In late December last year the playwright David Hare wrote an extended article for The Guardian offering his thoughts about what his vision for a perfect playhouse would be today. It’s a fascinating concept and a really interesting read (you can read it here). Some elements I struggled with and thought were a little naive – “Many theatre organisations are over-full with people who have nothing directly to do with putting on plays” – whereas other elements made my heart swell with appreciation “computers will be centrally shut down at 4.30pm, so everyone can turn their attention to the night’s work”.
It got me thinking about the nature of theatre, particularly the theatre building. What would I want from a theatre? If I got a major lottery win and could start from scratch what would I want? What would be important to me? This blog aims to answer some of that… I’ve used many of David’s headings to focus this article and added a few of my own too..
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The Playhouse (now the given name for any imaginary venue) will be based in a regional city – Liverpool or maybe Leeds – but it won’t be right in the centre. It’ll be within 25 minutes walk (10mins by taxi or 15min by bus) of the centre and will be on the edge of where the suburbs meets the city. It’s important that it’s close to some nice cafes, coffee shops, charity shops and, ideally, an independent DIY shop. I we were being extra needy, it’d back onto a park and be next to a lake (maybe a bit like Sefton Park). It’d be the kind of place where during the day joggers and dog walkers popped into for a coffee and at night people got drunk at before going for a snog in the park.
This would be the easy bit – I have a theatre space that I have been utterly in love with since I first visited – Paines Plough’s Roundabout Theatre would be the main theatre – it would be identical with the only concessions being that a) it’s static and b) we install a set now and again. The space should absolutely be in the round – it’s a better experience for audiences, easier to direct in, makes writers work cleverly, keeps set costs down and is just better. It would however have a secondary space (of course) which would be a black box space similar to Theatr Clwyd’s Emlyn Williams Theatre and the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre – beautifully designed flexible space – used for workshops and for alternative touring work.
The Playhouse season would go from October to May and would have three elements – a produced season in-the-round, visiting small-scale shows and narrative-led comedy shows. The produced work would be mixed, with a different show every month with a maximum cast of 6 (not in rep though, I think people should be cast for parts specifically) – of the 8 plays a year 3 would be new work 4 would be revivals (contemporary classics) and 1 would be one I wrote (why the hell not). You’d expect to see the likes of Ayckbourn, Tim Firth, Godber, Chekhov, Caryl Churchill and never, and I cannot state this enough, never Shakespeare. Anyone dead for over 200 years will not have their work produced. The studio will have companies like Told By An Idiot, Vanishing Point, Les Deux Mondes and Puppet State. There will be a monthly family show, but largely family work will be focused around activities and fun days. The narrative-led comedy will be provided by Mark Watson, Daniel Kitson, Bridget Christie and other award-winning legends.
Every actor in the UK and beyond would be desperate to perform at The Playhouse. Conversations with agents would involve the agent pleading to let their high profile actor perform in the latest show. We will however largely (unless it’s Richard Harrington, Tim Key or Hayley Atwell) ignore their pleas. This will be a theatre for the undiscovered gem, for the new talent or the talent waiting to be discovered. I would, selfishly, choose to work with actors I think are amazing – Simon Hedger, Paul Stonehouse, Paul Osbourne, Susie Freeman, Hellie Cranney, Rosie Sheehy and Jamie Ballard would all be gainfully employed (should the right role appear).
Restaurants & Bars
There would be a single restaurant/bar at The Playhouse. A long bar, rustic and beautiful would have behind it an array of delicious beers, spirits and wines. There would be a coffee machine that produces the perfect crema but, people recognizing that coffee-flavoured foam isn’t as good as people make out would largely drink tea, from a pot. The aesthetic would be homemade, warm and friendly. The food would be hearty portions, big flavoured salads with chunks of carbs added on – meaty lasagna delivered by the chunk. There would be nothing bland and there would be lots of chocolate based deserts. Prices would be cheap – £1 for a cup of tea, £2 for a pint of bitter and £80 for a glass of champagne (to keep that demographic away). Yes, I’ve just described Mello Mello (RIP).
Audience & Community
The Playhouse would work throughout the community, particularly in care homes to ensure that those vulnerable people at the end of life see a kind face regularly. A family Christmas show would be free for schools to attend and during the summer term the theatre would be awash with young people performing onstage and participating in workshops. Every Monday performance would be free to those on Job Seekers Allowance and every ticket for senior managers of a) hedge funds, b) investment banks or c) banks would be £150 each. We would have a polaroid camera permanently available so that people could add their faces to our walls. At night rooms would transform into a homeless shelter. The Wifi would work. Nothing would be too much trouble.