Is Leicester square? Not in this adventurous theatre

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT IS more than 100 miles off the West End tourist trail but Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, proves a big enough draw to attract a crowd of 300 on a Wednesday afternoon.

There is little in the way of hype or glamour. No one is offering tickets on the streets and no one is taking pictures outside the building for the folks back home. There is not a Japanese or an American in sight.

Here is a midweek mix of the elderly and students, with the odd suited professional, whose presence is conspicuous by the way they choose to sit alone, surrounded by empty seats. Time, space and relaxation is obviously what they want.

They are watching The Rink, a musical starring Linzi Hateley, better known for her recent performances in the world tour of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This play has been adapted from Terrence McNally's book, about a rink which a mother wants demolished for the memories it holds, but her daughter cherishes all it stands for.

Staff at the Haymarket are pleased with this afternoon's turnout. A crowd of 300 is a healthy midweek number in a theatre capacity of 750. Last year's audience figures, from March 1997 to March 1998, ran at 72 per cent of capacity; annual turnover reached pounds 1.5m. The Haymarket has never swelled with the same kind of audience figures as London's prestigious theatres But people are not here for the riches, it is the buzz that they are after. And it is the buzz they want to create.

Paul Kerryson, 40, is the artistic director. He has worked at the theatre for three years and before that in Chichester, Birmingham and Manchester. He has taken shows to London, and some were a success. So why is he not there now?

"London finds it more difficult to experiment ... it's all geared to money. We too have to manage a budget, but we do things because we want to do them and we like to experiment. There's room to do that here.

"We had Eddie Izzard up here recently doing a performance of Edward the Second and it was fantastic. You would struggle to find that in London. Besides, it was more relevant to hold a performance here because it was here in Leicester where Edward the Second came to such a sticky end."

At the interval the crowd spills out into the foyer, left relatively untouched since the early Haymarket days of the Seventies. The carpet is a lurid mix of purple and pink zig-zags, but staff are working on a lottery grant to change that.

Three sisters, Eileen Nuttall, Betty Potter and Sheila Roberts, are discussing the first hour of performance. Mrs Roberts, 62, of East Goscote, is a regular theatre goer. "I love musicals and this is right up my street," she said. "I've paid just pounds 5 for a seat. What more do you want to know?"

Gwen Rowlings, 31, is a teacher from Peterborough, who has come here with a party of students studying GNVQ performing arts. "The students are enjoying this just as much as any London show they have seen," she said.

Sally Anne Tye, head of marketing and sales at the Haymarket, says there is more experimentation in the regions because, "there is a really strong commitment to audience development and outreach work ... In Leicester, 35 per cent of the city's population is Asian, so we reflect that with Asian theatre initiatives, that's just one strand of our work. The Haymarket has got a reputation of presenting a broad balance of performances and taking risk...

"There's too much West End bias, everyone outside of London knows that. We are happy to get on with our own thing, minus the hype. There hasn't been an explosion in the provinces, theatre development has always been strong and our audiences know that."

Five Regional Powerhouses

WEST YORKSHIRE PLAYHOUSE

Under Jude Kelly's dynamic leadership this has become a powerhouse of the north in the Nineties. So intent to involve local community it does not even have a stage door. Alan Rickman made his directorial debut here.

NOTTINGHAM PLAYHOUSE

Sir Richard Eyre was director in the Seventies and forged a challenging partnership with the playwrights David Hare and Howard Brenton. Has strong community links, sometimes selling tickets in night clubs.

THEATRE ROYAL, PLYMOUTH

The third largest theatre organisation in Britain. Its co-production of West Side Story is about to open in the West End. Runs the largest youth theatre in Britain and a community theatre, The People's Company.

ROYAL EXCHANGE, MANCHESTER

Reopens this autumn two years after being damaged in the IRA bombing of Manchester. The 'theatre in the round' has attracted stars including Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Lindsay and Albert Finney.

BRISTOL OLD VIC

Britain's oldest working repertory theatre, the atmospheric 18th-century building has been home to top performers including Timothy West, Daniel Day-Lewis and Miranda Richardson.

Comments