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Pentabus Rural Theatre Company 40th Birthday Season

Pentabus Rural Theatre CompanyFormed in Shropshire in 1974, The Pentabus Concept” toured new plays to five counties in the West Midlands, using, of course, a bus. Forty years later this cutting edge company re-imagines traditional touring models to stage work that takes a variety of forms to appear in pubs, caves, village halls, theatres, festivals and fields to reach out and connect with rural audiences nationwide.  With a new team including Artistic Director Elizabeth Freestone and Managing Director Rachael Griffin in the driving seat for 2014, the 40th birthday season brings a new opportunity to reconsider what it is to be a rural theatre company in a connected age, and take advantage of the extraordinary creative opportunities for writers and artists that lie beyond the city limits.

Artistic Director Elizabeth Freestone said: “We’re celebrating turning 40 with a jam-packed year that shows off the best new writing from and about the contemporary countryside. I’m incredibly proud to be launching the careers of eight new playwrights through our Young Writers Festival. They’ve written about unemployment and ghosts, isolation and sexuality, love and ambition. Their plays demonstrate a force of rural energy hungry to explore the things that are really going on in the countryside. I’m equally chuffed that we’re also working with established playwriting talents Rory Mullarkey and Duncan Macmillan. Rory’s play is a powerful story of conflict that will tour village halls and theatres all over the country, renewing our commitment to take the best new theatre to isolated communities. Duncan’s play is a co-production with our friends at Paines Plough. With both companies turning 40 this year it feels like an apt moment to come together and do what we do best – produce and tour quality new theatre. With 10 new plays by 10 outstanding writers touring all over the country, this year is going to be a blast.

Pentabus’s 40th Birthday Programme Highlights include:
Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan Touring from 19th May 2014
Paines Plough also see their 40th birthday this year, and Pentabus’s first collaboration with the company considers two big issues for rural communities: loneliness and isolation. This, funny, charming, moving and formally innovative new play about isolation and the lengths we go to for those we love makes each night unique, as the audience slowly form a community over the course of the evening, and end by telling the story for themselves.

The event is performed and hosted by comedian, musician and performer Jonny Donahoe.
Directed by George Perrin | Performed by Jonny Donahoe
Co-produced by Paines Plough, in association with Nabokov and the Jersey Arts Trust

Pentabus Young Writers Group:
Young Writers Festival (1st to 5th July) at Ludlow Festival & Stories From The Street, 14th June to 6th July
Last year Pentabus ran free playwriting workshops in schools and colleges and selected 8 promising playwrights aged between 16 and 25 to establish the company’s first Young Writers Group. The writers meet regularly and take part in workshops with professional playwrights, actors, directors and theatre makers, including Phil Porter, Simon Longman and Francesca Millican-Slater. All of the writers have written a play which Pentabus will produce, presented at the first ever Young Writers Festival from 1st – 5th July, set in a pop up theatre venue in Ludlow created especially for the event.

The writers have also written short audio pieces in response to particular places in Ludlow. These Stories From The Street audio tours will run through the duration of the festival, consisting of 8 short pieces with tales of dragon slayers on the bridge to faith by the church. The festival is the culmination of the first year of Pentabus’s Young Writers Programme, which is open to any young person living in a rural area who wants to write for theatre. A new group will be recruited over the summer to start work in autumn.

Each Slow Dusk by Rory Mullarkey, directed by Elizabeth Freestone Touring October to November 2014
A thirty date tour with an innovative design set to transform village halls from Cornwall to Kent, Cumbria and everything in between, 2014 Pinter Commission playwriting award winner Rory Mullarkey’s piece considers the legacy of conflict from WW1 to Afghanistan to Flanders, and how we remember events by the art that follows, seeing the past through the filter of poetry.  The title references the work of one of Shropshire’s favorite sons, Wilfred Owen.

Rory Mullarkey recently won the 2014 Pinter Commission, the Royal Court Theatre’s annual commission for new work. Previous winners for the Commission, previously known as the Harold Pinter Playwright’s award, include Nick Payne and Anders Lustgarten. On announcing the award, Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director of the Royal Court commented Rory is “…a remarkable writer – an original fresh voice, with a sharp political edge.” His recent play, Cannibals, opened in April 2013 at the Royal Exchange Manchester to high critical acclaim, following his Decade for Headlong in 2011. He is also currently under commission to Headlong and the National Theatre.

Fun Palaces
In their 40th birthday year Pentabus will also be taking part in the nationwide Fun Palaces adventure on the 4th and 5th October as they open up their doors and offer an exciting artistic weekend for the local Shropshire community, as well as transporting 40 years’ worth of scripts, photos and company records into a public archive facility in Shrewsbury, which will be available to view from May 2014 in person and online by the autumn.

Channel 4 Writer in Residence Simon Longman
Simon Longman won a bursary from Channel 4 to spend the year with Pentabus as writer in residence. Over the next twelve months he’ll work on a new play, read incoming scripts and immerse himself in the life of the company as the recipient of one of this prestigious bursary.  He will also curate the Pentabus Young Writers Festival.

Simon comments: “as a writer, having the support and opportunity to work with and write for Pentabus is a massive honour. The company’s commitment to new and exciting work is inspiring. The range of places the company have visited, from village halls to theatres, pubs to caves is amazing, and to have that much longevity and history, considering all the cuts to arts funding, is staggering.

Company Information: Artistic Director Elizabeth Freestone, Managing Director Rachael Griffin

Wednesday 9th April 2014


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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