Madhouse re:exit, Access All Areas @ Shoreditch Town Hall

13 – 28 of March

Created by Access all Areas
Directed by Nick Llewellyn

MADHOUSE reexit, Shoreditch Town Hall, credit of Helen Murray (8)

Photography by Helen Murray

Everybody needs to see this show.

It is an outstanding piece of political theatre. Interesting, captivating, and heartbreaking.

MadHouse is created by Access All Areas, an award-winning theatre company who work with artists with learning disabilities. The show is an immersive show performed in Shoreditch Town Hall.

When I got to the venue, there was an interesting exhibition on Haperbury Hospital, an ex-hospital for people with learning disabilities. The facts and pictures were shocking, and it does raise questions as to why this history isn’t taught in schools. I was also given a leaflet to ‘Paradise Fields’, a new corporate care facility, some pages were scarily relevant to the modern world.

The audience were going on a tour of ‘Paradise Fields’. I have to admit I felt slightly scared going down to tour this care home, there was a very eerie atmosphere but a feeling of curiosity within the audience. As the audience were toured around the care home we were exposed to the glossy, creepy staff and rooms in the modern day care home. It all felt too good to be true and the audience were expecting and waiting to see what happened next. As the tour went on the audience were taken away from the tour guides by ‘The Escapist’ played by David Munns to be given a different tour of the shocking truths behind ‘Paradise Fields.’

As we continued to move around the space, we met five characters who all told there own stories about living in the care home and the stories also linked to the modern society we live in. These five characters were all captivating actors and the scenes were interesting, all very different and heart-breaking. All the different scenes were devised by the cast members based on the research for the play and there own experiences as learning disabled artists. My particular favourite were ‘The Goddess’ played by Imogen Roberts and ‘The Eater’ played by Dayo Koleosho. Both these scenes had an incredible concept and set design behind them which was very unique. The performers were also captivating and relatable.

There were some  pacing hiccups however. There were times when the audience were waiting for two minutes to be moved on. I felt that these needed to be faster so that the audience could stay in the world the show created.

Do not miss this show.

The immersive world the company has created is brilliant, as are the performances. The show makes the audience question England’s current society but also makes you question your own perceptions of people with learning disabilities.

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Thirsty! Tori Scott @ The Vaults

14th March- 18th March
Performed by Tori Scott


Tori Scott’s Thirsty! is a freewheeling hour of cabaret, filled with salacious humour and honestly affecting songs. Scott slings together risqué vignettes taken from her own life with numbers ranging from Judy Garland to Janelle Monae. The result is ribald fun and an authentic New York cabaret atmosphere.

Tori Scott’s comedy is generously self deprecating, and she delivers punchlines with hilarious frankness. Her stories all riff on the theme of “thirst,” whether that be thirst for booze, and the joyfully depraved places that’s led her, or plain old sexual desire. At some point in the performance she refers to the piece as a cautionary tale, but there’s no real narrative connecting the stories, nor does our heroine seem to learn any real lessons from her experiences. Tori Scott doesn’t really want to teach us anything, she just wants to entertain, and on that level she certainly succeeds.

What surprised me was exactly how she goes about doing that. While the humour is bawdy and the comedy sharp, the real joy for me came from the singing, accompanied by Scott’s appropriately named band, The Shame Spirals. Scott is an extremely talented and skillful singer, and the generosity that she brings to her comedy is doubly present in her singing. She sings with both self-assured panache and honest, soul-baring emotion. It caught me off guard: one moment I was hearing a particularly suggestive bit about making eye contact with a public masturbator on the New York subway, and the next I was hearing a surprisingly soulful cover of Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church.’ Like mixing sweet and salty, the contrast makes both stronger, and the variety brings a zesty flavour to the proceedings.

I did feel that the performance was slightly let down by its venue. Not by the Vault Festival in general (which is a perfect match for Scott, with its neon underground atmosphere and ready access to alcohol) but by the Crescent theatre specifically. The Crescent is a fairly conventional, pros-arch space, about as conventional as one can get in a disused underground tunnel. I’m no expert in cabaret, but to my understanding it’s most often performed in more of a pub or comedy club atmosphere, with audiences sat around tables and, crucially, the ability to get up and order more drinks. The dead-on nature of the proscenium arch and “latecomers will not be admitted” atmosphere all felt a bit too formal, and jarred slightly with the very loose energy of the show. However, I’m nitpicking, as the fun electric vibes of the Vault festival more than make up for the slightly over-formal structure of the Crecent.

If Thirsty! sounds like it would appeal to you, here’s my advice: Show up early. Take a few friends with you. Preferably, some or all of you will be gay men. This is to best enjoy Tori Scott’s many references to gay culture, terminology, and dating apps, but is by no means a requirement. Spend some time at one of the Vault Festival’s many bars, soak in the underground atmosphere, and have at least a couple of drinks. Then, get ready to sit back and enjoy some raunchy, entertaining cabaret.

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Frankenstein Burn Bright Theatre @ The Space

20th February – 10th March
Burn Bright Theatre 
Adapted by Isabel Dixon
Directed by Katherine Timms
Starring Danielle Winter and Elizabeth Schenk

Danielle Winter Frankenstein

Sam Elwin Photography

Though thought-provoking, and grotesquely thrilling, Burn Bright’s Frankenstein is held back by its decision not to diverge more from the original novella. The first and most pressing way that this manifests is in its plotting. The decision to remain faithful to Shelley’s work is understandable (Frankenstein is a brilliant book after all), but it causes some problems in the pacing of the show. The story of the novella is structured in a series of arcs: the framing scenes on the arctic expedition, Frankenstein’s creation of the Monster and his flight from his home, the Monster’s description of its time living among the family in the cottage, etc. Each of these arcs serves as a self-contained episode of the story, with its own central conflict and emotional climax. Though this works well in the novella form, a problem arises when the same story is adapted to the stage — there are too many “big moments,” and not enough time spent on each one for any of them to have real weight. Why not elide some of these plot points, or cut them altogether? Why can’t we spend more time on the good stuff?

And there is a lot of good stuff to be had here. The core performances are stellar: Danielle Winter bestows this particular version of Doctor Frankenstein with a compelling mix of magnetic obsession and humanizing doubt, and Elizabeth Schenk’s Creature is truly fascinating. A loping, electric, gleeful presence, equally terrifying and beguiling. She charges the room with real horror whenever she appears, and sends a chill through the audience when we hear her bounding and cackling around us, in the shadows. Together, they achieve some wonderful moments of on-stage dread. The scene in which the Monster is first “born” was both nightmarish and exhilarating.

Supporting these performances is some legitimately thrilling direction from Katherine Timms and movement work from the rest of the cast. The scenes in the lab, in which the ensemble form the various mechanical and occult grotesques that Frankenstein uses to achieve her ghoulish ends, are particularly thrilling, macabre fun.

But most interesting of all are the ways that the piece chooses to diverge from the original. The most obvious of these is the decision to make both the Doctor and the Monster women. There are some thought-provoking ways they adapt the plot of the novella here: the Doctor in this version is Elizabeth Frankenstein, adopted daughter of the Frankenstein family. The Monster is also played by a female-presenting person, and though it was less explicit in the text of the piece (the Doctor tends to use the genderless “it” pronoun when referring to the creature) the implication seems to be that it is also female. Unlike Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth Frankenstein cannot attend university. In this story, she is an entirely self-made and self-taught woman, learning to create life itself through the power of her will and intelligence alone. She is also unable to leave her family home after the death of her father, implying her obsession with reanimation might be an expression of her suffocated freedom. If she cannot defy the laws of the era and attend university, she will defy the very laws of mortality. There is also a fascinating parallel drawn between Elizabeth’s desire for acceptance, as both a woman in a misogynistic society and as an adopted child in close-knit household, and the Monster’s desire for acceptance by humanity.

However, the structural flaws prevent the piece from really diving into these ideas. Whenever we start to explore the very interesting territory that these choices open up, the piece is forced to move on to the next plot point. As a result, the play feels unfocused. In hewing so close to the plot of the novel, it tries to cover too much ground, and misses out on a chance to explore the really fascinating questions that make it special. I would have loved to see this piece if it was a little tighter in scope, and a little more willing to twist and mould the original story to its own ends. There is the nugget of a truly inspired story in this piece, one that explores what happens to a brilliant mind when it is not allowed to freely express itself, one that riffs off of Mary Shelley’s original story and develops its themes into a unique artistic statement. However, because the play doesn’t allow itself the time to tell that story, it never really comes to fruition. We the audience just see glimpses of it, peeking through a faithful but unfocused adaptation of Shelley’s classic novella.

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Electra, DumbWise Theatre @ The Bunker

27 Feb – 24 March, 2018

by Sophicles
Directed by John Ward
DumbWise Theatre

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli

The DumbWise Theatre Company has reinvented Electra. It’s unexpected and wild at times but it’s a beautiful production and something you can get behind.

The plot surrounds the murder of Agamemnon, the King of Argos by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. After his upheaval, the two living children of Agamenon, Electra and Orestes fray into the background of Aegisthus’ rule. 10 years pass and we learn that Clytemnestra has subjugated Electra under her wiry fingers and before the upheaval, Electra smuggled her younger brother out of the city. This is where it picks up for us with Orestes on the edge of the world and Electra being tormented by her would-be father and tyrant mother.

The two act play is a long ride from here on out and the individual performances are a spectacle because of this. I was really interested in Dario Coates as Orestes. He was wet with passion for the whole two and half hour runtime. And Sian Martin is terrifying as Clytemnestra. She had two scenes in particular where she was being interviewed by a news anchor and we, the audience, play the role of the people of Argos witnessing her speak about Agamemnon and Orestes for the first time. Martin oozed her way out of dangerous questions and played her sovereign role with an effortless confidence. But there was an unnerving sense that at each moment, she was draped with the fear of Orestes shadow. It was really beautiful to watch as an aspiring actor myself. This action was broken up by intermittent moments of punk rock to clarify scene changes or climactic moments.

The stage was fairly scarce apart from the instruments upstage. Neon lights lined the back wall and would change colour depending on the feeling of the scene. Brutal moments were highlight by a red glow and calmer parts were washed with blue.

Matt brewer who played Aegisthus was another actor to mention. Aegisthus’ growing frustration dread as the supports of his power crumble shone through clearly. Lydia Larson who played Electra was also wonderful to watch. The moments where she let out her pent up hatred were immensely powerful.

John Ward has directed something both beautiful but intense and primal at the same time. You feel the Greek earth under the feet of Orestes as he stands off with Aegisthus and you hear the Greek wind sweep you along as characters cry out in pain.

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Derailed, Little Soldier @ The Ovalhouse

21st February to 3rd March
Little Soldier
Direction and Dramaturgy by Ben Kidd and Jesse Britton


With Derailed, Little Soldier invites us to their going-away party. It really feels like a party too: there’s champagne, somebody’s making gazpacho, and everyone’s getting in on the action on-stage. The live music helps too, endowing the party with a rock-gig feel, and underscoring the winding, goofy tangents that Little Soldier take us on.

But not everyone is in the mood to party. Little Soldier themselves, as it turns out, aren’t ready to go yet.

Derailed is a play about Brexit, and so it’s a play about rejection, and endings, and saying goodbye. Little Soldier, made up of Spanish artists Patricia Rodríguez and Mercè Ribot, have a wonderful, winking charm to them.And in their clownish, entertaining way, they go about searching for some way to give their time in the UK meaning.

They lead us down strange, winding pathways. Then they suddenly change direction, starting on something totally new. Admittedly, a few of those pathways feel like they go on for a bit too long. But so quickly are we pulled into the next game, we almost immediately forget.

And game really is the word — Little Soldier seem to be in a state of constant play. They seem to revel in the unpredictability of the moment. They happily bring audience members on stage to act in scenes, play instruments, even trusting one with a blender. The constant playfulness of the piece ensures it is always light, always fun, even when reckoning with the real pain of being rejected by one’s chosen home.

The times when the play does come down to earth are legitimately touching. One moment, in which Patricia struggles to articulate why it’s so important to her that she protest in Britain, was particularly moving. But they never fall into self indulgence. They don’t have time to, as it’s not long before Little Soldier spins everything around and starts something completely different.

The constant changes in direction do leave the piece feeling somewhat unfocused.One would be hard pressed to find a single cohesive thesis statement that the piece is putting forward. But that’s not the point. Little Soldier are playing, riffing on the theme of goodbyes, telling a joke about the futility of trying to wrap up several years of two human lives in a neat little bow. It’s all just for fun, they say. That’s all it was ever about.

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Hilda and Virginia @ Jermyn Street Theatre

27th February – 3rd March, 2018

by Maureen Duffy

Directed by Natasha Rickman
Performed by Sarah Crowden

Sarah Crowden in Hilda and Virginia, Jermyn Street Theatre, credit of Harry Livingstone. (10)

Part of the ‘Scandal’ season at the Jermyn Street Theatre, the play is a double-bill following the stories of two remarkable women. The first is Virginia Woolf, who uncovers the secrets, affairs and scandals behind her novels. The second is Hilda of Whitby, a rebellious saint from the 1st century BCE who faces a crisis of faith.

Both women are played by Sarah Crowden in this ambitious duel-story one-woman show.

Crowden’s gives an often sympathetic and charming performance. The characters are distinct and often lovable. The design changes completely between halves, going from book-filled writing office to medieval chamber incredibly effectively. Books and skulls, candles and tapestries help deliver the worlds of the play convincingly.

The action in the play however suffered from a distinct lack of subtlety. ‘I’m brilliant!’ declares Virginia, standing on a chair, before clambering down for the next line as if nothing had happened. ‘I took drugs’ she confides, extracting a bottle from a hollow book, showing us, and then taking a swig to illustrate the point. Then, whenever angry, she knocked the books to the ground.

These sorts of actions permeated the performance. Sometimes they worked, but more often they didn’t. They sometimes left the production feeling as hollow as the books.

The text itself provides interesting glimpses into the personalities of Hilda and Virginia. Insights into their lives and inner-conflicts. Duffy’s writing and Crowden’s performance elicited giggles frequently witty from the audience, who, to be fair to the show, seemed to enjoy themselves far more than I did.

So, maybe it was just me, but I was unmoved. I was unconvinced as to the reason these stories were forced together as a double-bill, and why the stories needed to be told in the first place. They felt almost entirely disconnected. If the experience of one character was meant to provide insight on the dilemma of the other I didn’t get it.

One-person shows are a tough ask for any performer. Keeping an audience engaged for any amount of time is not easy, especially on one’s own (as anyone who has ever spoken in public can attest). I admire Crowden for how well she did, but a 2-hour run-time with two mostly disconnected stories left me nonplussed.

For the most part anyway.

Make up your own mind, see what you think, and let me know?

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Das Fest @ The Vaults

28 February – 4 March, 2018

Created and performed by ‘Vienna’s Master Illusionist’ Phillip Oberlohr

Philipp Oberlohr's Das Fest at VAULT Festival (courtesy Daniel Haingartner) (7).JPG

Photography by Daniel Haingartner

The Vault Festival is a very cool place. If you haven’t been yet, you need to go.

Last night I attended Das Fest by Philipp Oberlohr and I have to say it’s one of my highlights of the festival so far. On a snowy winter’s night, I went out in the cold to make my way to the show. I’m a sceptical person and I must admit I felt a little unsure about the prospect of going to a mind reading show. It’s all a trick surely? However, when I left the theatre an hour later, I felt happier, slightly confused and my mind was pulsing with questions like ‘How did he do that?’ and I felt very glad I had come to the show that evening.

Das Fest is the sequel to Das Spiel which was awarded the People’s choice award in 2016. I was excited and curious to see what was going to happen in this new show. The atmosphere was buzzing when I walked into the room, the audience were waiting, slightly nervously too see what was in store for them.

Now, the best thing about Das Fest is the surprise element. I don’t want to ruin it so I’m not going to write about what is going to happen to the audience in the show. However, what I can say was that Philipp Oberlohr is a charming performer. He is captivating, likeable and trustworthy. Despite the underlying fear the audience felt like they could talk to him, with one audience member staying on stage for most of the show! There was some wonderful imagery created in the show, my particular favourite involving a white umbrella and a black umbrella. The images created on stage were beautiful.

I thoroughly enjoyed Das Fest and would recommend seeing it for an entertaining evening. The physical theatre elements used in the show were excellent, as was the imagery and the performance. Go to the show, take some friends with you and then enjoy the ‘But how did he do that?!’ conversation which will inevitably happen in the bar afterwards.



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If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You @ The Vaults

Written by John O’Donovan, Directed by Thomas Martin, Starring Josh Williams and Alan Mahon

josh Williams and Alan McMahon, credit Keith Dixon.jpg 2.jpg

Photo Credit Keith Dixon

“Isn’t it good here?’

‘If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You,’ John O’Donovan’s 2016 play performed at the Vaults, is about two young men, trapped on a rooftop and surrounded by police. They’ve just stolen some money, some drugs, and they’re in love. Despite the police, a strange peace is found on the rooftop. It becomes an oasis of stillness. From this fixed point, the two men may lean back and observe the chaos that surrounds them. Through the stories and memories they share, we come to see the small Irish city they live in through their eyes. We learn about impulsive violence that ends with someone in hospital. We learn about cruel, draconian punishments.We learn about bitter feuds and gas station thefts and fraudulent relationships and, underneath it all, constant fear. These two young men never feel safe in this town.

John O’Donovan’s script artfully fills in the world around the rooftop, and Thomas Martin’s direction creates a sense of vertigo on the slanted rooftop. Josh Williams and Alan Mahon both put forward touching performances as Casey and Mikey.

Moving, sad, and full of bleak humour, If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You is a beautiful piece, skilfully put together by all involved.

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The Vault Festival

The Sound and the Fury, RCSSD @ The Pleasance

21 Feb – 24 Feb, 2018

by William Faulkner
Directed by Sasha Milavic Davies

Review by guest contributor Niamh Blackman


The opening of the Sound and the Fury at Pleasance Theatre set the mood. Benny (Rhys Anderson) paints a lilting Mississippi-accented picture of the breezy hot plantations of 1900’s Mississippi. The actors walked on one by one, already creating an energy with which the entire play would buzz right to the end. 

We follow through the eyes of the three brothers of the Common family, as we watch them teeter and then fall down the brink of decay. From the off, it was clear that this was a creative team that had found a goldmine of current references; the struggle of race was clear, as was the struggle for power between men and women. It’s very much a story of our times. Unfortunately, I was invited to the closing night of the play – but I would heartily recommend that you read the book as well, so that you get the same messages I got.

The story of The Sound and the Fury is narrated by three different brothers: First Benjy, the simple brother, looked after by Dalsey, the housekeeper and her family, then Quentin, a Harvard student with the weight of his decaying family wealth and his love for his sister, finally by Jason, the embezzling, greedy oldest brother. The story jumps between time frames following the decline of the family through scandal after scandal. The cast brilliantly steer us through the narrative, so this is never jarring (although the first few times it was a little confusing!)

Rhys Anderson was a brilliant narrator – captivating, with great subtlety in creating his first character, Benjy, who is intellectually disabled. His complete transformation into Dalton Ames and then Herbert was so complete, that there was no doubt auto who he was playing at any one time. His sister and some-time carer Caddy was played by Emily Windham, who captured the 7 year old Caddy with delightful innocence that we hold onto throughout her ruination.

Marshall Nyanhete, who played Benjy’s carers Luster and Versh, gave a strong and solid performance which, alongside that of Angelina Chudi (playing his mother Frony), gave voice to the next generation of African American’s who wanted more than the life of a second-class citizen. They managed this with humour, asking many a person, including the heads of the family, for money to go to a music show.

Daniela Cristo Mantilla played the vivacious Miss Quentin with fire and verve, tormenting Jason, brought to life by Steve Salt. Salt brought a huge amount of energy to his characters, including a dynamic and animalistic portrayal of Jason, the embezzling brother. James Broadly created a great contrast to this in the calm and assured Quentin, played with a quiet strength. Grace Melhuish created a fantastic character in Mother, a southern belle far past her time. Her portrayal created a depth to the chaos of the family, helped along by the suburb performance from Dennis Sofian, who played Father. He also created some fantastic moments accompanying the action on his violin.

The stand out performances came from Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo (playing Matriarchal housekeeper Dalsey), and Bolaji Alakija (who played Roskus and TP). Both performers gave mature and resonant performances. They brought the play’s most powerful, human moments – a simple tut, the bandaging of a husband’s hand, all creating the feeling that Faulkner wrote into the novel; that “they endured.”

I should comment that the staging and lighting was excellent. The warm haze of the Mississippi plantains could be felt from the beginning. As the family fell further and further into disrepute, the staging and lighting became more and more random and off-quilter, upsetting the view for us in the audience and creating a sense of unease and dread. The use of music was fantastic, if at some points superfluous, again, building the world for us to see.

This was a story that is upsettingly poignant for our times. The performance was slick and compelling. I just wish I’d been invited earlier in the run to encourage people to see it.

Instead, here is their Twitter: @ActingCDT. This is a group with huge talent. Follow them and go see them next time.


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Interview with Owen Calvert-Lyons, Artistic Director at the Ovalhouse Theatre


Owen Calvert-Lyons, Head of Theatre and Artist Development at Ovalhouse (credit Ludovic Des Cognets) 11.jpg


Can you tell us about your role as artistic director, and what kind of work that entails? 

I’m the head of theatre, so I program all of the art and artists in the building. We’re a commissioning house, so we commission new works, we commission nine full new productions a year, and we also ‘seed commission’ somewhere between another nine and twelve. So part of my role is about creating new pieces of theatre, working with artists and identifying artists who have new stories to tell, creating co-productions, almost all of our productions are made as co-productions with another organisation, so I also help build all those relationships and find the right partners for every project.

We also bring some work in that already exists, so there’s a programming role about finding work that I think suitable for our audiences. Ovalhouse acts as a conduit between London and the regions so there’s a huge amount of great work that is made in London and never reaches beyond the M25, so we’re very keen to ensure that lots of the work we present goes out and reaches the rest of the country. The converse is also true, lots of amazing work made all across England and the United Kingdom doesn’t make it into London, so we also want to ensure that those voices from the rest of the country are heard in London.

And then there’s an artist development role. We have five associate artists, we have an artist training program, and I look after that to make sure our artists have access to the training that they want, and more importantly that they’re a part of a community of artists. As freelancers, as most artists are, it can be very isolating and it can feel like you work alone, rather than feeling that actually you work in a big industry and that London is full of freelancers, so finding ways for them to connect and work together and feel that they’re part of a bigger team is really important, and cultivate that sense that everybody’s on the same side. There can be a really damaging divide that suggests that artists and venues are separate and somehow in competition, rather than actually, we’re all working together, and most of us are, to an extent, paid by the same employer, in that Arts Council England is one of the biggest funders of the arts. They’re our core funder and for lots of our work they’re the core funder as well. So although we’re all working in very different setups, we’re absolutely working for the same goal.


To delve a bit deeper into that programming role, what’s your first step when it comes time to program a new season? 

I guess the starting point is the kind of ethos of our theatre which is about radicalism, politics, and experimentation. All the work we present will adhere to one or all of those facets. We’ll be looking for new voices, we’re very much about supporting artists outside of the mainstream, so sometimes we’re looking at supporting an artist whose voice has never been heard before or sometimes we’re looking to support an artist because we think they’ve got something really important and powerful to say and sometimes those two things coalesce and we’re doing the same thing. Quite often those people who haven’t been listened to before have really powerful things to say, but the reason that an artist is outside of the mainstream doesn’t have to be the reason that they’re making their work, those two things can be separate. A new voice in theatre who wants to say something we’ve heard before is fine, and equally an established artist might want to say something really radical, and we support that too.


I imagine people who are outside of the mainstream, even if they’re dealing with a topic that’s been covered before, will often have a new perspective on that topic.

Absolutely, and that is really what diversity for us is all about, that’s the creative case for diversity: that those voices that aren’t heard might have a very different perspective on the same ideas we’ve seen explored before.


You mentioned before you find it important to create a community of artists. Something you do here at the Ovalhouse that seems to work towards that goal is the First Bites program. Could you tell us about that program, and why you use that structure rather than a traditional scratch? 

For us it’s a program that is working really well at the moment, so it’s something that we want to continue to back. In terms of how it operates, it’s fairly structured, in that we offer one week of rehearsal time, one week in the theatre for technical and performance time, and we anticipate that ending in three nights of public performance  in which an unfinished work is presented to the public for five pounds.

I think one reason it’s successful is that we provide the artists with £500 cash, so there’s a real crucial difference there in terms of putting some actual cash in the hands of artists. Lots of venues, ourselves included, are resource rich and cash poor, and therefore artists can quite often put together a package of support, but what’s missing is the cash match, and then they go to Arts Council and they get turned down because they don’t have that crucial cash match. With £500, that artist can probably get about ten times that in terms of support from a funder like Arts Council. So maybe they’re now looking at getting £5000 pounds to support their research and development, and suddenly they’ve got quite an attractive proposition, they’ve got enough money to pay collaborators for a relatively short period of time, to test some idea.

I think the other reason it’s successful is that it uses a model that’s used a lot outside of theatre, that idea of properly rigorously testing something before it goes to the stage of being made. Scratch is very early-stages and very light-touch, whereas this aims to present something much more developed, something that isn’t finished, but is a good way there, so that everybody, us as producers, the artists themselves, and the audience, can all look at it and say “should we spend money on making this into a full show?” And so for us it really helps to decide where to put our full commissions, things that come out of the back of a really good First Bite, we already know the audience like it, the audience are interested and have questions to ask, we know that we like it, as producers, and think it’s a quality work, that artists feel that the questions in it that are really difficult questions can be ironed out here. It’s still got to go into rehearsal to finish it but the really meaty bits, the really problematic bits can be addressed in a fairly low-risk scenario. So we find it really advantageous for that, fifty percent of our First Bites go on to full commission.

And there’s another facet to it that’s about clarity. I think if you are an artist at the beginning of their career, or you feel like you don’t yet have that kind of experience or support behind you to know which venues to talk to and what support to ask for and how you can get it, there’s something about the clarity of First Bites that make it much easier for a new artist to come and say “I’d like one of those, I can read there that I get £500, a week of rehearsal, a week of performance, that’s what I want. Whereas I think in theatre we can be quite bad about being very vague about things, and artists sometimes, if they know the system and they know those venues, they understand what to ask for, you know how to navigate it. But if you’re a new artist, that is really hard to navigate, and I think this program and its openness allows new artists to come to us, and for us to form new relationships in a low-risk way. That means we’re more able to fulfil that goal of having new voices reaching our audiences.


Are there any common threads in the pieces chosen for this season at the Ovalhouse you’d like to highlight? 

We don’t thematically program, so we don’t set out with a theme in mind, but there often are emergent themes, there are things that we become interested in or where we see a few shows that we think might sit neatly together or might be speaking to one another, which is often really interesting. In this season one of the things that unites a large proportion of the season is that 75 percent of this season’s programming is female-led, and that is something we’re always interested in. The other thread that’s emerged in this season is about gig theatre and music, Medea Electronica feels like you’re in the middle of a gig and has a live electronica band as a part of it, Derailed by Little Soldier is also set up as a gig, it’s got a live band. And after that we’ve got Whatever Happened to Vandal Raptor which is all about punk music. So there’s a definite thread about live music, and I think part of that is our aim to always be playing with the audience experience, in Medea Electronica there are moments where it really feels like you’re in a gig, in Derailed there’s even a moment where one of the audience members is invited up to play one of the instruments as part of the performance, which really kind of turns that idea around.


You’re directing a piece right now, Random Selfies, can you tell us a little bit about what that’s about? 

We’ve been working on that for about year, and it’s part of a three year research project into child loneliness. Which is something we’re really interested in at the moment. In recent years the focus on loneliness has really been around older people, and the assumption is you get lonely when you’re elderly and alone, and the funding has gone to support that. Very little funding has gone to support other parts of the population, even though the problem is much more widespread than people realize. Where it’s having a really disastrous effect is on our children, and really there’s been very little focus on the way in which children can feel lonely, in a way that is not necessarily connected to personal circumstances like living in a rural area, or not having siblings, or not having a loving mum or dad.


What’s so interesting about Random Selfies is that it takes place in a flat in London, which raises the contradiction of being lonely in one of the most populous cities in the world. 

Absolutely, and that fascinated us. It’s written by Mike Kenny, who grew up as an only child in inner-city Leeds, and often felt very lonely as a child in a big city. We’ve worked with local children in and around Kennington, and we’ve gone into schools and we’ve talked to nine, ten and eleven years olds about their experience of loneliness, and that research process has been extraordinary. That’s all happened over the last year. Off the back of that time spent with those children and lots of art therapy workshops Mike went away and wrote the play. We’re going to present it here in March and April and then it goes to the Polka as part of their Techtopia festival, and then it will do a UK tour in the Autumn. One of the challenges we set ourselves was to make it a one-woman show. The other thing we play with is, we’ve got a designer, Rachana Jadhav, and she’s creating an animated set. She’s an illustrator, she draws very beautiful pictures, and that will allow the walls of Loretta’s bedroom to come to life and be a part of that story. So the set becomes the other characters, the set has the ability to take all the things that are going on in Loretta’s mind and present them out to us.


You were appointed here in 2016, and the Ovalhouse has been going through a period of transition in that time. How have things been changing since you got here? 

Well you’re right that Ovalhouse is undergoing enormous change, and that began before my appointment. I would say that change really began in 2015 with the appointment of Stella Kanu, our executive producer. What she set about doing was the beginning of really a five year program of continual change, leading up to the opening of a new building in 2020. One of the things Stella talked about when I arrived was about how uncomfortable change is, and that one of the ways we manage change is we kind of say “oh, it’s okay feeling uncomfortable, because in x amount of time that will change and I’ll feel okay.” But actually five years of change is quite a lot of time, it might be the entire duration of your time at Ovalhouse. So some of it has been about how we manage change, how we learn to be okay with change, how we learn to be okay feeling uncomfortable, and how we make that okay for one another as well. One of those stages was me coming in and changing the whole of the program, which came into effect in January 2017. I brought in quite a lot of change there, a bigger program, a different approach to the work we’d produce. Not long after that we brought into the new participation team, and the next stage is we’re about to bring in a new communication team and a new finance team. So by the end we’ll have almost a completely new team, with some people who’ve been there throughout. Then the next period of change will be the closure of this building, and there’s likely to be a period between the closure of this building and the opening of the new building, and then ultimately all of this is leading to the opening of the new building, but then that will take at least a good year to get used to that new space and all that that brings.

I think one of the other big areas of change is this idea of working off-site. One thing we’ve been really keen on is making work outside of these four walls, which makes us work in a different way, and means that when we move into our new building we won’t see it as an ivory tower. It’ll be a tool at our disposal, but we’ll know that actually there are some things that you can create outside that you can’t create inside. We made a piece in a chapel last summer, this summer we’re likely to make another piece offsite, and once this building closes we’ll make significantly more work off-site.


Outside of Ovalhouse shows, is there a piece of art you’ve experienced recently that’s inspired you?

I saw Tim Cowbury’s The Claim at Shoreditch Town Hall and Benin City’s Last Night in an underground bar in Hackney – both were excellent!


Check out what’s on this season at the Ovalhouse