Theatres are finding it harder than ever to make shows specifically for their own audiences as co-productions become increasingly necessary for venues’ survival, Bristol Old Vic’s artistic director Tom Morris has argued.
The challenging funding climate has meant that many theatres must collaborate with other partners to offset the financial risk of self-producing, leading to a “tipping point” around the capacity for venues to be individual, he said.
Speaking as his stage version of Touching the Void – itself a co-production between Bristol Old Vic and several other partners – opened in the West End, Morris highlighted the impact that “considerable” funding cuts have had on the choices that venues such as BOV must make.
“You have to find different ways to get investment into your programme and find the right collaborators with other regional theatres. That does mean that it is harder to make shows that are specific to your audience, though it doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and it’s harder to make shows specific to your region. Not impossible again, but I think we’re at an interesting tipping point in terms of the capacity for that independence of voice in regional producing theatre,” he said.
Touching the Void, based on the book and subsequent film of the same name, is a co-production between Bristol Old Vic, the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh, Northampton’s Royal and Derngate and Fuel, and is produced in the West End by Fiery Angel and Ambassador Theatre Group.
The play premiered in Bristol last year prior to touring, and has since transferred to London’s Duke of York’s Theatre.
Morris continued: “Even something like Touching the Void, which is a mad, risk-taking project, is relying on a known title, and on me and David [Greig, the writer and Royal Lyceum artistic director] collaborating.
“The next layer of experiment, which really is the most important, is a writer or director getting their first gig in a main house with a play that hasn’t got a known title. That is where it’s hardest, but that’s the area of work that will really nourish the pipeline.”
Touching the Void tells the true story of mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, whose climb of the 6,000-metre Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes became an infamous story of survival.
Cast member Fiona Hampton said she hoped the play’s climbing theme would encourage audiences who might not otherwise have bought tickets.
“What has been so brilliant about this piece is that it appeals to an entirely different group. People who are outdoorsy or people who climb go ‘I really want to see that’ and are intrigued about how you do the element of climbing.
“You bring them in for that and then suddenly they are hit with all this other stuff. That’s what theatre is about, bringing in those new audiences,” she said.
Morris added: “By widening [the production’s] appeal, we actually allow those massive mythic dilemmas that are in the story, and why it is so popular, to resonate more widely.”