Fringe Theatre: Why fans shouldn’t forget the ‘little guys’
I love the West End. The creative spirit of our theatre industry can be found in every theatre and is apparent in every production housed within, which is why I, along with millions of other theatre fans, return there time and again. I have seen countless plays and musicals there over the years and it’s a place I will never tire of visiting. Saying that though, the London theatre scene is so much bigger than just the West End and it’s important not to forget about the ‘little guys’. The big-budget shows with their star performers which are given residence in the huge venues of ‘Theatreland’ naturally attract the biggest audiences, but not every show can be so fortunate.
The biggest and loudest voices in the room tend to get the most attention, but does that necessarily mean they are the ones which should be listened to over others? It’s hard to compete with the giants of the West End, but high quality entertainment doesn’t have to have money, well-known names or a big stage behind it to make it worth seeing. These things are undoubtedly beneficial and desirable, but the point is that there is always a vast selection of Off-West End productions running which can offer an audience an alternative theatrical experience that is as memorable and worthwhile as any West End show.
Fringe theatre is theatre on a smaller scale, but the old saying that ‘good things come in small packages’ most certainly applies here. I’ve visited many theatre venues outside of the West End and often been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found there in return. I think one of my first fringe theatre trips was to the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, having been invited along to a new play which had a short run there. Co-produced by SimG Productions and directed by the company’s founder Simon Greiff, the 90-minute play had a cast of just three which included the playwright and was only able to actually be staged thanks to donations received through the crowd funding site WeFund.com. It was a great little piece of work which was both dark and humorous…and which I would probably never have even known about, let alone gone to see, if I hadn’t had my attention drawn to it. Therein lies the problem.
There are certain fringe venues in London which have a reputation for staging work of a very high standard and are well-known because of it: the Southwark Playhouse, Menier Chocolate Factory, Union Theatre, St James Theatre, Upstairs at The Gatehouse are a few such examples. There are many others though of which theatre fans are not so aware of, and as such, work which should be seen can sometimes be missed.
Theatre is everywhere in London, and you can find it in the most random of places. For instance, I was at a hair salon in West London just last week to be a hair model along with my sister. In conversation with the guy who was being trained as a colourist, it came up that he moonlighted as an actor and was soon to be appearing in a small fringe theatre production at Theatro Technis.
Theatro Technis is an intimate venue based in the heart of Camden, on Crowndale Road. It was founded in 1957 by Cypriot actor, director and writer George Eugeniou, who still leads the company as artistic director in Theatro Technis’ 57th year. Aiming to break the barriers between nationalities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, classes, ages and languages, Theatro Technis has been producing ‘radical and total’ theatre for over half a century and staged some excellent productions in that time. Past work staged there has ranged from plays and musicals to Shakespeare and youth theatre: recent productions include familiar titles such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Miss Julie, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Little Shop of Horrors and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Edward Cima, my lovely hair colourist for the day, is performing in one of the theatre’s upcoming productions, The Basement Window. This adaption of Spanish playwright Antonia Buero Vallejo’s 1967 play is being directed by Daniel Fais, who also produces the show in collaboration with Theatro Technis. The synopsis reads: ‘Researchers of a distant future study certain events and attitudes of the twentieth century as an exercise in ethics. The events presented by the researchers focus on the problematic relationship between two very different brothers (Vicente and Mario) who both try to help their parents to overcome the financial and emotional hardships caused by the Spanish Civil war.
However, in doing so they always avoided addressing the crucial event which made their father lose his mind and subsequently retreat into a fantasy world which consists mainly of cutting out people from postcards and magazines, as well as observing passers-by through the window of their basement flat. As the tensions between the brothers grow and the condition of their father worsens, Mario and Vicente understand that they finally have to face the family tragedy which they both could not forget in all those years and which is about to destroy their family forever.’
It’s a heavy piece of theatre which explores the themes of love, death, guilt and redemption. In the cast of nine, Edward Cima features as one of the main characters, Mario, opposite Emmanuel Koutsis as his brother Vicente. The rest of the cast includes Rachel Dobell (The Mother), Julian Lamoral-Roberts (The Father), Francesca de Sica (Encarna), Rachael Cunliffe (She -Researcher), Charlie Dupre (He – Researcher), Ruby Padwick (The Prostitute) and Daniel Garber (The Waiter). The Basement Window runs at Theatro Technis from 10th-15th June 2014.
Buero Vallejo is considered one of the most important Spanish playwrights of his time and The Basement Window is one of many plays he created. He won numerous theatre awards for his work, including three National Theatre Prizes, the National Literacy Prize and the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, which is Spain’s highest literary honour. One of the plays of this renowned playwright is being staged in London… and it is doubtful that many people are even award of the fact.
Theatro Technis is not a commercialised or subsidised company and relies solely on public donations to keep going, which is why it is such a testament to the high quality of the work it produces that it recently celebrated its 57th anniversary. Yet realistically, an independent theatre of this size cannot hope to compete with the West End theatres, or indeed, even the more notorious fringe venues, and I find it such a shame that good work is going largely unnoticed because of this.
The West End is full of amazing plays and musicals, as are the theatres like Southwark Playhouse and the Menier Chocolate Factory. One of the biggest joys of the theatre though is the discovery of something new. Creativity is not limited to those with the means to reach a wide audience, and small theatres such as Theatro Technis can also offer audiences the excitement, joy and fulfilment that every theatre fan seeks from a show. There is so much theatre to be discovered in London and so many memorable and unique experiences just waiting for their audiences… which is why I call for you to go and see The Basement Window at Theatro Technis if you can. It may just be your doorway to a whole new and wonderful world of theatre.
By Julie Robinson @missjulie25
Tuesday 3rd June 2014