The pandemic has meant many things to arts organisations across the country.
Clearly, at the top of the list, is the fight for survival brought about by a long period of closure and the ongoing inability to accurately forecast a full reopening.
At the same time it has revealed the astonishing generosity of theatre audiences around the country, waiving their right to a refund for cancelled shows and making personal donations to keep their treasured venues alive.
However, the pandemic has not simply reduced arts organisations to inactivity and a period of waiting.
It has also led many to experiment with new forms of entertainment, with archive streaming and live broadcasting, and in some cases to move away from the visual to explore audio drama.
One such company is Roughhouse Theatre, a regular at Greenwich Theatre and last seen here with sporting dramas Getting The Third Degree and The Long Walk Back.
Rather than waiting for venues to reopen, the company has just released Dougie Blaxland’s new audio drama, Unknown.
Written at a time when hundreds of people are dying on the streets every year, with many never even identified, the play follows one young person’s journey from an abusive childhood to a life of homelessness on the streets of Bath – one of the most affluent cities in the UK.
Commissioned by The Big Issue, which offers homeless and vulnerably housed people across the UK a means by which to earn a legitimate income, Mr Blaxland wrote Unknown with the assistance of Chris Taylor of The Big Issue in Bath and six people based in the area who have recent experience of homelessness: – Sammy Clark, Nathan Dempster, Ian Duff, Paul Jones, Lloyd Rusdale and Anthony Williams.
The drama launched in Bath last week and is now being broadcast across the UK by radio and theatre outlets – and we are proud to be participating alongside The Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Salford Arts, Theatre Royal Bath and South Street Studio Reading in offering the play via the Greenwich Theatre website for free.
Another company dabbling in audio drama is Tessa Bide Productions, which is offering a very different prospect – a family choose-your-own-adventure style play called The Anarchist’s Mobile Library, in which children can select from a list of six settings (a witch’s cottage, outer space etc) and act along with the audio, making decisions along the way and influencing the way the story progresses.
Available on October 30 and November 1, and accessible via an online ticket which can be booked in advance (usable throughout the two-day period and for unlimited streams – so why not try all six locations?), the show promises a unique way to celebrate half-term in theatrical style from home.
Now that venues are beginning to slowly reopen, audiences and performers are all going to want to get back to normal, coming together to enjoy live theatre as they did before the pandemic, but there is every chance that the industry could emerge even richer with a range of new media all integrated into the way that some of the most pioneering companies think about theatre.
Pictured top: The company of Unknown are finding new ways to present theatre
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