There’s a lot of banging coming from upstairs in The Stables Theatre, Hastings. The source of the sound turns out to be pre-school children. They’re obviously engaged in a serious amount of fun.
Fun? Do we remember the word? With lockdown (finally) over, it’s great to hear theatres have, finally, been revived with the sound of youthful joy filling its auditoria.
Chairperson Neil Selman is heading downstairs with laptop (and a cuppa) as he takes a bit of a breather from theatre work. He sits down in the gallery and joins Break Time News on a remote platform for our catch-up interview.
The backdrop is of paintings and we’re getting a feeling that normality has returned.
The first few months of 2022 had seen the theatre constantly filled with audiences which have been keen to lap up those lovely cultural treats. Treats which have been out of reach for many of us over the past couple of years.
And you can’t get much more culture than a goodly dollop of Shakespeare. The season opened with Macbeth. It’s a play which has entranced generations of theatre lovers.
Could it be the supposed usage of ‘real’ magic in its scripting which creates that sense of intrigue? Or is it simply that it contains a sinister plotline which has enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most Machiavellian of minds?
‘It was the biggest box office opening month for many years,’ says Neil. ‘It was a very modern production. There were no sets, no real costumes and the actors were on stage all the time.’
‘It looked at status and how it’s given and taken. It was grounded in everyday culture and so there was a different take on it.’
With our own political landscape currently mired in ongoing scandal, it seems The Bard knew a thing or two about how the dastardly workings of politics could spin the wisest of heads as they enter a murky world of double crossing in dingy back rooms.
It wasn’t just Macbeth which ‘wowed’ audiences as the staging of The Snow Queen saw the theatre became deluged in a myriad of special effects.
The technical side of the performances had been uniquely challenging. The dynamic adaptation, which flowed from the nib of Hastings’ writer, Michael Punter, ensured the whole theatre was immersed in an incredible set of effects. It certainly achieved its aim to transport the audience to a faraway world.
‘We used a new set of projectors,’ explains Neil. ‘It allowed us to project imagery all over the theatre.’
‘It meant we had clouds above, and below, one of the main characters as he went to the top of a mountain. It was a first for The Stables Theatre to have that amount of technology in one show.’
Unfortunately, due to the Omicron variant, the production had to be curtailed for the final few shows. But now, with the easing of restrictions, there’s only one more socially distanced performance planned with the production of Dial M for Murder.
And it’s not just audiences which are looking forward to the return to normality. The 1066 Youth Theatre will be up and running this year with its production of After Juliet.
Written by Sharman Macdonald, and originally commissioned by the Royal National Theatre, it tells the story which is set in the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths.
Two years ago, and we were all about to enter our first period of lockdown. Neil left a light on the stage so the ‘spirit of the theatre’ would know that the performers would, one day, be back.
Two years later, and England’s lifting of Covid restrictions means the light has now been replaced with the sound of children laughing upstairs. The theatre once again echoes with the sound of applause.
These are noises which are making a welcome return. They’re sounds which won’t just resonate at The Stables – but in theatres around the country.
Photography: Peter Mould / Zo Biba Leonard