Both Orange Tree Theatre and Bush Theatre are putting conscious performances that tap into modern struggles centre stage. The latter reopened after a £4M refurbishment earlier this year with the Black Lives, Black Words performance, while the former is reviving old plays with very current moral messages
Shepherd’s Bush and Richmond have long been hotspots for alternative theatre, challenging creative minds with a knack for acting to push themselves beyond the limit. After raising millions of pounds in funding, the community focused Bush Theatre has recently reopened after undergoing an extensive refurbishment that has brought the historic building into the 21st century, while simultaneously stripping some parts of it back to reveal its historic roots.
A hop, skip and a jump away in Richmond, the small but powerful – and not for profit – Orange Tree Theatre is refining its offering to include current social issues at the forefront, by reviving older plays with messages that still pack an eerie punch today. Back at Bush Theatre, they are also launching a socially charged theatre season that has a particular focus on race issues, past and present. We caught up with the directors of both of these vibrant hotspots to find out why conscious theatre is at the top of their agendas this year…
Bush Theatre’s creative director Madani Younis took over the budding performance space in 2012 and was the first ethnic theatre director ever in London. After leading the effort to raise millions to support the theatre’s much-needed refurbishment, Younis left no innovative stone unturned, getting everyone from theatrical partners to actors involved. This resulted in quirky touches throughout, with old school Hollywood dressing room mirrors in the spacious backstage changing rooms, to a seating area that has cut outs with doors in the walls to allow actors to see what is going on in the main auditorium in its entirety, allowing them to think and rehearse with stage space in mind.
Black Lives, Black Words just felt right as the opening act. It’s a hopeful performance that comes from a place of love and optimism
The Bush Theatre team have also introduced a second smaller auditorium that they hope will serve as a tool for emerging artists to showcase the work. Upstairs they have an enviable staff roof terrace, an industrial style rehearsal space, as well as a traditional looking office that will be lent out to playwrights in residence free of charge to give them their own space to create history in. The main performance space has been completely revamped in jet black, with the seating area expanded significantly to allow more community locals to enjoy their rich and compelling art.
Outside, they have made space for a glorious terrace that comes to life in the sun, right next to the eclectic Shepherd’s Bush Market. Younis explains that most importantly they wanted Bush Theatre to become a community hub, whereby locals can stop by for a bite to eat, to learn and unwind in the mid-century style library, as well as socialising and networking on the summer terrace, allowing it to exist outside of simply plays and performance.
We are very mindful of the social inequalities that exist, and in this building we speak up for all and not just for some
‘We relaunched the theatre with the powerful Black Lives, Black Words, which is a direct response and continuation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement,’ Younis says. ‘Global and local politics plays heavy in all of our minds at the moment and that’s why Black Lives, Black Words just felt right as the opening act. It’s a hopeful performance that comes from a place of love and optimism. After the Brexit vote, we saw a 200% in racist attacks in our local community here. We are very mindful of the social inequalities that exist, and in this building we speak up for all and not just for some.’
ORANGE TREE THEATRE
Over in Richmond, the Orange Tree Theatre haS embarked upon a season of past and present, mixing in brand new plays by emerging writers with ‘interesting rivals from the past’. They’ve made a conscious effort to select slightly unloved, underrated plays in a bid to breathe new life into them, many of which contain important themes that are just as relevant today as they were back when the plays were first written.
They opened the season with Winter Solstice by the German playright Roland Schimmelpfennig, a dark comedy to do with the lurking danger of Nazism and Fascism in Europe, which has been nominated for four Off West End awards. Up next was Low Level Panic, a 30-year-old play about four females in a bathroom discussing their experiences as women in the 80s, a piece of drama that proved extremely popular among women of all ages.
Artistic Director Paul Miller says: ‘The interesting thing about Low Level Panic is that it should no longer be relevant, but unfortunately it is still as relevant as ever, which is why I think it has struck a chord with women of all ages who are coming to see it. They are able to relate to it in one way or another.’
Speaking of what sets Orange Tree Theatre apart in an area that’s home to the famous Richmond Theatre, with the likes of Kingston Upon Thames’ Rose Theatre nearby too, Miller explains: ‘The experience of sitting in our auditorium is like no other. It’s got this unique intimacy because there are only 180 people wrapped around the stage. The guiding principle we use when selecting our plays is that what you see here, you can’t see anywhere else, and that goes for the new and the old.
The guiding principle we use when selecting our plays is that what you see here, you can’t see anywhere else, and that goes for the new and the old
‘We always want our plays to be making a statement about life as it is today,’ Miller continues. ‘Even the older plays should have some commentary on modern society, even it’s to point out how it has or hasn’t changed.’
It would seem that the west London area is experiencing a performance revival whereby it’s out with the big classics and in with the socially conscious. In a bid to slowly but surely chip away at British theatre’s elitist nature whereby Western issues and European history take prevalence, leaving little room for much else, both Bush Theatre and Orange Tree Theatre are hurtling full speed ahead into the modern day, tackling the big issues of the moment head on.