James Haddrell on the importance of supporting theatre

James Haddrell is the artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

At Greenwich Theatre we have spent the past 12 years building a reputation as one of the country’s most fervent supporters of new work.

Every year we support a wide range of emerging theatre companies with anything from subsidised rehearsal space and fundraising advice to help with tour booking and company mentoring.

If you come to the theatre this week you will see Lord Of The Flies produced by Lazarus Theatre Company, a company which spent a decade producing work at some of London’s smallest fringe theatres but which is now halfway through a three-year project with us to grow its company to the mid-scale, preparing it for a future on the national touring circuit.

Hugh Barnett in One Georgie Orwell. (Main pic: Alex Mugnaioni in One Georgie Orwell)

Later in the season, studio audiences can see emerging company Fledgling Theatre present Neck Or Nothing. This new show tells the story of Jens who, after experiencing a traumatising near death encounter with a grizzly bear in his youth, spends his entire life creating a suit that will enable him to come face-to-face with his greatest fear. For this show, we have partnered with The Pleasance in north London to support the company in securing funding. A similar partnership approach with Square Chapel in Halifax led to the funding and development for storyteller Debs Newbold’s new show, Outrageous Fortune, which retells Hamlet’s story from the perspective of his bereaved mother, Gertrude, and comes to Greenwich in May this year.

However, whilst we spend so much of our time encouraging audiences to celebrate what’s happening right now, we rarely have time to take a step back and look at the legacy created by this work – that is, until something happens to remind us that supporting theatre at the grass roots can have long-term results.

Twelve years ago I was giving an interview to a local journalist, Peter Cordwell, about my new role as director of Greenwich Theatre. After the usual course of the interview was finished, Peter told me that he’d long believed that theatre could offer a great way to celebrate the work of one of his idols, George Orwell.

Debs Newbold in Outrageous Fortune

Peter had an idea to merge Orwell’s own words with a newly written narration and a set of original songs. At that stage we could not even land on a word to describe the show that might emerge – certainly not a play or a musical – but after a period of development the finished work, One Georgie Orwell, written with songwriter Carl Picton and ultimately dubbed a theatrical cabaret, debuted on stage here in Greenwich before transferring to New York.

This May, a new emerging company – Creative Vortex, made up of graduates from Goldsmiths – is set to revive the piece and present an excerpt at this year’s Orwell Symposium at Goldsmiths before bringing the show back home to Greenwich Theatre.

A decade after it was first developed, the work of one emerging artist has now become part of the journey of a new company, who will no doubt pass their own work on to future generations. Similarly, over 10 years ago I met a young writer/director who had an idea to launch a new company celebrating classic poetry.

I invited them to do just that, with support from Greenwich Theatre, and now 10 years later the resulting company, Live Canon, perform classic poetry at theatres and festivals around the country, run an annual poetry competition for local, national and international writers, publish an annual anthology of new poetry, run a parallel poetry competition for children and tour a children’s Poetry Party.

This month we are embarking on a new phase of discussions about the next stage in the company’s development with full-scale theatre and even a festival on the cards.

The financial climate for theatre is incredibly difficult at the moment, particularly on the mid-scale and the national touring circuit – we have experienced drastic reductions in funding over the past 10 years – but with the kind of impact of artist support demonstrated by One Georgie Orwell and Live Canon, impacting on both the work of an individual and on the cultural landscape of this country, the case for continuing to fight for these new voices is clear.

One thought on “James Haddrell on the importance of supporting theatre

  • 2nd April 2019 at 11:15 am
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    It must be said that local singer-songwriter Carl Picton was the real talent behind One Georgie Orwell. I’ve often thought that if he’d been around in the Sixties he would have been some sort of star with his great talent. He taught me “syllables not words, Pete” and turned my clumsy “lyrics” into eight terrific songs (imo). He’s given his blessing to the young theatre company taking over the show and says they should put their own mark on it.
    As for the amazing support Greenwich Theatre gives to emerging companies and writers’ new work, it’s a pity that James Haddrell and his tiny but dedicated staff doesn’t get anywhere near the same support it deserves locally. As far as he knows, the council’s cabinet member for culture has never visited the theatre and the next visit by 90 per cent of councillors will be their first.

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