The curtain rises on London's brave new world
Eight of London's theatres are teaming up for the greatest show in town
Monday 14 May 2012
World Stages London is the first time a group of London theatres have worked together.
It may be surprising but it's true. For decades, the taken-for-granted assumption has been that the only way in which the London public theatres can relate to each other is in terms of competition – competition for plays, for actors, for directors – above all for audiences. In fact, with regard to audiences at least, the opposite is true.
If people have a good time at the Old Vic, across the road from me, they're likely to wonder what's playing at my theatre, the Young Vic – and maybe even buy a ticket. Apart from which, research suggests that audience crossover between London public theatres (the National excepted) is very low – around 10 per cent. So,what exactly have we been competing for?
We decided to explore whether some form of collaboration might bring greater rewards. By luck, we chose our moment well. When we began four years ago, we sensed within the small world of London theatre a spirit of collegiality in the air. We talked to almost every theatre in town. It felt as though they'd been waiting for someone to suggest something like this. "Collaborate? Why not? But in what way?". "We've no idea," we said because we hadn't. Or perhaps we had just the glimmerings of one.
What were we looking for? Generosity, ambition, friendship. A willingness to explore the possibility that together we could achieve things impossible on our own. Each of us in different ways had experienced a longing to produce a particular show – or to work in a particular way – and found that, for one reason or another, we couldn't achieve it. So a group of us decided, just for once, to see what was possible if we got together.
Over months of conversation, ideas and themes emerged. Should we do one huge show together? What would give coherence to the work we made? Was coherence even necessary? As things have turned out, we are a core group of eight: Battersea Arts Centre, the Bush Theatre, the Lyric Hammersmith, the Royal Court, Sadler's Wells, Somerset House, Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Young Vic. And we've been joined by the Actors Touring Company, Kneehigh, the Opera Group, WildWorks and King's College, London.
The theme that binds us is "London in the world, the world in London". Together, we have created a season of shows each of which draws on one of the great cultural traditions that together make up the most cosmopolitan city in the world. And each show is a further collaboration with a company or an artist of the country from which the story – in each case what we're calling a "deep" story – originally came. So we're working with theatres in Paris, Munich, Tallinn, Brussels, Boston and Haifa as well as artists from the USA, India, China and South Africa. Wild Swans has already played at the American Repertory Theatre in Boston and then sold out at the Young Vic. Three Kingdoms has been a huge hit in Germany and opened at the Lyric Hammersmith. BABEL, a massive, site-specific show led by WildWorks and BAC, draws participants from across London began last week. Soon, The Suit, already a success in Paris, comes to the Young Vic, The Beloved travels from Palestine to the Bush Theatre and a new British Bollywood musical, Wah! Wah! Girls, opens at the Peacock – then plays Theatre Royal Stratford East later in the year.
And next year there'll be more: Nigeria, South Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, Cuba... And of course London. It's a new way of living in the real world and of making theatre for it and of it. Are the any limits? We haven't found them yet.
David Lan is artistic director of the Young Vic, and co-director of World Stages London (worldstageslondon.org.uk)
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre