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Having already brought King Lear to Blackwell’s Bookshop, productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet also make up Creation Theatre's 2016 programme.

20 years of Creation Theatre

As Creation Theatre celebrates its 20th birthday, chief executive and producer Lucy Askew talks to Sam Bennett about the company’s Shakespeare-crammed 2016
Lucy Askew

"A bit punky"

“Staying financially afloat as an unfunded company has been very challenging at times,” Lucy Askew says as we discuss the difficulties of the past 20 years for Creation Theatre.

Sitting in the Jam Factory, she continues: “we’re in a great place now but in 20 years we have nearly closed three times.” How close did they really come to shutting up shop? “In 2012 we were at the point where we knew we all needed to find other jobs,” she recalls.


 

A final effort to raise the £50,000 required to stay in business came in the form of one of Creation’s Christmas shows. Audience members dropped humble sums into a collection bucket and the goal was reached. “There was no big donor who came in and saved the day,” Lucy tells me, “it was a lot of people giving small amounts. For that volume of people to care really meant a lot.

“It makes getting to 20 years all the more of an achievement and a celebration,” the producer states of the “hairy times” for Creation. “It hasn’t been a walk in the park, but a real drive against adversity to get to this point – and we’ve done it.”

They’ve reached the age of 20 in this momentous year for Shakespeare, and thus they’re going full throttle in toasting his work. Having already brought King Lear to Blackwell’s Bookshop, productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet also make up the 2016 programme.

“To be honest,” Lucy says, “I just went on Google and asked what the best Shakespeare plays were. There was a RSC survey a few years ago where 2000 people voted on what they felt were the best ones and it came up with Lear, Dream and Hamlet. I sat and thought I’d be quite happy with them for this year!”

When a company’s name suggests brand-spanking new, though, how do they approach plays that are centuries old? “We don’t really do new writing,” Lucy answers. “We love to take classic stories which people have a bit of knowledge about (everyone’s got a sense of what Hamlet is even if they’ve never seen it or read it), get a really interesting venue and think about the most creative way to do the story in that space.

“We want to make Shakespeare as accessible as we can,” she says. “A lot of the time it is really accessible and you can follow it. But you have to be prepared to just go with it. If there’s the odd line you don’t understand, it’s ok, just enjoy it for what it is. With really good Shakespeare it won’t bother you if you don’t know what one word means because you’ll be so carried along with the characters and the story.”

With Creation’s birthday celebrations comes the return of directors who have significantly impacted on the group in the past. So Zoe Seaton, the only person to direct Dream for Creation, is back to do it again.

“It’s absolutely bonkers,” Lucy warns. “Zoe has fairies on stilts and she’s working with an illusionist. We’re calling it an interactive adventure, there’s no central place that you come to, you get given a location to turn up at and then in a small group you see a piece of the story and get told where to go next. It’s a bit crystal maze and eventually all the groups end up together.”

The location for Hamlet is less ambiguous. “University Parks is so beautiful and it’s got so many possibilities,” Lucy says. “But for years we assumed we couldn’t go there. Because we’ve been going 20 years we thought we must have asked once and they said no so we never asked. Then we found that there’s no record of us ever asking them. So we got in touch and they said yes.”

The show is directed by Gari Jones, who’s been at the Creation helm for productions of The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth, and for their last two Christmas shows. “He’s really good at making everything fresh, contemporary and a bit punky,” Lucy claims. “In Hamlet the actors fall out of this beautiful, beaten-up, old van we bought and create the show. It’s like they’re a fictional Creation Theatre, a bit like they’re these travellers who have been performing Hamlet for 20 years.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at secret Oxford locations until 30th July, with Hamlet at University Parks 13th July-13th August.

“People take it for granted that there will always be open air Shakespeare productions,” Lucy states. “It’s very easy to assume it will always be there. But actually it does need supporting. A lot of open air Shakespeare is unfunded, it’s not just Creation but a lot of other similar companies that don’t receive funding for producing this kind of work, it really does need audiences to come out and see it.”

Having rescued Creation in 2012, here’s hoping Oxford audiences show the same level of support to Shakespeare four years on. After all, he’s probably earned it.

 

- Sam Bennett

 

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