In July 2012, to coincide with the opening of Bush Bazaar at the Bush Theatre, Jessica Brewster and I were interviewed for The Metro by Claire Allfree.
Claire’s dictaphone was on the blink, Jessica had thought we were meeting at 35MHS, so was late, and we both were unimpressed with the final photograph. All that aside, it turned out to be a nice article, and probably the piece of coverage that had the most impact of any press we had done to date.
The original on-line version can be found on the Metro website.
Theatre Delicatessen: A new way to pay for a play
Do you think West End show tickets are too expensive? Theatre Delicatessen lets you decide the price you want to pay.
How much is a piece of theatre worth? Do you resent paying £50 to get a decent seat for Posh in the West End? Does it feel OK to pay £18 to see The Dark Knight Rises at an Imax cinema but not so OK to pay £32.50 to see Brian Friel at London’s Donmar Warehouse? Would you see more theatre if it cost less money?
Well, next week you get the chance to control how much you pay when Theatre Delicatessen takes over every crevice of London’s Bush Theatre.
More than 20 small companies, under the aegis of Roland Smith and Jessica Brewster, will set out their wares in the building’s various corners, stairwells, even the loos – and will be trying to persuade you, the audience, to part with your cash.
After paying a £7 flat entry fee, you then can haggle a price for the shows you want to see. Smith hopes some people will even bring objects to offer in exchange.
‘It struck us during last summer’s riots how the looters would rampage through Carphone Warehouse and JD Sports but leave Waterstone’s untouched,’ he says as we walk through the back corridors of the Bush, already swarming with companies transforming spaces. ‘For lots of people, trainers have more value than books. We wanted to explore the idea of how much things are worth.’
Theatre Delicatessen is better versed in the language of hard cash than your average otherworldly theatre type. Set up in 2007, the company has pioneered an effective business model by doing deals directly with property developers on buildings awaiting redevelopment. It negotiates a peppercorn rent and, because it’s a charity, the developer makes an 80 per cent saving in business rates.
Brewster defends the fact that local councils thus lose money by arguing that at least this way buildings don’t stand empty.
So far, it has staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream in an office block and is currently holed up in the former BBC London building on Marylebone High Street, where this summer it produced a Falklands-inspired Henry V.
The use of temporary spaces perfectly suits Smith and Brewster’s mix of entrepreneurial spirit and carnivalesque approach. They were among the first to embrace pop-up culture and it also allows them to take on a curatorial role. At Marylebone, other companies are also staging work, while Bush Bazaar reprises an experiment they first attempted with Theatre Souk in 2010.
It also chimes with the current anxiety about the value of money, be it in the form of stock markets, financial deals or the price of a pint of milk. Book balancing has always been a charged enterprise in theatre.
‘Even if we sold out every seat of Henry V, for example, we wouldn’t cover our costs,’ admits Smith (both he and Brewster have unsalaried posts). Yet Bush Bazaar also feeds into a larger conversation the company has been exploring about wealth distribution ever since it first started dealing with the City.
‘It’s an eye-opening world,’ says Brewster. ‘A very small percentage of people seem to own everything. There are huge amounts of money floating around. Most of it gets spent on yachts and prostitutes.’
Directing some of this cash away from the private sector through mutually beneficial partnerships can enable smaller companies to flourish. Yet Smith and Brewster also believe in – and wish they had more – state funding.
‘If we as a society value our culture as a marker of our success, then we as a society have to look at how we fund it,’ argues Smith.
They don’t spend their entire time thinking about money, though. Brewster constantly references festival culture as a key inspiration.
‘Be it Shakespeare or Harry Potter, making up stories as you go along feels like a very British thing,’ she says. ‘We want Bush Bazaar to evoke the sense of freedom in every direction.’ As long as you pay for it, of course.
Bush Bazaar previews tonight until August 18 at London’s Bush Theatre. http://www.bushtheatre.co.uk