A ghost light on the stage
It was a message which defined the year: One person putting a single illumination on an empty stage.
An act of hope to reflect an adage of the stage light always burning bright. That it will be a beacon of hope for the theatrical spirit. To let the ‘Gods of the Theatre’ know that actors, actresses, technicians and directors would be back.
And the message was heard ‘loud and clear’ beyond the bounds of Hastings as people wrote letters of support from all over the country.
And so here we are… one year on. And yes, The Stables Theatre is now gearing up for a new season. Albeit one which will still have noticeable differences to bygone times as we gently progress from the ‘new normal’ back (hopefully) to where we were a few years ago.
‘It’s a now or never feeling,’ says Neil Sellman, Chairman of The Stables Theatre and the person who planted the lamp firmly on the stage during a year of lockdowns and restrictions.
‘We are on the downward slope and all should be fine.’ It’s certainly been quite a journey for the team as they follow all of the official guidelines and make sure everything is as ‘Covid safe’ as it can be.
‘There’s been a core of people who’ve worked hard to get things done. To do so, they’ve had to change the way we would normally run the stables theatre and book shows.’ Neil is keen to point out this nucleus consists of a number of ‘unsung heroes’ who invest much into keeping the place running smoothly – from backstage work to its administration.
‘There will be subtle, but important, changes with track and trace being implemented for all the audience rather than just the representatives of a group.’
Upbeat and optimistic
Our last remote meeting took place when the third national lockdown hadn’t yet been announced and a tier system was, at that point, in place. Much has changed in a few short months.
And today things are looking decidedly different: more upbeat, more optimistic. In fact, I’m interviewing Neil (courtesy of Zoom) an hour before The Stables Theatre convenes its first face to face council meeting in more than a year. It’s a big step and one which was still unthinkable even a few short months ago.
‘Things are slowly coming back to life,’ says Neil. ‘When we were allowed to do so, our technicians have been able to come into the stables theatre at different times, so we’ve been able to rewire the sound box and check all the lamps.’
Initially, as the country continues to gradually re-open, the stables theatre will host small scale performances where the audience will be limited to 50% of capacity and the plays themselves will be socially distanced – with small cast numbers.
The team has come up with specific seating plans which will allow them to sell tickets in ones and twos. They’ve also had to rethink the whole way in which both the bar and the actual performances are run.
‘The bar will see table service with 40 people allowed in for seated drinks. All early shows will open for one act. There will be a guest list on the door which avoids us having to note individual details and allows people to buy tickets as presents.’
Things may change over the course of the next few months as full restrictions begin to end. With so many positive plans in the pipeline it genuinely feels like it’s the beginning of the end.
Front of House changes
The ‘front of house’ changes is a mirror image for what’s been happening backstage. In the past, teams of eight or nine people would be engaged in set building. That number has now dropped to six. Props are regularly disinfected. The onstage sets are roped off when not in use. All of the changes merely heighten the excitement as the upcoming programme will absolutely ‘wow’ audiences.
And there’s a lot coming up: ‘It’s A Sin’ director Peter Hoar will be talking about the highly acclaimed drama on Monday 31 May. The five-part television series, written by Russell T Davies, was ‘appointment to view’ television with its authentic account of gay life in London during the eighties.
Peter’s credits also include Game of Thrones and the evening is a chance for people to hear his thoughts and ask questions in an event which aims to raise money for the Terence Higgins Trust. The Stables Theatre will also be supporting Hastings Pride as it hosts a number of events over the course of four Sundays in July.
As you may have already seen, Break Time News is currently sharing the harrowing World War Two story of Lionel Wadley. A book recounting his time as a POW has recently been published. His story tells of dark times but, ultimately, leaves us with a message of hope. Screen and stables theatre have also tried to provide answers for how a civilised world could have quickly descended into such abject chaos.
Local playwright Michael Punter delves into this bleak chapter of modern history with his two-person drama which provides a glimpse of the madness which lay at the heart of the Third Reich.
‘Bunker Girls’ is directed by Adrian Bowd and sees Bertie Hustwayte and Jackie Eichler take on the leading roles of Gretel and Ilse. Both are witnesses to what happens in the Bunker as the war nears its end. One is scared. The other is convinced of forthcoming victory over the Soviets. It’s powerful stuff.
‘It took a bit of thinking through,’ explains Neil when he looks at how it’s been staged to meet Covid guidelines. ‘The rehearsals are all socially distanced and two weeks before the show begins, the cast becomes ‘socially bubbled’ with their own families who will be working backstage. This allows them to be closer than two metres during the performance.’
It’s fitting that the first opening production at The Stables Theatre should be provided by Stables’ cast and crew. We talk about the claustrophobic feel created by the drama. The idea that no one can leave the bunker. That sense of the unknown. The constant pressure of what may happen next.
And what of the stage light which captured the imagination? Well, over the past few months, there’s been a change. The gantry light is now left on and the lamp has been removed to make way for set building and rehearsals. A positive sign that things may, just may, be returning back to some semblance of normality.
There’s also been filming at the stables theatre with a team of paranormal experts seeing if they can find evidence of the supernatural. It’s expected the footage will make it to national television with the crews possibly capturing some compelling evidence. Evidence which may even sway the hardiest of sceptics into believing.
With its history spanning decades. With so many voices filling its auditorium. With so much passion being evoked on stage. With so many people entertaining us, moving us and making us stop and think, then, perhaps, it’s easy to ask: why shouldn’t the spiritual essence of The Stables Theatre want to make itself known in some way, shape or form? Maybe the return of normality will allow performers’ voices, mixed with audience laughter, tears and applause, to not only reverberate and echo around its walls but also to leave a continuing lasting impression on the building itself. Its imprint to be a continuing legacy of a living memory for generations to come.