We have waved goodbye to the last audience member, returned the technical equipment and raised a glass to the artists. Now it's time to doff our cap to our enthusiastic audience who turned out in pretty healthy numbers to see the dramatic, the operatic and everything in between! Thank you for your support.
So what did we learn this year? Here are our top five lessons for 2018:
1. There's an audience in Croydon for a really wide range of theatre, and we managed to find some of you! Still work to be done though.
2. A good image is essential , especially if you are a new kid on the block. Hand on heart, not a single show in the festival disappointed us, many exceeded expectation, but audiences are slow to appear when the image doesn't tell the full story. We kinda knew this already to be fair.
3. Sometimes camera shutters are really loud.
4. Always, always, always check every corner of the venue before you start the show. We learned this the hard way and are still apologising to some disappointed audiences members who missed the start of one show.
5. Croydon makes a fantastic backdrop for immersive theatre. It played a leading role in Land of Nod and nearly stole the show.
So that's it for another year, however, we'll be staying active all year round, posting information about up and coming performances in Croydon and reviewing work we've seen around London, so keep coming back!
UPDATE: all the CroydonWrites reviews are now published on this site.
We tried out something new this year, a critical writing project called CroydonWrites. An open call solicited interest from six local writers who have been watching all the shows and working with Tom Black (an editor at the Croydon Citizen), to help hone their skills. The reviews will get their own page on this website (eventually) and some have already started appearing in the Croydon Citizen, but we thought you might like to see what Rekha Shane had to say about Land of Nod, before it hits the stands:
Parabolic Theatre Company / Land of Nod
A dead body in a back alleyway, a man on the run, a drug ring with links to the occult; welcome to Land of Nod.
This is a two hour immersive theatre production in which the audience play members of the press (no journalistic experience required) who are helping the police in their investigations. But unlike conventional theatre you control what path to follow in this megalith of a production. With multiple characters and locations you’re told at the outset that you will only see about 20% of the show in its entirety. But it’s still hard not to pout like a diva when your fellow participants recount stories of where they’ve just been. Cut yourself some slack because you’ll have to reframe your ideas about theatre here. This isn’t about watching a whole plot unfold in front of you. This is about spontaneous, interactive theatre which you get to tinker with.
The show is delivered by a brilliant cast who take to their interactive roles with ease, swapping realistic banter with the audience as they play out their stories on the streets of Croydon.
If you’re looking for a night out with a difference then you couldn’t do much better than Land of Nod. Just remember, you can’t see it all tonight, but there’s always tomorrow. Now where’s that link to the box office again…?
Review by Rekha Shane
Three years ago a group of creatives got together at Matthews Yard and started working on an unusual project. At the time, none of us would have thought that we'd still be working on it now.
Land of Nod was an experiment in storytelling. The group of people who worked on the initial version in May 2015 were interested to see if we could make a piece of free-roaming immersive theatre that would work outside on the streets of Croydon. We wanted to see if we could give our audience the freedom to explore old town Croydon, sending them out in search of our story amidst all the background noise. Would they return empty handed, or would the thrill of the hunt produce theatrical gold?
We really didn't know, but we wanted to find out. We put a limited number of tickets on sale for a fiver each and hoped for the best. We had no idea whether it would be a thrilling adventure or a total disaster.
Three years later, we're doing it all again. That initial experimental run was not without problems, but it worked far better than anyone had dared to hope for. Not only did the audience find our story, but they held onto it tenaciously. The backdrop of Croydon came alive in an exciting way – because anything *could* be part of the story, everything *was* part of the story whether we intended it to be or not. Croydon became a character in our site-specific piece, and a very unpredictable one at that.
For us, creating a piece of theatre that takes place on the streets and blends in with the everyday is a thrilling exercise. Of course street theatre as a concept is not new, but our approach to it – telling a complicated branching interlocking narrative that takes places in multiple locations simultaneously outside on the streets – is quite unusual. Normally, street theatre performers work hard to gather a crowd and attract as much attention as possible. Our show is a hidden mystery, one that is unavailable to the uninitiated. Our work has to be inconspicuous – our performers rarely interacting with more than a handful of our audience at a time, and in such a way that the average passer by would not even consider that a performance was in progress.
At the centre of it all is a story that belongs to Croydon – that of a young man who has stabbed someone and is wanted by the police. We have worked closely in the past with Lives Not Knives, and more recently with Ment4 – both local charities devoted to giving Croydon teenagers better prospects - in developing a story that is all too familiar to Croydon residents, and based on a range of real life experiences.
In turn we have created a hyper-real experience. One where the audience gets to explore the local area while looking at it with new eyes. Our story, and our way of telling it, enable people to step outside their unconscious prejudices and empathise with a diverse range of characters. Our story and the real world blend together to the point where one finds it difficult to distinguish between the two. Come and join us this weekend, and see Croydon through a different lens.
Owen Kingston, Director
I’m looking forward to meeting you on the 19th, hope you don’t mind missing a bit of the wedding....
We will have 45 minutes together, it’s not a lot of time, but we have all the time.
You said you were worried about taking things out of your bag in public, and I know how you feel. One of my students asked the other day “but what are you doing it for?” They should see me now, amid this muddled mess of paper on my floor as I scribble and scratch for the answers. I mean, the sorting part is easy: I find it calming, it’s a ritual. So there is a beauty in my chaos in getting ready, because this is exactly the point of us meeting: once our bags are emptied we signify the beginning of an order.
And please don’t worry, I will not be asking for specific things you don’t want to show me. I am saying, bring whatever you like! But I don’t know, we may not even think of our stuff by the end. I’m actually thinking of re-naming it Slow and Tell. And the whole event is the script really, and we can change any parts of it that we want to. Give up and go and get a coffee, if we want to. I think I may need your help to stay entirely focused on our actions.
People might watch us, they might not. My experience is that people don’t have time to stop and be curious. But if they are, I’ll talk to them. It’s a workshop in public navigation, that’s my part of the work.
The “work”...? Ha!. It’s 45 minutes of playtime, using our stuff to start a game. I mean, does it have to be this serious? I’m playing with the weight of the things that I think this is meant to be. I think I may need your help to loosen up.
I’ll be emailing you soon with some final bits of information, some instructions to gently lay around us.
I’m looking forward to meeting you to play this out, the waiting and uncertainty, the bodies in time and in public.
We should both feel that we have the right to stop.
And don’t worry, I will not be asking to take anything from you, I am heavy enough.
Written by Anita Wadsworth
Opera has a certain stigma about it doesn’t it? If I ask a 16 year old hanging out with his mates in the centre of Croydon if he fancied going to some opera, I can already hear the laughter. If I went into the Whitgift Centre and asked the same question to the 20 year old working in a coffee shop, while they may be more receptive, I imagine the reply to be that they couldn’t afford it, or it’s not really their thing.
It’s these responses that Pop Up Opera try very hard to counter, in fact it is in having experienced these responses that Pop-Up Opera first came about. As a professional opera singer herself Clementine Lovell was no stranger to friends and family not being present at her performances because opera was not their cup of tea. But rather than accept this and perform to an audience of strangers in theatre after theatre, she decided to bring opera home and prove to them that it could be their thing…And prove it she did! Pop-Up Opera now perform three different productions a year, touring to around 90 venues and if you look around the room you will see a mix of all ages and backgrounds which makes us very happy!
So what makes Pop-Up Opera different? Alongside the unique spaces, we immerse the audience, performing amongst them, bringing the action to life - so as you can imagine being that close, our singers have to be brilliant actors too, which they are. While we break convention with our venues, humour and captions, we always sing in the original language. This we are very strict on as while we want to bring opera to everyone, we are true to the art and the music and will never change that, which is why regular opera goers love us too. Don’t worry though, there are captions so you’ll never get lost. When needed we will give direct translations but otherwise we use artistic license and can sometimes give just one word to sum up a song, or modern day reference, or even just an emoticon. With the incredible music, staging and brilliant acting, sometimes that is all that is needed!
So why not give us a try as we come to Croydon in May. We will be performing a Mozart Double Bill: Der Schauspieldirektor & Bastien und Bastienne. I am sure that most of you are familiar with the name Mozart but may not be familiar with these operas so let me tell you in a few words: The first, Der Schauspieldirektor, is the story of a small opera company casting for their upcoming production. Budgets are tight, too many divas are in one room, and emotions run high! Expect to hear some impressive vocal acrobatics as candidates battle it out for the main role!
The second tells the tale of a young couple whose relationship is riddled with adolescent distrust and jealousy. They seek the advice of a questionable “relationship counsellor”, who confidently blags his way through various guidance and solutions… I won’t tell you the outcome, but both stories are comedies!
We’ll be with you on Thursday 17th May as part of the Croydonites Festival at St Andrews Community Hub - see you there!
Written by Emily Salmon at Pop-Up Opera
Only nine sleeps until the start of the 3rd edition of Croydonites Festival. Got your ticket yet? I'm afraid you've missed the early bird cheap seats and some shows are close to selling out, but don't worry there's still plenty to see and plenty of space for everyone.
But maybe you're not sure what to book for? Here's my simple guide to choosing...
1. Are you a risk taker? Not easily offended? Do you like to be surprised or immersed?
Then Scottee's BRAVADO could be for you; or if you like to be part of the action then go for Parabolic's Land of Nod, or Vinicius Salles' Glitch.
2. Looking for drama to challenge or provoke?
Gill Manly's Radio Apocalypse or Natasha Marshall's Half Breed could be right up your strasse!
3. Out for a bit of fun? Like a bit of dance with your comedy?
Sarah Blanc is the woman for you, along with her Feminist Boner, and local surrealists DISCO DISCO.
4. Want to take it easy? Like a relaxed and calming approach?
Check out the double bill from Croydon based Anusha Subramanyam and SLiDE, or Anita Wadsworth's Show and Tell.
5. More of a traditionalist?
Easy...Pop Up Opera are bringing a Mozart double bill to St Andrews Church. This company are committed to bringing opera to the masses and offer a contemporary twist on everything they do.
6. Film buff?
Come on a walking tour of Hollywood film locations (in Croydon) with the irrepressible Richard DeDomenici followed by the premiere of American Assassin: Redux filmed in it's original Croydon location with local Croydonites.
Or maybe pick a couple from different categories? We've done our best to offer something for all tastes. Come and find me in the bar afterwards and let me know what you think!
We've been planning the third festival for some time now and it will finally be announced on 14 February. It's bigger than we anticipated - 10 different performance programmes, 12 artists and companies, 7 of them from Croydon. We're using some new and unusual venues and there's a very diverse range of work, as you would expect. Everything from personal memoir to pop-up opera, immersive to intimate, disturbing to dramatic. The programme features four world premieres, an Edinburgh festival hit, a film to be made on location in Croydon (commissioned by Croydonites) and a work presented by one of the UK's leading black theatre companies and a very prestigious central London venue. Curious? We hope so.
Our thanks to: Arts Council England and Croydon Council
In preparation for the next festival, Croydonites HQ decamped to Edinburgh this summer in search of brave new performance to challenge, provoke and entertain. We weren’t disappointed.
Armed with a teenager and a pensioner, we sat through 25 shows from comedy to cabaret, drag to drama and performance to, well more performance. Summerhall was our venue of choice, a former veterinary college that showcases work from around the world each August.
We were very lucky to get a ticket for Sh!t Theatre, who visited Croydonites this March, with their new work Dollywould. Full of their trademark comical songs, they managed to coalesce a homage to Dolly Parton with the story of Dolly the sheep via a research institute for dead bodies in the USA. It was almost sold out before the run even started, and once it was nominated for a Total Theatre Award, tickets were like gold dust. There is nothing quite like them, so never pass up a chance to see one of their shows.
Another Summerhall gem and eventual winner of a Total Theatre Award was Rachel Mars’ Our Carnal Hearts. Delving into the deadly sin of envy, the audience were asked to confess their own secret jealousies, be they siblings with big houses, friends with new babies, or colleagues with better paid jobs… The work reached a finale when Mars was (reluctantly) beaten by two audience members with rubber chickens in a Guatemalan ritual (they use real chickens in Guatemala), that has its origins in absolving sibling rivalry. With a start time of 11am, this was a great way to start an Edinburgh Fringe day.
Of course we did leave Summerhall on occasion. We saw Jack Rooke at Underbelly, whose follow up piece to Good Grief - Happy Man - sees him taking on the issue of male suicide. He is brutally honest, beguiling and very funny. Even some pretty heavy swearing didn’t put off the pensioner who was thoroughly charmed. That’s the second time he’s made me cry, nay bawl.
Katy Baird didn’t shy away from difficult subjects either in Workshy. Documenting all the jobs she’s done in the last 25 years; ranging from flipping burgers, frying fish, selling drugs and entertaining men via a webcam. The audience were treated to chips half way through the show and then another surprise involving a wine glass which had some audience members open mouthed. I won’t ruin it for you.
Kin are a circus company, who have teamed up with Ben Duke, from Lost Dog for their latest work, that graced the Underbelly Circus Hub stage. Superb physical prowess combined with subtle clowning and a sinister subplot had the audience on their feet – this one was a hot favourite with the teenager.
Ellie Dubois’ No Show was another circus performance, this time in a smaller venue (back in Summerhall) that displayed equally impressive physical skills from a female company of five. Some carefully placed lines about what is and isn’t expected of women also gave us a genial insight in to the male dominated world of circus.
Kate O’Donnell who featured in the first Croydonites Festival, has a new work - You’ve Changed - produced by Trans-Creative, a company led by transgender artists. The show charts her transition from male to female at the turn of this century, when there was no template and very little support. Impeccable storytelling is blended with wit and humour and we never feel sorry for Kate, instead we admire her determination and celebrate what she's achieved.
There were so many amazing shows…Liz Aggiss, the self-titled grand dame of the bus pass generation proved she still has it in Slap and Tickle; and Shit Faced Shakespeare, where a member of the cast gets totally bladdered before the show, just so we can laugh at them, were so wrong and so funny. It hardly matters which play it was, but for the record this one was Romeo and Juliet. A Séance in a shipping container, in the pitch black, started off with some nervous laughter but turned into a terrifying rollercoaster ride which elicited screams from yours truly.
I should probably stop here, but I can’t not mention Selina Thompson, who took a cargo ship from Europe to Africa then across the Atlantic, to chart the terrifying journey of slaves in the 19th century. In Salt she examines what it means to be part of a diaspora, and describes the racism she’s suffered on her travels. Her Brummy lilt is warm and reassuring but we don’t escape the pain inflicted on millions over hundreds of years – and take away a piece of salt to remind us of it always. The work deservedly won her a number of accolades including awards from Total Theatre and The Stage.
Can’t wait for next year…