James Haddrell is the artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre.
At this time of year, much of the theatre industry finds itself focused on the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, which sees performers, venue programmers, arts journalists and theatre lovers descending on the Scottish capital for a month of live performance in August. For theatre-makers, the run up to Edinburgh can be very challenging.
Despite the thousands of productions taking place at the festival, companies still have to apply to the venues at which they would like to play, wait for confirmation (which often doesn’t come), then embark on the process of raising the money necessary to cover venue fees, transport, accommodation and food, before they even think about the money needed to complete the show itself.
Often, a show is not even made when the Fringe publicity is signed off, so companies are committing to a 100 word marketing blurb, launching fundraising campaigns, designing posters and writing press releases, all about a show that hasn’t been created.
At Greenwich Theatre, as well as supporting companies as they navigate that tough timeline, we also invite them to try out their shows here.
While more and more companies are trying to remove the risk of the Fringe by taking tried and tested productions, the thrill of being there as an audience member is still found in seeing something new, a young company testing out a new idea or a new story – so what they need more than anything before unveiling their work for festival audiences is a chance to test them in front of audiences and to hear audience feedback.
Therefore this summer will be dominated by new shows on their way to the Fringe, which offers local audiences a real treat. First in the line-up is an early chance to see Wonderbox Theatre’s A Womb Of One’s Own in May.
When pitching the show, writer Claire Rammelkamp told me: “The script is semi-autobiographical, based on my experience of having an abortion, and then everything else was created around that central idea.
“We wanted to make a show that would challenge taboos and provoke discussions about subjects that aren’t spoken about enough.”
Then, performances in July include Canadian writer and performer Gillian English’s 10 Things I Hate About Taming Of The Shrew; Haste Theatre’s Ex Batts And Broilers, a dark physical comedy about two chickens competing to be released from a cage; and Perhaps Contraption’s Nearly Human.
Absolutely capturing the spirit of adventure that lies at the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe, Nearly Human sees a nine-piece brass band turning their collective hands to theatre to explore our existence with amazing theatrical musicality.
Then Greenwich regulars Sharklegs (the company behind studio Christmas shows SnowPocalypse and Knitmas: A Winter Yarn) head into an Amazon-style warehouse for Fulfilment, using puppetry to explore the ramifications on those who have to work there of our next-day delivery obsession.
The new play She Sells Sea Shells, about forgotten female palaeontologist Mary Anning, is premiered by Scandal and Gallows, and Incognito Theatre are back at Greenwich after the astonishing Tobacco Road with The Burning, their new show about the history of witchcraft.
A trip to Edinburgh is incredibly expensive for a young theatre company, so they each need to ensure that their show stands a chance of beating the odds and attracting attention in an over-saturated market – but a trip to the Fringe is also expensive for audiences, so we are delighted this summer to offer our artists a chance to try out their work, and our audiences a taste of Edinburgh without taking the train journey to Scotland.