Image by The Bike Shed Theatre
The well-acclaimed British Cheese Board estimates that 3,500 million litres of milk is turned into cheese in the UK each year. What many people don’t know however about this Christmas cracker fact is that the main cheese output is in London, on the West End. Let me make one thing clear from the start: theatre shouldn’t age as well as cheese does.
I suppose the most well known musical is Les Miserables. It was praised on its release in 1985 for being the musical that touched you emotionally and made you cry. It was a revolution in theatre, but that’s just it: it was. To try and revive it, the musical gave birth to its film sibling. I mean, it was inspired in being a sung-on-set musical film. But you know something: it took away that indescribable buzz we feel in an actual theatre, no matter how good your surround sound system was. So when theatre over matures and tries to expand into other medias is it still theatre, or just a franchise?
At this point, I want to draw your attention to a musical I recently saw: Edgar and The Land of Lost. Not heard of it? Good. It was a five actor strong musical performed in The Bikeshed Theatre by drama graduates, mostly from Exeter University. It was without doubt the best musical I have seen to date, and I don’t really like musicals! The space was intimately small. The actors approached and high fived us and I even got a Christmas card from the protagonist, Peewee, during the show. There were a few choreographed movements yes, but not a pair of jazz hands was in sight. What bliss! It was fresh and upbeat. They were the actors, technical managers and musicians all in one. What was most heart-warming though, was that we were treated like individual three-dimensional human beings, not just ‘tonight’s crowd’.
The show was scheduled for about a four week run and then the actors would burry it ceremoniously on their CV and move onto the next venture. It was a brief moment of magic, a momentary breath in the wind that lived to the max, and died young. Pasteurised milk amongst the big cheeses. It was a true example of theatre’s purpose to innovate and drive forwards, and we can only do that when we cut all the safety lines even if it is for just a few months. People should be saying “I’m so gutted I didn’t catch that show” rather than “I’m seeing The Mousetrap on the West End for the fifth time”.
So my lesson for today is that we’re growing too attached to something that should be constantly evolving. For the aspiring actor, the biggest theatre is found in the smallest of venues. If you’re not willing to take the leap of faith into something new, then just like the shows on the West End you my friend are going to end up as one smelly Camembert.