FEATURE: The Future of Theatre Through Brighton Eyes

Brian Butler July 19, 2020

There’s still  vagueness and mixed messages, but the Government’s announcement that theatres can maybe re-open next month has been welcomed by three Brighton theatre professionals who gave me their views on where the theatre is headed.

Double Olivier Award winner, choreographer and director Stephen Mear was devastated when the musical City of Angels was caught during previews by the lockdown. I reviewed the show for Gscene and I’m sure it would have been a terrific success.

“Producer Nica Burns is desperate we get its back with a top-class cast like we had,” he told me. Stephen- always in great demand internationally- does have some great productions pencilled in post lockdown. Mary Poppins, which he co-choreographed with Matthew Bourne, , is slated to return to the West End early next year. He was due to direct and choreograph 42nd Street in Chicago but this has been rescheduled for 2022.

He will be in the Windy City, fingers crossed , to choreograph Singin’ In The Rain next year. Closer at hand, he’s just heard that he will be directing and choreographing 42nd Street at the wonderful Le Chatelet Theatre in Paris, with rehearsals from October and an opening in November. And he’s also got a concert to direct and choreograph in the pipeline.

Many think bigger venues will bounce back first but Stephen told me “ I think smaller venues will be ok- smaller audiences will be safer than bigger ones. I also pray to God that panto can go ahead. It’s childrens’ first theatrical experience, and one they always remember and it gets many more people into the theatre. “

Stephen has kept himself busy with online podcasts and question and answer sessions with theatre students at among other places Arts Educational and Brighton Academy. “ It’s the lack of physicality I find difficult , not moving dancers about – its been driving me bat-shit crazy” he confesses with a smile.

One bright light is that as every performer has been resting, he’s confident of the best ensemble he could possibly hope to get “ everyone just wants to get back to work,” he said. “ I do see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Carole Todd, Brighton-based director and choreographer shares many of Stephen’s views. She’s best known for both UK and international tours of big shows but has two small-scale productions hit by the lockdown – Naked Boys Singing at the King’s Head in Islington and a Julie Birchall show Hard Times On Easy Street, which was slated for the Brighton Fringe.

“The future for West End and big touring shows is in jeopardy still, but it’s great that shows may be able to open from August under restrictions. The big guys like Cameron  Macintosh and Lloyd Webber will find a way, I’m sure. Theatres need certainty and so do audiences and it takes time to prepare a production – I’m not sure this is completely understood !”

Carole thinks there has been good work produced in isolation on Zoom and other platforms but “ True theatre is a meeting of the creative team and the audience. It needs human interaction.We can’t do it surrounded by empty seats.”

“We need panto to happen in December so that a new young audience can experience theatre for the first time.

Some good news for Carole while talking to me – it looks hopeful that her next venture will be to choreograph Sheridan Smith in a show about Cilla Black – first at the Liverpool Empire, then on tour and maybe the West End. “ we’re waiting in the wings and let’s hope we get back in the spotlight soon.”

Andrew Kay, best known for his appearances on  Latest TV, has kept himself busy in lockdown watching streamed theatre and opera – particularly Glyndebourne and the National Theatre. But as well as reviewing shows in Brighton and nearby, touring shows and those in London, Andrew is a playwright.

“My new play is sadly on hold. The lockdown has given me time to do plenty of tweaking ,  which is never a bad thing’” he told me.  “ Afternoon Delight is a companion piece to Morning Glory , which Jason Sutton did so well last year at the Edinburgh Fringe . The man gave the piece real soul. The new play looks again  at ageism on the gay scene, but from a different angle. I’m delighted that local actor Jack Lynn is potentially  going to do it . He too is a great local talent.”

Andrew continues to work with Latest including developing projects with LGBTQ+ young adults. “ I’ve made one tv series with them and we have 3 more amazing projects on hold. I’m constantly amazed by the strength and talent of these young people,” he said.

For the immediate future he’s optimistic but says: “ I think we’ll get much leaner productions- lots of one-person work, perhaps. My hope is for new work for a new era in the theatre “

Final words go to  impresario Nica Burns and City of Angels Director Josie Rourke. Nica said recently: “ We are amazing survivors,” and Josie added : “ Hope and money is all we need.”