Just as the rise of the middle class has almost consumed all but the highest and lowest classes, so the title ‘Off-West End’ has threatened to encompass Fringe theatre; just what is left of this theatrical ‘working class’?
Whilst the fringe is not as radical as it might once have been (or perhaps ever was) some venues are still living up to its rather romantic dictionary definition “Not part of the mainstream; unconventional, peripheral, or extreme.”
In celebration of such venues and as a small exploration in what makes them tick I will be profiling one each month, beginning with one of my favourites, The Yard.
“I sort of love our location but it also provides huge challenges, we’re on the edge of the city, well we’re falling of it really!”
Pop up theatre The Yard is as off the beaten track as you can get. With a little help from friends Practice Architecture, artistic director Jay Miller transformed a dormant warehouse in Hackney Wick into an amphitheatre and thriving bar. “When I arrived in London I looked around and thought where can I work? I don’t really know anyone in the London theatre scene but I do know architects…”
This may sound like the beginning of a very recognisable ‘old boys network’ (with Miller a Cambridge grad to boot) but The Yard truly feels like an outlier to a rather fixed London theatre scene. Many of the performers come from non theatre backgrounds like the Royal College of Art so the pool of talent feels genuinely new.
After a summer launch and solidifying autumn season The Yard is back having just confirmed repeat funding for the next three years. Last month it started with a bang with If what I hear is true, a hybrid of clubbing and performance inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
Next up is Leper Colony which will be in ‘possession of the Yard for 18 days and nights to mark the transit of Venus’ followed by LIVEART SHOW’s Rhinegold.
Meanwhile every Sunday The Yard’s production manager (who lives just round the corner) organises Matryoshka, an event where the space is given over to local artists to exhibit and perform work to often glorious psychedelic effect.
All in all it’s a diverse line up; sometimes it’s hard to get a handle on what The Yard is about from its eclectic programme. But while the commissions are varied they are all based on risk, which Miller feels is at the heart of The Yard ethos: “It was an incredible risk putting it up… but we’ve decided to commit to that risk, we take risks on artists and we’re challenging the building, we’re changing it constantly”.
Furthermore the pieces are often contemporary reflections on fixed source texts such as Eliot. Just as the theatre space of The Yard is surprisingly traditional, so Miller appears interested in work that is testing classical ideas of theatrical form.
For him it is their focus on ensemble work that differentiates them from other venues such as Battersea Arts Centre. But they share an understanding of the importance of public spaces as areas of feedback and communion.
“We do feedback forms,” Miller groans, “but I kind of hate them.” He brightens palpably “The thing we do all the time is try and talk to the audience, the artists are always in the bar afterwards - that’s why the bar is so important because it enables those conversations.”
So why should you go to The Yard? “If you’re looking for something slightly fun, off the wall and challenging and cheap then come here. That’s the dream - spend an evening with us, have a meal, listen to the band, have a dance, look at the art, that’s what I hope us to be.”