Miraculous gig-theatre heads for Greenwich

James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre, speaks to Max Emmerson about No Miracles Here…

The theatre industry is an industry built on storytelling. If you look back to the high drama of ancient Greek theatre, despite all of the murders, family feuds and mythological tales, theatrical performances were basically built around on-stage storytellers, and long speeches told dramatic tales of events that happened off-stage, only seen by the audience in their collective imagination.

In medieval Europe, the style changed and performance was largely limited to the Mystery Plays, performed in the streets by local people to tell tales from the Bible – a far cry from the amphitheatre performances of Ancient Greece, but still driven by the need to tell a story.

Fast-forward to the Renaissance and theatres find a golden age across Europe, mythological stories are revived alongside historical tales, new drama and comedy. There is an explosion in the aspiration to bring action onto the stage in front of the audience, to show them, rather than tell them, what’s happening in any particular story.

Today, if there’s a defining shift in theatrical performance it is probably the recent rise in immersive performance, putting audiences inside the environment and inside the story as it unfolds. Who knows where theatre will go next. However, whatever does come next, it will still have storytelling at its heart. That has never gone away – and sometimes, the story that a writer or a theatre company presents on stage is not quite the one that they set out to tell.

Max Emmerson is the producer of The Letter Room, a theatre company exploring another recent trend in theatre – the rise of gig theatre. The company comes to Greenwich from 14-16 March, but the show they’re bringing, NO MIRACLES HERE, could have been very different.

“Originally the show was going to be called Marrying the Sea and looked very different,” said Max. “We spent three weeks developing this idea and wrote a lot of great music, but after hitting a wall we decided we had to be brave and start from scratch, and that’s when dancing became the central focus.”

The show tells the story of a northern soul dance marathon with the mantra “Don’t let your knees hit the ground!”, and as with the film They Shoots Horses, Don’t They?, if you stop you’re out.

“Dance can bring people together” Max said. “It can make you feel good whether you’re good at it or not! We started exploring American dance marathons during the 1930s, the northern soul all-nighters and endurance dancing as a way of exploring depression. It seemed like a real opportunity to us and it became the heart of the show.”

The result of extended research with the charity Mind, NO MIRACLES HERE follows a young man who has fallen out of love with life as he stumbles into a dance marathon.

“Our aim was to make this show as uplifting, entertaining and rousing as our other shows, regardless of subject matter. And that’s hopefully what you get” he concluded. “Not just a story of struggle and hope, but also 70 minutes of live music and dancing.”

The show may be full of music and dance but at its heart, yet again, is the telling of a story – so as the old saying goes, are you sitting comfortably…?

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