From car factories to cathedrals, as theatregoers are asked to take their seats in more and more unconventional locations, Lita Doolan explores the non-traditional sites that are being used for performances
Libraries are increasingly popular sites to stage drama, led by Librarian Theatre, which reached 55 library venues this year with its touring production of The Green Ship. Other venues have followed with shows such as Creation Theatre Company’s Dracula performed in the reading room of the London Library, where Bram Stoker researched the novel. The company also put on Pictures of Dorian Gray performed in the Norrington Room of Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford (a co-production with London’s Jermyn Street Theatre and Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre). Across the road from that branch of Blackwell’s is the historic Bodleian Library, which for a decade has been used by Oxford Playhouse to host Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour.
Concealed spaces below ground are increasingly used for theatre – especially for staging politically charged work. Manchester Royal Exchange’s young company performed We Were Told There Was Dancing to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which began the decriminalisation of homosexuality, in the theatre’s basement in 2017. Other venues wanted to get in on the act of using cavernous spaces, with shows such as Rift’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed underneath the newly reopened Alexandra Palace Theatre. And at the Vaults under Waterloo Station, The Permanent Way – pertinently about railway privatisation – is running until November 17.
The use of transportation as affordable touring spaces is rising. Zenith Youth Theatre performed Stephen Sondheim’s The Frogs inside the award-winning Theatre Bath Bus at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018. Other shows riding this trend include like Journey performed by Swallow the Sea Caravan Theatre, which parked in Edinburgh’s Summerhall this Summer and Can’t Touch This performed by Caravan Theatre, which is currently touring to universities.
Made even more attractive by some of the hottest days on record, the use of green spaces as sites is growing. The Dukes Theatre has been producing plays at Lancaster’s Williamson Park since 1987, with Alice in Wonderland billed for next summer. Other performances staged in parks include Island Town, performed on Grasmere Village Green in Paines Plough’s Roundabout pop-up theatre last year, and The Wind in the Willows, staged at Greenwich Park as part of Quantum Theatre’s tour of UK parks this year.
Churches are increasingly doubling up as theatres. For more than a decade, St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden has been the venue for Iris Theatre’s productions with this year’s highlight being The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Other churches have also staged work with shows like Antic Disposition‘s Richard III touring to UK cathedrals before performing at Temple Church, London and All’s Well That Ends Well at St Nicolas’ Church, Guildford this Autumn.