A Show aimed at the body and mind is heading to the Midlands to lure in new audiences. Lorne Jackson reports.
Ravenous people very rarely make a headlong dash for their local theatre.
They only do so if it’s culture and creativity they hunger after.
If it’s merely a rumbling tummy, not a shuddering of the eternal soul, the nearest chippy will be the preferred destination.
However, for the next few weeks, Coventry’s Belgrade will provide both spiritual and nutritional sustenance.
For the second year running, the theatre is presenting A Play, A Pie And A Pint.
It’s offering audiences the chance to spend lunchtimes, or early evenings, watching a new play from one of the UK’s leading writers, along with a pie and a pint.
For those who prefer to steer clear of the hard stuff, soft drinks are available.
The idea originated in a Glasgow pub called Oran Mor, where lunchtime plays were performed in the basement, and food was provided.
Working with Oran Mor, touring company Paines Plough, have now brought the idea to Coventry.
George Perrin, one of the artistic directors with Paines Plough, will direct two of the plays.
He said: “When we talked to the Belgrade about the idea, they were very enthusiastic. The management thought that people who normally didn’t go to the theatre would be willing to try this out.
“That’s exactly what happened in Glasgow. The audience up north is made up of people who wouldn’t normally call themselves theatre lovers.
“But because food and drink were thrown in with the deal, they were willing to give it a go.
“So, last year we took the idea to Coventry for the first time, and we did very, very well.
“There was hugely positive feedback. Seventy nine per cent of the audience were first time visitors to the theatre. That’s four out of every five people.
“It was such a success they asked us to come back again.”
And that’s exactly what they’re doing, with three innovative new works.
The first play of the series is Dig, by award-winning writer Katie Douglas. It follows the story of Tommy, a proud and successful family man who is made redundant from his managerial position. His brother offers him work as a taxi driver, but he’s determined not to demean himself, even if it costs him everything.
This is followed by You Cannot Go Forward From Where You Are Right Now, a new play by David Watson which explores the impact of technology on communication and relationships.
Finally, Juicy Fruits is about two very different people who rekindle their relationship after six years.
Perrin directs Dig and Juicy Fruits. He promises that audiences will enjoy thrilling works by established playwrights, along with fresh new voices.
What does he think makes the perfect PP&P performance?
“Forty-five minute plays are the equivalent of a short story,” he explains. “So they have to have a strong story. They have to have quickly identifiable characters, and it has to be perfectly formed within a forty-five minute time period. We chose writers who can do that very well. And I think this time we’ve picked extraordinary and varied pieces. If audiences can manage to see all three, they’ll get to enjoy a fantastic breadth of story, theme, world and style.”
Perrin enjoys working with writers at different stages of their careers.
“Katie Douglas is a very experienced TV writer, even though she’s only about 30. Paines Plough worked with her very early on in her career, but she hasn’t done much theatre since then. So this will be a sort of homecoming for her.
“David Watson is 25, but he started writing when he was 18.
“Leo Butler is the most experienced of the three. He’s had plays on at the RSC and The Royal Court.
“So it’s a real mix. And that’s also true in terms of the performers.”
Eating and drinking might be a fun extra for the audience. But isn’t all that gobbling and slurping off-putting for the performers?
“People have usually finished their lunch by the time the play starts. That’s not always the case, of course. But the audience are very respectful of the actors. And the actors really enjoy the informality of the occasion. It’s a fun atmosphere for them to perform in.
“Theatre can often be incredibly reverent. We’re all sitting in the same direction in the dark, told to be as quiet as possible. But I think it’s interesting when people don’t feel they have to do that. They do it because they want to.
“If I was to compare it to music, I’d say we’re an intimate acoustic gig, not the big, brash stadium performance. And the small gigs are always the best, of course.”
* A Play, a Pie and a Pint runs at the Belgrade Theatre from Tue 25 Oct until Fri 11 Nov. Performances are Tue–Fri 1pm & 6pm. For more information www.belgrade.co.uk