James Haddrell looks into what makes something theatre

If there is one thing that the pandemic has made us challenge in the theatre industry, it’s the nature of theatre.

What makes something theatre?

A year ago the answer would inevitably have been something to do with a group of people coming together to watch or participate in an event, performed by another person or group of people.

Whether the event is a play, a musical, a pantomime or some kind of immersive show, the audience have to share a space with the performers – otherwise it’s not theatre. It’s television, or film, or something else.

However, theatre-makers have spent more than half a year finding ways to share their work with audiences without being in the same room as them – principally via the internet.

In some cases that has meant recording a performance in a theatre setting and then broadcasting it, much like National Theatre performances presented at the cinema after the live performance has happened.

In others it has meant taking a script and recording it through a system like zoom to then be made accessible later.

Using a theatrical script or making the recording in a theatre venue can help define something as theatre, certainly, but the one thing that is missing in both of these models is the live experience.

Actors performing and audiences receiving that performance at the same time.

Earlier in the year while we were still in full lockdown, Greenwich Theatre issued a call-out for three companies who were looking to transfer their work online in an unusual way, making use of the digital medium but celebrating the theatrical nature of whatever they wanted to make.

One of the companies selected through that process was Lewisham based LAStheatre – and on Sunday 15 November Greenwich Theatre audiences will be able to see what they have been working on.

The company’s new online show, Rascally Dinners, is a unique, interactive adaptation of Jeanne Willis and Korky Paul’s much loved children’s book, Rascally Cake.

Audiences aged 6+ will be sent a simple shopping list in advance so that they can prepare, and then on the day they will be invited to take part in a live cook-along with Rufus Skumskins O’Parsley, star of Rascally Cake, to create hideous meals like bogey burgers and brown rat roast – dressing healthy food up as disgusting dishes that children can be proud of, and culminating in a shared online lunch.

For me, whatever conclusion others in the industry have reached, this is theatre.

The show will certainly be broadcast from the stage of Greenwich Theatre and it will use a theatrical script and be performed by actors, but most importantly it will be live.

The children involved as audience members and participants will be left in no doubt that they are taking part in a live event, interacting with the actors and cooking along with them while they follow the story, and the kitchen calamities on both sides of the camera will all happen in real time.

I think that if anyone is looking for an example of how to make theatre in a distanced age, they could do a lot worse than checking out this new endeavour by LAStheatre.


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