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Celebrating Eastern Angles 30th Anniversary

  • Date: 23 July 2012
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: South East
margaret catchpole cast Margaret Catchpole 2012 Rosalind Steele & Becky Pennick , credit Mike Kwasniak

Eastern Angles, an Arts Council England National portfolio organisation, is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. Formed in 1982, Eastern Angles has become a national model of excellence for rural touring and has continued to grow and thrive over the years to include national touring, performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and site-specific opportunities. 

The year has got off to a busy start, with highlights including I Heart Peterborough preparing to perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August, and the success of Private Resistance written by Eastern Angles Artistic Director Ivan Cutting.

In addition to these fantastic plays and marking their anniversary in true Eastern Angles style the theatre company has showcased a revival of the much loved 18th century love story Margaret Catchpole, originally staged 12 years ago. The show provided a jaw-dropping and unique audience experience; as an alternative to the four walls of a theatre the audience were invited to watch the performance inside an aircraft hangar. Eastern Angles transformed the aircraft hangar into an atmospheric 280-seater theatre space using their own tiered seating, set, sound and lighting equipment. The production opened on the 21 June until 8 July and has received a host of fantastic reviews. The show is part of the London 2012 Festival Cultural Olympiad and has been granted an Inspire Mark by London 2012. 

We managed to catch up with Ivan Cutting in between rehearsals for Margaret Catchpole and asked him some questions about the theatre company.

What were the overall aims and objectives of the theatre company when it first launched and how have these changed over the last 30 years?

We started as five actors with the principal aim of getting work for ourselves, but also with a belief that East Anglia deserved the kind of theatre company that other regions seemed to take for granted. We believed that rural touring was not just about access but about content too, and that the work we presented should have grounding in the region. This meant one thing; that we had to produce it ourselves. Initially we devised shows, then I proposed the documentary style of Peter Cheeseman, who had inspired me, and then as funding arrived we commissioned new writers and explored adaptations of local stories. We also found that one of the company, Pat Whymark, was a brilliant composer and musical director, which led to a lot of live music and a style immediately appealing to audiences confronted by new work.

We spent the first ten years trying not to scare our audiences, then we realised they were pretty experienced by now and so, at times we could present something bleaker and more challenging. Thirty years later I still believe we are able to offer new writing that pushes our audiences so they end up on a journey they didn’t know they wanted to go on.

What do you consider to be Eastern Angles biggest highlights and successes in the last 30 years?

Producing Waterland in 1989 (before the film!) was our first big profile success which transferred to London. At the same time the village hall touring had built up a good loyal audience who now also came to see our larger scale autumn shows and the ever successful Christmas shows, which have become our cash cow.

The early decisions to promote ourselves, run a box-office and create an auditorium in any found space has paid great returns in both economic sustainability, and artistic freedom leading to The Wuffings (with fire, water and 20 tons of sand) in 1997, The Anatomist (with nudity and necrophilia) in 2006, Bentwater Roads (with multi-time periods and a community chorus) in 2010, and more tithe barns, fire stations and community centres than I could ever mention.

And also the biggest challenges?

The challenges are mostly technical (dodgy circuits and temperamental tea urns), logistics (King’s Lynn one day, Brentwood the next), or human resources (keeping writers to deadlines and directors to budget). But many of the obstacles other companies experience, such as new writing, cultural diversity and parts for women don’t worry us, we do it all and we relish the opportunity to explore those hidden areas of experience a region as unique as the East offers.

The Platform Peterborough project has been very successful with I Heart Peterborough performing at Edinburgh this year. Why has engagement with the Peterborough community been important to Eastern Angles?

We took on Peterborough following our biggest challenge - from the Arts Council itself. It’s proved to be both our greatest test and most interesting opportunity. A city that is both new town and ancient borough, that embraces many different communities, yet lacks a real identity. We started, like we did thirty years ago, exploring the sense of place, trying to find the city’s soul, collecting stories, dramatising them, and inviting audiences to connect with that.

It’s been important to us to show that fundamentally, any community needs to articulate and celebrate its own stories, whether they are mythical, contemporary or historical, and that the point of community touring, repeat, is not just access but content.

Joel Horwood’s new play, I Heart Peterborough, written for us, is a unique and fascinating response to the city and a way of showing the world that Peterborough is a creative place with lots to offer.

We are also looking forward to the climax of our Heritage Lottery Funded project around the period of the Peterborough Development Corporation, Forty Years On, which features a documentary in 2013 and an Arts Council England funded Community Play in 2014.

Eastern Angles prides itself in being able to perform in almost any space, what are the practicalities of this and what are the positives of being able to offer this to audiences?

Give us an empty space any day rather than a specially built theatre. I do believe that a building with its own working history offers a great backdrop to any kind of arts activity, however experimental or traditional. And audiences these days are particularly attuned to the distinctive event, the live experience that treats them as individuals and is unique in space and time. Most practicalities can be sorted, or the parameters help define the event. One has to learn not to fight the givens but to turn them to your advantage and make them part of your aesthetic. Once you’ve got your own head around that, you’re away.

For more information about Eastern Angles please visit; http://www.easternangles.co.uk/