This Year It Will be Different

The year is starting on the front-foot.

I will be directing ‘The Photographer’ for the the This Year It Will Be Different week-long extravaganza at Theatre 503, working with actors Farshid Rokey and Jethro Skinner.

What is fascinating about the project is that each of the 10 minute pieces that will be performed each evening has been crafted with a non-theatre artist – in my case the Iraqi photographer Hydar Dewachi, who has worked with Lisa Cagnacci on the text.

The theme of the works is on visual storytelling. The ‘The Photographer’ draws together the themes of the dreaded New Year’s Party and the capturing of images that we now can so readily share through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… Although the piece has had a rocky inception, and I am coming to it a little late (longer story that I may allude to in later posts) I think that we can pull off something special, culminating in a taught moment of shared storytelling between performer and audience.

I have a genuine love for Theatre 503, and that isn’t only because some of my favourite people on the fringe work there. One of my earliest pieces, To Close and Kill was first staged at Theatre 503 (or The Latchmere, as it once was). It was the perfect home for this one-man show where ex-paratrooper Sean Mcgrath played a serving British Soldier fighting his way through tours of South Armagh and Iraq. We were aiming to be bold, brave and controversial, and at that moment Theatre 503 felt like exactly the right place to be.

I still get a buzz out of those brittling hard-hitting pieces that for the last two decades have been the mainstay of new-writing on the fringe. At the same time, I feel that this work is now falling out of fashion. The angry young playwrights and spit-and-sawdust venues that could once be found above and behind some of the least appealing pubs in London are finally being usurped it feels by ‘event’ theatre. The post-PunchDrunk generation is coming of age, and they are making different demands of the space.

As ever, the Bush Theatre is a good cultural barometer to follow. With the shift to the new building, and the formidable Madani Younis in charge, my sense is that our understanding of the ‘new writing venue’ is beginning to change. It was interesting that Non Zero One  were asked to bid farewell to the old Bush theatre, and gave a strong indication of the future work we will expect to see in the new space.

It is therefore an interesting time to be directing a new text at Theatre 503. I am intrigued to see how they respond to the way in which the new-writing landscape seems to be changing. Watch that space, as they say.

Roland Smith and Sean McGrath after a performance of To Close and Kill at The Latchmere (before it became Theatre 503)