Theatres that made us: 'We felt giddy seeing our poster up!'

Chloë Moss remembers the joy of shopping for props for Liverpool Playhouse, while Rosie Kay reflects on her love affair with Birmingham Hippodrome

‘A world I didn’t know existed’

Chloë Moss
Chloë Moss. Photograph: Charles Eshelman/Getty Images

Chloë Moss: Landing work experience at Liverpool Playhouse was like being granted access to a world I didn’t know existed. I knew plays happened – I’d just never stopped to consider exactly how. When my mates bemoaned the boredom of their placements (stacking tins of peas in Kwik Save or sorting through a mountain of bras in the stockroom of TJ Hughes) I nodded along and joined in the eye-rolling. I didn’t mention the joy of the rehearsal room and watching actors at work or the pride I felt at being trusted with a wad of cash to go shopping for props or the thrill of sitting in the dress rehearsal, awed by the realisation that I’d played a small part in bringing a play to life. The thought of becoming a playwright was still years away but my short time at the Playhouse opened the door to something I’d not considered possible before – a career in theatre.

‘It takes risks and encourages artists to do so’

Nick Ahad
Nick Ahad. Photograph: PR

Nick Ahad: In 2012 I had two things: my dream job as Yorkshire Post arts editor and an itch – I wanted to write for, not just about, theatre. My first play, Nor Any Drop, had been produced by Peshkar and Red Ladder in 2011, but I needed a next step. Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill was run at the time by the visionary Iain Bloomfield (now by another one, Richard Warburton). I had a four-hour conversation with Iain about what I wanted to write and why, one November afternoon in 2011. The following June, A Muslamic Love Story, the story of a gay Muslim man, was on stage. We received bomb threats on opening night. Theatre in the Mill is a place that takes risks and encourages artists to do the same. It’s incredibly democratic, open and welcoming – at times it looks like a drop-in centre for theatre artists. Even though it sits within the Bradford University campus, the audience is not primarily students, but those interested in theatre made at the edges, far from the mainstream.

Victoria Dyson of Filskit Theatre
A ‘pinch me’ moment … Victoria Dyson of Filskit Theatre Photograph: PR

‘We wouldn’t be here without them’

Victoria Dyson: Countless theatres are dear to us, but Stratford Circus in east London holds a special place in our hearts. It was the first venue to give our fledgling company a fighting chance over 10 years ago. A programmed performance combined with space to develop a future show undoubtedly kick-started Filskit Theatre. We still remember the giddy “pinch me” moment of seeing our show poster up in their window. This initial investment enabled us to improve our creative practice, build networks and hone our craft. Their continued support has seen them programme seven Filskit family shows, supporting six shows in development, through space, guidance and workshops. Their strong links with the local community and reputation for valuing high quality work for families make them special. We were welcomed into that family with open arms. This is our love letter to say thank you, Stratford Circus. We wouldn’t be here without you.

  • Victoria Dyson is co-artistic director of Filskit Theatre, who specialise in making work for young audiences. Their digital projects and rescheduled tour dates will be announced shortly. Read more about Stratford Circus.

‘The history seeps up through the boards’

Rosie Kay.
Rosie Kay. Photograph: Ian Wallman

Rosie Kay: I arrived in Birmingham in 2003, with nothing more than a suitcase, and fell in love with Birmingham Hippodrome. It has been my life since, and staged my work from Asylum and The Wild Party to 5 Soldiers and Fantasia. Last year, the Hippodrome commissioned the large-scale show 10 Soldiers, and one incredible moment was seeing 120 volunteer dancers perform to the Last Post on all the foyer levels of the theatre. It was a powerful moment of how the arts can connect across borders.

The theatre and studios are a maze – it’s about three buildings joined together. Only those who live and work there know how to get into the Green Room cafe! The main stage is unlike any other; its history and character seep up through the boards. And it seems to reinvent itself time and again, always modern, relevant and accepting. I miss everyone at the Hippodrome. I feel like I’ve grown up there and these people are my family.

Dundee Rep.
‘Glorious dream’ … Dundee Rep. Photograph: Joanna Vanderham

‘Sweating, dancing, spitting, feeling!’

Joanna Vanderham
Joanna Vanderham Photograph: PR

Joanna Vanderham: At high school, the theatre already loomed large in my life. Dundee Rep in particular felt like it was beckoning, the lights in the cement outside the building calling me. Having seen the company perform a range of plays, the actors were already familiar to me; from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Peer Gynt to Doctor Faustus, I was transported. The painted faces and transformations and feathers and hooves and words and sounds and doorways that led to other worlds and living, breathing, sweating, dancing, spitting, feeling human beings! Right there in front of me! I knew I needed to be up there, too. My die was cast. While training at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I wrote to Dundee Rep member Irene MacDougall, and she replied. She was modest and inspiring. Now, from the other side, I can tell you, treading the boards is just as glorious as I dreamed.

  • Joanna Vanderham will next be seen in the independent feature Eddie & Sunny. Read more about Dundee Rep.

‘There was nowhere to hide’

James Brining.
James Brining. Photograph: Phil Woodhead

James Brining: I worked at the Orange Tree, in Richmond, for only two years, but it was hugely influential. I was 25 when I became community director, having run a small-scale touring company in the south of England. The Orange Tree’s founding artistic director was Sam Walters. Idiosyncratic and hugely passionate about theatre in the round, he spoke with zeal about the purity of the empty space, about the essence of theatre that needed only one actor and someone else watching; the actor at the centre of the process. Whether it was in the beautiful purpose-built theatre or the original room above the Orange Tree pub, where shows were performed in daylight with little or no decor, every production was performed in the round. This approach was also applied to the schools tours where the exposure of the actor to that honest audience of young people gave a raw immediacy to the work. It felt democratic and thrilling; there was nowhere to hide. I left with the conviction that the real power of theatre lies in human relationships, whether that’s the interaction between actor and audience or the creative process through which great friendships are forged.


Compiled by Chris Wiegand

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