This is a question I often ask myself in my capacity as Artistic Director of a regional theatre company. To put this into context, when I graduated from drama school in 2013, I wanted to establish a company that made bold and exciting new work, with a specific focus on the quality of the writing and performances. I didn’t care where that was. All I cared about was making work that was immediate and vital. Having grown up near Brighton, I thought it was the most obvious place to start. As a city Brighton is always vibrant, dynamic and diverse. So I left London, moved back to Sussex and established Broken Silence Theatre.
The initial plan was to stage work exclusively in Brighton, alongside local theatre makers and actors, and to entice the wider industry down to Brighton (after all it’s only an hour’s train journey from London, right?). We did well, even exceeding expectations - our first show sold out at Brighton Fringe and received some glowing reviews. Then the Fringe ended, the fanfare died down, and we were confronted with the reality of producing work on a regional level year round. What opportunities were left in the 11 months following May? To give you the simplistic and slightly reductive answer: not many. If you discount the excellent community theatre scene, and the big commercial juggernauts such as the Theatre Royal, you come slightly unstuck. We had a show we wanted to stage again, but if not in Brighton, then where?
The most obvious answer was London, where we found people were very receptive. They wanted to know about us. They wanted to know about our work. The fringe scene in London gave us the perfect platform. Fast forward a few years and we’ve found the pub theatres in London to be particularly supportive, presenting us with a natural stepping stone from Brighton to the capital. In fact, aside from site-specific shows, our entire London output has been in collaboration with pub theatres (in the past/next 6 months we have or will be working with the King’s Head, the Old Red Lion and the Jack Studio Theatre). It might not be right for every regional company (especially those further afield) but right now it’s right for us. Without presenting work in London, I’m not sure the company would’ve grown to where we are today, premiering 4 full-length productions in 2017.
Of course we crave having the same set-up in Brighton, where we’re still based, but in recent years the city has sadly lost its closest equivalents (88 London Road, the Nightingale). Increasingly, it seems, theatre is viewed as a luxury, rather than as a necessity in a healthy and culturally diverse society. So we bring work to London in order to get industry attention. We bring work to London to get those precious reviews. Above all, we bring work to London, because otherwise, we fear it might never be seen.
Tim Cook is Artistic Director of Broken Silence Theatre and a playwright. His latest play Tremors runs at the King’s Head Theatre from 25 June - 3 July.
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