The Canadians Are Coming - Meet Theatre Newfoundland Labrador
The Lowther Pavilion, Lytham St Anne's
Sandra Mangan | Monday, March 16, 2015
Pay what you like may not be a new concept in theatre, but it is still a gamble, particularly when you are bringing a production across the Atlantic to a small venue in a little Lancashire town.
But that’s exactly what Roger McCann, general manager at the Lowther Pavilion in Lytham St Anne’s, has planned for late April.
Roger chatted to DSC reporter Sandra Mangan about his love affair with Theatre Newfoundland Labrador, and why he thinks the audience is going to love them.
How did you hear about Theatre Newfoundland Labrador?
I first saw the company at the Edinburgh Festival in 2004 doing a play called Tempting Providence. At the time I was working for Arts Council England in the South East and was responsible for a number of small scale theatre companies. I didn’t have a venue, I only had two weeks to find an audience and I had no money. But we pulled it off.This show caught my eye (out of more than 2500 different shows that year) because it was by a small scale rural company. I was completely blown away by the quality of the storytelling, the skill of the actors and the inventiveness of the staging. A couple of days later I met the company at a reception held by the Canada Council and we decided there and then to add a couple of performances to their schedule and bring them south. It was a crazy thing to do because I didn’t have a venue, I only had two weeks to find an audience and I had no money. But we pulled it off. Out of that performance came an ongoing relationship with a rural company in Hampshire which culminated in an exchange of writers and the creation of a co-production that played on both sides of the Atlantic.
It was pure chance that seven and a half years later I met Sue Robinson of Spot On, the Lancashire rural touring scheme, and she mentioned that she was looking for a date for a Canadian company called… Theatre Newfoundland Labrador! I didn’t hesitate. This time I did have a venue but didn’t have a date, my brochure announcing the entire season had gone out so I’d struggle to find an audience, and I’m used to not having any money. But hey, I’ve been here before and with a bit of juggling and willingness all round we’ve made it work.
How would you describe their style of performance?
In a word, mesmerising. This is storytelling of the highest order, with minimal set and costumes but acting so good that your imagination makes you feel as though you’re watching a Hollywood epic.
What inspired you to take the daring decision to offer a 'pay as much as you like' option?
‘Pay what you like’ is not new in the theatre but usually it’s for one performance in a run of a week or more and is seen as a way of making theatre accessible to those who might not be able to afford it. My motivation is different.
People can be reluctant to take a risk on an unknown product – that’s why so much of what you see in theatres in Blackpool is dominated by ‘stars’; it’s a familiar ‘brand’ that offers comfort. But a television star is not necessarily the best actor to bring a theatre show to life. This is an unknown show by an unknown company so people might see it as a risk.
But I know the company is brilliant! By taking away the financial risk I hope people will be prepared to trust my judgement and give it a go. I’d rather have a full house of people waiting to decide what they’ll pay than play to half a house. I’m really confident that they’ll be swept away as I was.
How do you think ticketholders will respond?
We did a ‘pay what you like’ show recently with an unknown comedian. I know that had we charged up front we’d have had a very small audience but as it was over 200 people came and at the end they contributed about as much as we would have charged.
Bookings are already higher for Theatre Newfoundland than I would have expected for a similar event.
What can audiences expect from the show?
With Cruel Times In Between is a beautiful portrait of life in Newfoundland at the start of the 20th Century. It was a pioneer land with a harsh environment dominated by the weather, but that created an astonishingly strong community. The show’s got everything - drama, song, poetry, love, heartbreak and comedy with outstanding performances and breathtakingly inventive staging.
Seven years after I first saw the company I still have vivid memories of that performance. This show will, I’m sure, be just as powerful and live in the memory just as long.
How can they get tickets?
Although the tickets are free for this show on April 27 at 7.30pm, this is still a ticketed show so people should get tickets from the Lowther Box Office – telephone 01253 794221. It’s not available online.
Tell me a little about the Lowther Pavilion...
The Lowther Pavilion is a 450 seat theatre on West Beach in Lytham, surrounded by beautiful gardens. Originally built in 1921 it has had a number of reincarnations since then and the present layout of the building dates from the 80s. We’re shortly due to begin the latest refurbishment.
The programme is a complete mix ranging from top comedians like Milton Jones and singers of the calibre of Barbara Dickson and Jacquie Dankworth to amateur productions of plays and musicals. There’s not a great deal of professional theatre at the moment but I’m working on building that – hence this production from Theatre Newfoundland Labrador. We have a number of children’s shows during the year and this year’s pantomime will be Cinderella.
I think it’s a cracking little venue at the heart of the community in Lytham. You can find out more at www.lowtherpavilion.co.uk
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