A theatre company launched shortly before the UK went into lockdown has revealed new plans to develop productions that can thrive in an “intra-Covid world”.
London-based Histrionic Productions was set up earlier this year, with the aim of using derelict spaces to create "multi-sensory theatrical experiences", promising a new approach to immersive theatremaking.
Its first show, based on George Orwell’s 1984, will be directed by Sean Holmes and designed by Jon Bausor. Holmes and Bausor are both associate creative directors of the company.
The production was announced in early March, and is slated to open in April 2021. During lockdown, the creative team have redeveloped some of their plans for the show to ensure it can take place while an ongoing threat of Covid-19 may mean restrictions remain.
Chief executive Adam Mckenzie Wylie said he believed the company had created solutions that would enable 1984 and the company’s future productions to incorporate social distancing and additional health and safety requirements, while encouraging audiences back to live performance.
“I can’t think of a better title to put on in an intra-Covid environment,” he said. The production takes place as a first-person experience in the dystopian setting of 1984, meaning it can incorporate “all manner of social distancing and hygiene protocols that feel very much part of the show”, Mckenzie Wylie said.
“Things like temperature screening – that is the sort of thing you might expect to happen as you approach a dystopian workplace like the Ministry of Truth... Hopefully, people won’t notice the difference between having their temperature measured because we want to weed them out if they’ve got coronavirus and give them a refund, or they’re being monitored as they’re walking into Air Strip One,” he said adding that he hoped the two things would “merge together seamlessly within the narrative".
“We’re running multiple shows an hour to eliminate queues and we’re dealing with acres of space as opposed to the traditional square footage of a proscenium-arch theatre. A lot of the action takes place outside, so we have that benefit as well,” he said.
Mckenzie Wylie said he anticipated some form of social distancing to be around "for quite a long time", and implementing a Covid-safe format means he can confidently plan shows for 2021.
“If there is a silver lining it is that we can really start to get excited about bringing a big show back to London at a time when there is a lot of doom and gloom, and we’d like to be seen as part of the vanguard who can stage new and exiting work that helps the theatrical economy get back on its feet,” he said.
He also acknowledged the likelihood that audiences will be hesitant to return following lockdown, and said he hoped Histrionic Productions’ shows would pave the way for audiences to feel comfortable returning to traditional theatre.
“We have a responsibility to show people it’s okay to come back to live performance again, to start buying tickets again and to start socialising again. We always wanted to grow the [theatre] market, not cannibalise it, and that responsibility sits more personally on our shoulders now. We really do have a responsibility to fill the gap,” he said.