Fringe companies give students the broader view

The New Diorama is one venue hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sasha Regan and the Union Theatre and be The Stage 100 Awards' fringe theatre of the year. Photo: Stephanie Methven
Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin is a journalist specialising in training and education.
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On Saturday I saw Thebes, the second show in Faction Theatre’s 2014 rep season with runs at New Diorama Theatre this month and next before transferring to Greenwich Theatre  for a week from February 25.

It is a fine piece of imaginative and original ensemble theatre, directed by Rachel Valentine – using a text by Gareth Jandrell which integrates the Oedipus and Antigone stories.

Equally good, if not even better, is Faction’s Hamlet which I also saw last week. Jonny McPherson in the title role is as fine and intelligent as any Hamlet I’ve ever seen. He manages to make the words sound as if they were written yesterday – bit of an acting masterclass really which is one of the reasons I think there are education and training issues here.

Secondary school and FE college teachers of A level theatre studies are always looking for affordable exemplar productions in different styles to extend the horizons of their students. They could do a great deal worse than take them to New Diorama (walking distance from Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross stations so very accessible) or later to Greenwich to explore Thebes in particular because it builds very imaginatively on the legacy of Greek drama.

They could also learn a lot from Hamlet about staging Shakespeare’s longest tragedy in just three hours without cutting anything which matters, not to mention approaches to Shakespeare’s language. And as a former secondary English teacher I would have loved my students to have seen this Hamlet which unravels the story with such power and clarity.

And what about drama students? The twelve professional actors in The Faction have mostly trained in a good cross section of famous name drama schools. Most are still quite young and their work is an encouraging example, as Faction’s work has been for several years, of just what you can achieve in a rep season. It doesn’t, most definitely doesn’t, have to be the West End.

In fact (says she provocatively) it is probably better in terms of learning and development to be working in an admirable studio theatre off Euston Road than to be under brighter lights a mile or two south. So I hope drama school students will go to these shows (the third is The Robbers by Schiller which opens on January 29) and learn from them too.

And of course, hosting The Faction is only a tiny part of the work of the New Diorama, one of the three fringe theatres shortlisted (alongside Southwark Playhouse and Brass Works Theatre) in the Stage Awards Fringe Theatre of the Year  – results to be announced on January 31.  New Diorama also runs, among many other activities, an emerging companies programme and offers a great deal of artist support. All good grist to the education and training mill.