One of the most influential voices in the support of new theatre makers is Lyn Garnder, theatre critic at The Guardian for 23 years and now a columnist for The Stage. Gardner has championed the work of emerging theatre companies for years, travelling the country to see their shows and giving new artists the kind of exposure necessary to compete in a crowded industry. She has helped companies and individuals to succeed and flourish who could otherwise have seen their work disappear without trace, and who may even have left the industry as a result.
Gardner’s commitment to the newest theatre makers in the country shows no sign of waning, and in her column for The Stage Newspaper last week she called upon theatres around the country to increase their support for new touring theatre companies. Producers, she suggested, head to the Edinburgh Fringe and spend a few weeks immersed in new work, but then become complacent for the rest of the year and miss out on the companies who do not make it to the Fringe.
“Of course, it feels easier to come to Edinburgh where it’s laid on a plate for you” she writes, “but the work that makes it to Edinburgh is only the tip of an iceberg of exciting work being made around the country.”
I could not agree more. I love the Edinburgh Fringe. It is where I find many of the companies who I subsequently bring to Greenwich or choose to support – but it is not the only place to find new companies trying out new ideas and making new shows.
In 2014 I went to the Old Fire Station in Oxford at the invitation of Flintlock Theatre, a relatively young company who had invited me to see their madcap new adaptation of Don Quixote. The show was fantastic, the company were full of promise, and as a result I invited them first to bring the show to Greenwich, and now to return this season to launch a new national tour of their version of Ibsen’s The Enemy Of The People.
“In the play, a life-threatening public health crisis is covered up despite the cold hard data that proves it’s real, and the whistle-blower is branded ‘an enemy of the people’ and hounded out of town” explained Flintlock’s co-artistic director Anna Glynn. “Ibsen seems to have anticipated the contemporary climate of Brexit, Trump, climate change denial, fake news and social media bubbles. The parallels to the events of recent times are startling.”
Given the mention of Trump, it is surely unsurprising that the use and the power of social media is covered in Flintlock’s adaptation. “It wasn’t part of Ibsen’s world” continued Glynn, “although a battle for the attention of the traditional media is central to the power struggles at the heart of the play. It felt important to involve the technology that, for better or worse, is shaping our lives.”
Flintlock Theatre is a strong example of the quality of new theatre being made around the country, and it is essential, argues Gardner, that despite funding challenges, venues and producers commit to supporting companies like them.
“There is no point in [venues] scrabbling to ensure their own survival if they are not actively involved in helping to birth the future.”
In our work with Flintlock, and companies like them, we are striving to do just that.
James Haddrell is the artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre