive, Otto and the Robin and, just days before we went into lockdown, toooB. In lockdown we worked with Angel Exit to present an online edition of Super-Spies, a theatrical digital experience for families.
Tim Colegate is Head of Programming at Lighthouse. Having arrived in post barely six months before lockdown began, he has had to contend with an unprecedented set of circumstances across the industry, but his enthusiasm for quality productions remains undimmed and he has big plans for Lighthouse.
Lucy Green is Artistic Director of Green Submarine, a new company making theatre with a conscience. Earlier this year, in lockdown, she was in residency at Lighthouse working on a new adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea made from repurposed plastic.
Where does your love of theatre come from?
TF: I don’t know. I’ve just always loved it. Youth theatre played a big part in cementing it. The joy of coming together and creating together, going through the pain of rehearsing and the fear of first night and then the exhilaration of lost in the moment performing.
TC: That’s a good question because I’m not entirely sure! My mum enjoys going to the theatre, but none of my family have had any deep involvement in it. Two defining moments in my formative years stand out though. I recall being taken to the local community centre to see a production by the local players – the brilliant Three Towns Operatic Society – of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe (I know, I know, an operetta every seven year old yearns to see!) and just sensing that I loved the occasion. While I couldn’t articulate it then, I think it was all of those people coming together to share in a live experience that affected me and I knew I wanted to be a part of whatever that was in the future in some capacity.
Secondly, came a trip to the Liverpool Empire for my first experience of Rocky Horror and what an experience it was. I was a young teenager and I don’t really think my mum knew what she was letting us in for if truth be told… Anybody who has seen it live will appreciate the joyous assault on the senses. It was an ‘event’ in the truest sense of the word – the production values, the song, the dance, the audience interaction, the ferocity of celebration and belonging, and the sheer entertainment. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
LG: As a child I was taken to a ballet or a musical every year. I was so enchanted by the experience that I would spend the following weeks singing along to the soundtracks and re-enacting scenes around the house. Theatre never fails to engage my imagination and inspire my own creativity.
What is the best thing you’ve seen or done in a theatre?
TF: That’s hard to say. I loved Complicite’s show Mnemonic, the first show I saw of theirs. I even went to see it again a week later. I think I would have loved their early work even more. I was a student then and it was a right time and right place sort of show. We used to go to a panto every Christmas Eve and that was just as exciting to me at the time.
TC: It’s really hard to pick just one. I saw Angels in America at the National a few yew years back, which was exquisite – seven and a half hours in length, but I was completely captivated. It sounds like a long time to be sat in a theatre, but it flew by. As did the adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies at the Aldwych – another same-day two-part-er in 2014 though I was the intern at the production company for that one so it holds a special memory.
I interned on Blithe Spirit with Angela Lansbury too, so that’s up there – she was fab-u-lous. Oh, and Hattie Morahan’s tour de force as Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Duke of York’s will always stay with me… Sorry, I haven’t really subscribed to the succinctness of this question, have I?
Wait, I haven’t even given a musical – I nabbed the penultimate remaining ticket to see American Psycho at the Almeida and I just loved its stylish electro-infused nature and hedonistic milieu.
As for something I’ve done – producing Brassed Off, Wolverhampton Grand’s return to producing theatre in-house, in 2017 is undoubtedly a highlight.
LG: In my first performance of my show 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, there was a four-year-old who had never been to a live performance before. When he first came in he was a little apprehensive but once the performance starting he giggled all the way through. It told me everything I needed to know about the piece and gave me the confidence to continue to develop the play.
For someone who has never seen a live performance, what would you tell them?
TF: Go. See one. Be surprised.
TC: Go with an open mind and invest yourself.
LG: Theatre is for everyone, if you can allow yourself to be taken in by a story you will be consumed by live performance.
What good does theatre do?
TF: In a theatre we witness and share stories together and respond as a community. It helps encourage empathy and understanding of each other.
TC: It is a catalyst for conversation and debate and sharing and change.
That might sound easy to say or a bit superficial and, I concede, we are very good in the Arts at talking quite profoundly about its pre-eminent power and life-changing qualities... Ultimately, theatre makes you reflect on your view of the world and how you treat and/or consider others. And, to dispel any notion of perceived hierarchical cultural worth in relation to that, a great night out with your mates escaping your troubles at Mamma Mia! is equally as important as engaging in fervent discourse about the treatment of criminals who use an alternative virtual reality as an outlet for their perversions after watching Jennifer Haley’s The Nether.
I don’t have much time for artistic snobbery. Whether one considers a production to be any ‘good’ or not is kind of irrelevant – much of it is subjective anyway. It is if, upon leaving the theatre, one has nothing to say at all that I’d be concerned.
LG: Theatre broadens thought, imagination and creativity. It can be a hefty and impressive force that shouldn’t be underestimated.
How can theatre help us recover from Covid?
TF: By providing much needed communal experiences. We’ll be able to sit next to each other and hear each other’s breath, laughter, gasps and we’ll learn to love this sense of collective humanity again.
TC: Fundamentally, it comes down to mental wellbeing. The past 12 months have been extraordinarily damaging for a lot of people in one way or another and I think there are two groups of ‘us’ to address in that question. There is an army of theatre professionals who have been left with little or no support. They are talented individuals who contribute so much to an industry that means so much to so many and their importance cannot be understated. The return of theatre will give them an income and, perhaps more significantly, a purpose again – doing what they do best.
Secondly comes our wider community. Theatre is experiential and provides an opportunity for audiences to escape and share in something evocative. The past year has given arts organisations time to take stock and consider how they want to progress. Accessibility, inclusivity, and representation are top of the agenda for many and rightly so. The pandemic has been unequivocally awful. Therefore, it is imperative that we take the positives from this period and build on our learning otherwise we have endured the suffering with nothing to show. If that means the creative industries return with a focus on engaging audiences that we had not connected with well enough before and we can make those people feel welcome, then that has to be a good thing.
LG: Theatre will bring communities back together after Covid. The collective experience of an audience watching a story, the gasping and crying at the same time, the chitter-chatter after a performance will nurture our communities after such a long period of separation.
What would you love to see at Lighthouse?
TF: An inventive imaginative show in the studio space that makes me reassess my place in the world.
TC: While I wouldn’t wish to be complacent, our received programme at Lighthouse is quite strong. We have a broad range of art forms and scales and we are making efforts to further diversify what we present.
That said, I would love to restore Lighthouse to its glory days of regular, contemporary music acts in the Concert Hall, larger scale touring musical theatre in the Theatre, and much greater use of the Studio for creativity, producing, and artist development.
I am delighted to say that plans are afoot to begin realising all those ideals in the not-too-distant future. I believe Lighthouse is going to be a very exciting place to be over the course of the next 12 months – we are about to seriously make up for lost time.
LG: I would love to see a comedy, something silly and full of joy that will get everyone laughing again.
Do you have any hidden talents – on or off stage?
TC: I’m somewhat reticent to say that I play a bit of piano… I’m certainly not trained. I had a few lessons here and there when I was younger but didn’t like the discipline (true to form, some would say!) and then just carried on under my own steam. Resultantly, my technique is appalling but it saw me all right to join a few bands at college and university and, more recently, play on the live 2018 TV broadcast of Children in Need in the West Midlands!
LG: I can play a very convincing old man and as a young woman I am personally very impressed with myself for this talent and it brings me a huge amount of joy. Who knows what other hidden talents I might discover through theatre in the coming years.