When talking about UK theatre, people often focus on musical theatre to the detriment of the range of plays that are playing all around the country – I know it’s something I’m guilty of in my blogs. I’ve seen a lot more musicals than I have plays, but I do enjoy and appreciate both aspects of the art form. Les Miserables may be the longest running musical in the West End, but the stage play of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap beats its 26 years hands down with an impressive 60 years, making it not only the longest running show in the West End, but the world. War Horse and The Woman in Black are another two big name success stories, with both having recently been adapted for screen.
It’s not just in the West End that the ‘stage play’ is given the respect and valuation that it deserves. There are a vast array of off-West End theatres that are housing some truly brilliant productions, but there are also those theatre companies who are dedicating their time and efforts solely to the development and advancement of new, exciting plays. One of the companies doing some of the most important work in this area is Theatre 503. Based in south west London, the writing venue has earned a name for itself as, ‘the home of fearless, irreverent, brave and provocative new plays’ and under the helm of joint artistic directors Tim Roseman and Paul Robinson has continued to push the boundaries of what theatre can be, so yesterday’s announcement that Roseman is stepping down from the role was saddening to hear. It isn’t all bad news however as Robinson will remain with Theatre 503 as its sole artistic director.
Roseman and Robinson were appointed as AD’s of 503 in November 2006, with the vision of establishing it as, ‘a crucible where writers, directors, actors and designers think better and bolder than they would expect’. Having staged work by 140 new writers and debuted 48 new plays in their time there, I think many would agree that they have certainly taken huge steps in achieving that goal – I only hesitate to say that they have achieved all they set out to do as there is always room to do bigger and better things. One of the most successful credits to their name is Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, which first premiered at Theatre 503 in 2010. A big hit with audiences there, it subsequently transferred to the West End (Trafalgar Studios) and went on to be nominated in several categories for numerous theatre awards, winning an Olivier Award for ‘Best New Play’. They now own the accolade of being the smallest theatre to win an Olivier and, during their time there, Roseman and Robinson’s work has been nominated for a total of 17 awards.
I previously interviewed Theatre 503 producer Vicky Graham in 2011 for a feature on the annual Latitude Festival, in which two of their productions were showcased: CARROT was an original play by Ben Ockrent, while PLAYlist was a presentation of nine new plays by nine new writers. I first contacted 503 as the ethos of the work they do seemed a perfect fit to discuss the merits of Latitude, which prides itself on giving a platform to the new and unknown. The festival provides a fantastic profiling opportunity which is invaluable for a small off-West End theatre such as Theatre 503; as Graham told me then, with just three performances, “we were able to reach a larger crowd than we could in a whole week at our 63-seat home in Battersea”.
Having come so far in the six years that Tim Roseman and Paul Robinson have been with the company, Roseman’s departure marks the end of a wonderful chapter in the book of Theatre 503. Roseman spoke out about his decision to leave in a statement released yesterday, saying that, “I am honoured to have played a small part in making Theatre 503 a beacon for new writing. I have been privileged to lead this organisation with my dear friend Paul, and am delighted that he will take the helm to reinvent and re-imagine the theatre moving forward.” Roseman plans to return to his freelance career and the forthcoming projects he has in the pipeline in Sydney and our very own West End. Soon-to-be sole artistic director Paul Robinson said, “I shall miss Tim hugely but wish him so much love and luck for the future. I gain immense strength from the artistic vision, energy and commitment Tim has injected into the theatre and the work we have created together.
“Now that we have worked so hard to establish 503 I’m thrilled by a raft of new possibilities and will relish making the theatre bolder and braver than ever. I’m really excited about a new era and can promise that 503 will continue to be a vital destination for the most exhilarating new writing.”
Theatre 503 is currently staging Roseman’s production of the Craig Higginson’s play The Girl in the Yellow Dress, fresh from a run at Salisbury Playhouse in 2011. It plays there until 14th April 2012.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Friday 30th March 2012