As we begin a new year, venues across the country are beginning to look ahead to what 2016 will offer. 2015 was a challenging year for the arts but, as ever, the theatre industry was inventive in its approach to the challenges.
As part of a sparkling new series for 2016, Glen Pearce is speaking to 16 Artistic Directors and Chief Executives from across the UK, looking back at the past year and looking forward to the coming year.
First opened as part of the University of Southampton in 1964, The Nuffield Theatre became an independent producing theatre in 1982. In 2013, Sam Hodges joined the venue as Director and shares his hopes for the year ahead.
What have been your theatrical highlights of 2015?
Transferring our critically acclaimed, ambitious production of A Number into the Young Vic, which was directed and designed by Nuffield associates Mike Longhurst and Tom Scutt.
It started out as an end-on show but very late in the day we decided to make it a more intimate piece, which was where Tom’s glorious concept was born. It started as a four week run in Southampton but was such a success that real-life father and son actors, John and Lex Shrapnel, had to spend another nine weeks in London locked in a two-way mirrored glass cube every night! The planned run at the Young Vic was also extended by a further week due to sold-out audiences.
Another highlight was directing Nuffield’s production of The Glass Menagerie in the Autumn. It was my first as director for the company so carried a certain amount of expectation, but working with Ultz as designer was a real privilege. We felt like we did justice to what Williams asked for, while staying true to our commitment as a company to re-imagining the space with a bold design aesthetic.
What do you see as the highlights and challenges for your organisation in 2016?
Attempting, for the first time, a five-way co-production between Nuffield, the glorious Peepolykus, Liverpool Everyman &Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic and Royal &Derngate, Northampton, on a bonkers new adaptation of Madame Bovary. Played by a cast of just four – with a fair amount of doubling – this take on the traditional tale plays on the absurdity of re-imagining a well-known tragedy through the eyes of a well-known comic physical theatre company. It also interrogates, in a wonderfully imaginative way, the way a 21st Century team of writers and theatre-makers grapple with the very male gaze of the 19th – do we do feminism more or less justice by attempting to re-balance the perspective?
What is your theatrical New Year’s resolution?
To get the keys to our new £25m arts venue in the city centre without losing too much more hair! It is nearly a year since we announced that Nuffield will be the operating company of the North Building in Southampton’s new city centre arts complex. This new venue will include a flexible 447-seat main house theatre, a 135-seat studio, screening facilities, rehearsal and workshop spaces, and a café bar and bistro. We’re going to be running both spaces, the new city centre venue and our existing theatre on the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus, so we are working hard to make sure that our programme can offer something for everyone. We want our audiences to feel at home in both our buildings and we have big ambitions as to how we want to achieve that.
This new venue will transform Nuffield’s ability to show new and exciting high-quality professional work from local, national and international artists, built on the foundations of our commitment to extensive and accessible artist development and community engagement. It will also allow us to develop our programme to include dance, film and music. As you can imagine this is a very exciting time for us, but also a great challenge.
Excluding funding, if you were Minister for Culture what is the one aspect of the arts sector you’d like to change?
Require the National Theatre to reinvest all the profits made from NT Live back into the cultural life of the regional cities buying tickets and, in particular, to support producing theatre. Producing theatre is the most fluid and powerful way of responding to today – the themes, issues and joys of living in a community.
For more information on The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton visit www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk
Image: Paul Steed