James Haddrell on the need for theatregoers’ feedback

Artistic & Executive Director of Greenwich Theatre

In theatre we don’t always get it right first time. Just as a novelist invites a publisher or a small group of readers to give feedback on an early draft in order to make sure that their work achieves what they want, or a film distributor holds a series of closed test screenings to see what audiences make of their film, theatre companies need to test shows with live audiences.

James Haddrell, Greenwich Theatre

What we find hilarious or deeply moving in the rehearsal room might not translate to the stage, so we need to try out our work.

It is common, therefore, for us to show work-in-progress performances of new plays, so that audiences can offer feedback on where we’ve got to so far.

This season at Greenwich Theatre Sharp Teeth Theatre will do just that when it unveils a first glimpse of Polly: The Heart Break Opera – a reimagined version of John Gay’s sequel to The Beggar’s Opera.

I saw 10 minutes of this show in development when it was shortlisted for this year’s Les Enfants Terribles Edinburgh award, and I immediately invited the company to show a full-length version in Greenwich.

A musical that isn’t quite a musical, the 10 minutes that I saw were viciously satirical and incredibly funny, so I’ll be taking my seat with the rest of the audience when the company reveal more of the show at Greenwich Theatre in July.

Polly: the Heart Break Opera

With the show still in development, the team will be looking for feedback so that they can continue to hone the production before finally touring next year, so this is an exciting opportunity for audiences to catch an early glimpse of what could be one of the biggest shows of next year.

Meanwhile, over at Bathway Theatre in Woolwich, the same thing is happening on June 13 when Dead Rabbits Theatre Company presents a first showing of their new production – Some Light Entertainment In These Troubled Times.

The show is presented for free as part of the venue’s What About Us programme, supported by the Drama Programme and the Applied Sociology Research Group, and is funded by Arts Council England.

Set in the shadow of the rise of fascism and with more than a hint of Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret, it promises to uncover a story of people swept up by the tornado of war, people who are exotic and different, full of glitter and tears.

Polly: the Heart Break Opera

On rare occasions, a theatre company can take the view that even the best received show is not working in the way that they had hoped.

Sirens, winner of the Three Weeks Editors’ Award in Edinburgh last year and presented by ZooCo, is just such a show, and having played at Greenwich Theatre in 2018 it now returns in a new version this summer.

“The previous show was sort of a product of its circumstance and, although successful in some elements, we felt that our concept wasn’t explored as wholly and as in depth as it could be,” ZooCo’s creative producer Rosalind Hoy said.

“This time we’ve expanded the team, brought on board the brilliant Offie-nominated writer Alex Howarth and changed the projection aesthetic.”

One of the reasons that people often cite for a love of theatre is that it can change every night. If you watch a film two nights in a row then nothing will change, but with theatre the very nature of live performance means that no matter how drilled the cast are, nuances will evolve and performances will change.

That process of change is essential to theatre. For theatre makers, testing what does and doesn’t work is crucial to make the very best possible show. For audiences, seeing a show at a moment of evolution can be an unique experience.

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