Leicester’s Curve theatre is celebrating its fifth birthday. As one of the UK’s leading producing theatres, Curve has hosted a wide range of productions and has been perhaps best known for producing musical theatre. As Fiona Allan, CEO of Curve, states, it did not set out to be known for programming musicals, as the Leicester Theatre Trust already had a fantastic reputation for producing these at the Haymarket, under Artistic Director Paul Kerryson, undoubtedly one of the leading directors of musical theatre in the country. It was a natural progression to produce musicals at the Curve; with the deadly murder-musical Chicago about to land on the Leicester stage, the theatre has previously programmed numerous hits such as West Side Story, Godspell, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Carousel, Hot Stuff and numerous works by Stephen Sondheim.
Musical theatre is not for every audience, meaning Curve also produces and co-produces a range of other genres, from dark contemporary drama such as The Pillowman, to classic and comedic drama such as Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn, contemporary dance such as the Akram Khan Company – led by Khan who, incidentally, studied at Leicester’s De Montfort University – and children’s theatre, such as The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo. In a turn towards the more controversial, Allan recalls the decision to present the Batsheva Ensemble in 2012, a group of young dancers from Israel performing a production which was picketed by various anti-Israeli lobby groups. Protesters were planted inside the theatre to disrupt the performance yet the Batsheva tour went on to be nominated for a UK Theatre Award for Best Tour of 2012.
In an additional strand of Curve’s programme, regular work with the local community is both enjoyed and encouraged, focused on the annual community production which encompasses actors, technicians and the audience in developing skills, community spirit and an understanding of the role the arts play in society. In a big milestone for Curve, the team won the Visit England Gold Award for Access in 2011. As a national recognition for accessibility in its broadest sense, for the physical accessibility of the building and the accessibility of ticket prices, Allan was particularly proud to lead this. From just £2 to see a public dress rehearsal, a visit to Curve is affordable for all, and the extent of the community and education programmes ensures that Curve is reaching out and making theatre accessible to all of Leicester’s diverse communities. Programming new talent does not come easy, yet Allan’s team works hard to ensure they deliver. They are constantly looking out for potential cast members, new companies, emerging artists, with lots of studio programming coming from Edinburgh festival performances; a flat is usually hired during the Fringe meaning the team – including Allan! – can see six or seven shows a day.
The artistic team is led by Kerryson, who works to plan, develop and sometimes direct productions. Next up in terms of directing for Kerryson is a brand new production of musical Hairspray next year, a welcome production for the theatre and Leicester’s audiences. Working alongside Lee Proud as choreographer and Ben Atkinson as musical director, the show will run from late February to early April. Kerryson’s credits include the forthcoming production of Chicago and Hello, Dolly!, for which Janie Dee was recently named best performer at the UK Theatre Awards, a testament to the theatre and the artistic team. As a result of such rich theatre on offer, Curve has welcomed more than one million people through its doors in these past five years. Strong relationships have been established within the city and county, and are helping to grow Curve’s national reputation year on year. Allan likes to think of Curve as a showcase for the city and region’s talent, a symbol of diversity and potential. Studies have shown a real economic impact on the city by the theatre, with the Curve’s shows attracting many visitors to Leicester.
The wide programme of events and productions places the theatre at the heart of Leicester, providing something for everyone on a local, national and international scale. Not only are audiences benefitting from the richness of Curve, but so, too, are theatre practitioners: as part of the Curve’s on-going commitment to supporting and developing talent within the East Midlands, the first Associate Artists have been appointed – Aakash Odedra Company, New Art Club and METRO-BOULOT-DODO.
There have been so many major achievements of the Curve, Allan is unable to single one out. Looking back over the Curve’s five years, Allan identifies a huge turning point for the organisation with the great success of The King and I, which Kerryson directed at Christmas in 2010. It was a sell-out, so much so that it was picked up to transfer to Edinburgh Festival Theatre for the 2011 Christmas show and to go on to tour across the UK in 2012. In total, the production was seen by more than 200,000 people around the country, and marked the point at which people in Leicester, and nationally, sat up and took notice of the fantastic shows Curve produces.
Photo by Flickr user Kilian Seifried under a Creative Commonc licence.