"I got involved because I get very excited by new forms of theatre, not Noël Coward - by cutting-edge theatre from new artists, whose work is just out of the cellophane," says Neil Darlison, events director at Warwick Arts Centre and executive producer of This Way Up. He, along with his colla- borators, is trying to reinvent the idea of "theatre on tour" - by giving back to the regions the artists who migrated from them in the first place. Five regional venues are participating in the initiative, taking and showing work that has been developed at Battersea Arts Centre in south London.
"Until a few years ago, pioneering new shows that ran at BAC would have been put on the ladder of development and then perhaps disappeared," says Darlison. "Poverty and the slog would have proved too much for them, they did not have the infrastructure or funding to tour, and so they would not be realised outside London." His hope is that new theatre companies - especially artists who are challenging conventional forms of theatre and rewriting the theatrical language - will have a better chance to reach a wider audience.
BAC has been a rich source of new creative talent ever since Tom Morris, its former artistic director, started its scratch development programme in 1999. The scheme allowed new theatre companies to show works in progress at BAC, and so gain the audience feedback so crucial for development.
One work which benefited from this process was Jerry Springer - The Opera. "Jerry Springer first began 'scratching' this way at BAC towards the end of 2000," says Darlison, who is now plundering Morris's portfolio of work and whisking new talent off around the country. "Fringe theatre happening today can be tomorrow's mainstream," he adds.
In 2003 four fledgling theatre companies toured the regions, and this year This Way Up will tour five groups who have been developing their talents at BAC. They will be performing at Warwick Arts Centre, the Royal Exchange in Manchester, Norden Farm, Maidenhead, The Tron in Glasgow and Ustinov Studio, in Bath.
The new programme includes, for the first time, a show for children: Blind Summit Theatre utilise drawing and music in The Spaceman, a play featuring two pieces of chalk about the realisation of dreams. Other pieces include Francesca Beard's Chinese Whispers, an hour of performance poetry, and I Am Thicker Than Water, a one-man comedy drama about families and gambling, performed by Simon Farnaby and directed by Paul King.
The Sharp Wire company, comprised of the guitarist and composer Pete Wyer, and the cellist, opera singer and actor Matthew Sharp, will perform Adam's Apple - a cycle of intimate songs in which voice, cello, guitar, and physicality blend. In the Beginning, meanwhile, is a chaotic comedy about the force of sibling rivalry from the theatre company Trio Con Brio.
'This Way Up 2004' tours until 3 April. It starts at Warwick Arts Centre (23-25 February; 02476 524524). For the full tour schedule, see www.thiswayuptour.co.ukReuse content