Is it worth taking shows to London?*

Edward Barrett, 3 October 2012

Called by: Annie.

Present: Annie; Denise; Gordon; Ed. Joining later: Francesca; Leroy

A brief conversation between Gordon and Ed before the others arrive: pros & cons of London vs Edinburgh. Agreed that people from round the country go to Edinburgh to find work to program, though getting seen may in fact be easier in London – which is, after all, the national centre for theatrical work. Also noted that the Edinburgh Festival seems to be better for stand-up comedy at the moment – though things seem to go in cycles.

ANNIE: So have you created your own work, or taken stuff to London with the Everyman & Playhouse?

GORDON: With the Everyman & Playhouse. It would be more usual for us to promote the idea of (say) a two- or three-week run at their venue. Rare that someone approaches us, as we make work specific for our audience – we’re not going to cast Barry from EastEnders to make work more attractive.

ANNIE: We (Coal) have a devised piece at the Manchester Royal Exchange Studio in November. We took another piece to Edinburgh and on tour, which we want to take to London. We have links with Soho Theatre and the Gate. Wondering how to ‘frame’ the work – it’s not new any more. Directed by John Wright (of Told by an Idiot) – The Fragility of X (about fragile X syndrome - a chromosomal abnormality with devastating effects and is one of the principal causes of autism) – it’s not a kitchen sink drama, for example.

DENISE: I’ve seen it. It’s physical and playful, but truthful.

ANNIE: One of the actors was a lead in This is England. We get some mentoring from Manchester Royal Exchange. How to market the work is the question.

GORDON: Go to BAC (Battersea Arts Centre) – get John to go with you.

ANNIE: Has BAC become a bit ‘live arts-y’? This is theatre.

GORDON: I think BAC changes depending on the work – it had a physical theatre focus, then site-specific work, then became heavily stand-up centred. They take a fresh approach.

ANNIE: we have a different, devised piece that we’re taking to The Gate – John Wright’s directing something elses there.

DENISE: John Wright is a great resource!

GORDON: Always worth taking the Artistic Director of the company. I’ve mentored a few companies. Having something recognisable is often key – John Wright in your case – and exploiting that.

DENISE: Yeah – without being cruel, who’re Coal or Annie – but John Wright . . .

GORDON: Frantic Assembly were trying to get into London, finally ‘broke’ it by collaborating with another company already working there. Or companies might work with a known choreographer, designer, or whatever.

ANNIE: I haven’t ‘sold’ my connections, partly because previous work has been very different.

GORDON: Where have Told by an Idiot played in London?

ANNIE: The Barbican.

DENISE: I’ve used my links with The Lowry – worked there as a performer with PennyStorm Theatre.

GORDON: I worked at the Barbican – it was me who had the initial conversations with Told by an Idiot – though that was about four years ago.

ANNIE: The Barbican is perhaps a bit big – hosts international artists. I’ve been looking at Camden People’s Theatre. How do I establish myself rather than saying ‘I was with Told by an Idiot’?

GORDON: It’s all about the ‘in’.

ANNIE: Camden People’s Theatre is ‘on the turn’ (ie getting a larger profile).

FRANCESCA: Why would you go (to London)?

ANNIE: To establish and develop work. I’ve been in Manchester for the last five years – overrun with theatre companies, but which are breaking out of the North West?

GORDON: No point going ‘for the sake of it’. Edinburgh can work – but weigh up the benefits compared to the cost.

FRANCESCA: Considering London, and development, with Monkeyrun (Manchester)*..

ANNIE: How do you do your mentoring?


FRANCESCA: It’s about having a pathway as well.

ANNIE: Where are the up-and-coming producers?

DENISE: As a producer – is it important to have a producer on-site?

GORDON: The Arts Council had a policy about 6 – 7 years ago, who’d work with four or five different companies – a model that works. Useful to have someone with a different skill-set - though if you have a company-based producer, the organisation can become too bureaucratic. Some producers might just look after tour-booking, for example – though that is a big part of things.

LEROY: Companies are finding it more difficult to get into fringe London venues.

ED: Similar locally. The Unity is getting more difficult, for example, because they’re booking so far ahead.

GORDON: There isn’t a glut of theatres in London.

LEROY: Arts Council support for regional tours is decided by a regional committee. Can include two regions, and one could be London. For a national tour, the work needs to have a greater significance, and decided in London. Be careful not to fall between the two! Touring three regions would be considered a national tour, for example, even if it isn’t in reality.

ANNIE: You can’t include Edinburgh in an application from the North West, though you can include London.

LEROY: That’s because there’s already a lot of public money supporting Edinburgh, from Arts for Scotland. Why do people think they need to go to London?

ANNIE: Exposure; developing scope; getting the work ‘out there’; seeing how it fares vs other work.

GORDON: you’re more likely to get other fringe – even other London venues – if you’ve had a London venue.

ANNIE: You also reach a non-London audience – lots of visitors to London go to the theatre. Where exactly you put it on in London is important.

LEROY: So is London better than Edinburgh?

GORDON: In terns of what we’re discussing, yeah.

ANNIE: There’s a London stint in the histories of all the successful companies I’ve looked at.

GORDON: Yes. If a company has been at the Barbican, or the Battersea Arts Centre, it can be seen as a sign of quality.

LEROY: We do something similar with benchmarkinGORDON: we take notice of partnerships with bodies that have a history of making quality work.

GORDON: Writers can also notice – they’ll be more likely to want to work with your company if you’ve had work on at Soho Theatre, for example. It’s also easier to attract national press.

LEROY: 40% of all producing theatres are in the North – though this could actually limit your access, as they’re already producing their own work.

ANNIE: I know of some companies in the North that may be getting some funding, but they’re still existing on a wing and a prayer.

LEROY: We like to see quality work going from London to the regions – the reverse isn’t so eye-catching to the Arts Council. There needs to be some justification – a North West tour with one London date wouldn’t seem appropriate, for example.

DENISE: Would it be enough of a reason if someone important based in Southwark would come and see the piece, for example?

LEROY: The application process leaves plenty of room for your rationale – explain it well, and it’ll make sense to us.

GORDON: It might not be London itself that’s your reason for going – you might be able to attract a better creative team if you’ve got London dates, for example. Even having ne other venue may attract more / better applications than just being on in Edinburgh.

GORDON: An RFO can’t produce work just on its funding. A touring company – Frantic Assembly, for example, only has its core costs covered by a grant. If you can co-produce with a London venue, they might put several thousand pounds in, for example; and if you can arrange a longer run you may get more funding than if you book a three-night run.

LEROY: Which would also raise your profile.

GORDON: Actors will have heard of you, want to work with you.

LEROY: It’s a profile thing.

ANNIE: As you said, os a different set of skills.

FRANCESCA: Strategic thinking.

ANNIE: Useful for your funding application to have thought through all of this.

ED: Though sometimes you have an indefinable feeling that a piece of work will resonate at this time, for this audience. Difficult to define, so difficult to gain finding for.

LEROY: Yes, something ill-defined would be difficult for us to support.

DENISE: The old phrase ‘artistic excellence’ is also difficult to define.

GORDON: For a lot of actors, ‘success’ equals having a show in London. Even the Everyman can’t attract some actors for local shows.

ANNIE: Also a lot of actors live there.

LEROY: London theatre is really revered in America – seen as higher than New York even; and they will have heard of the Edinburgh Festival.

GORDON: Edinburgh is a real risk financially now.

LEROY: And hard to be seen amongst so many shows.

ANNIE: The venue can play a huge part in attracting an audience – it’s a bit of a walk up that hill! Interestingly, two Canadian stand-ups found it worth coming over for five days – having ‘Sell out Edinburgh Festival show’ on their website sells.

GORDON: The cachet.

FRANCESCA: getting a few e-mails saying ‘we enjoyed the show’ is not enough.


London, edinburgh, fringe, Edinburgh, Fringe, london