Originally launched as an annual six-month festival in 1998, when the Royal Shakespeare Company cut back its programme at the venue, bite became year-long in 2002, when the RSC withdrew completely. Though the RSC’s departure was initially viewed as a worrying loss for the City-based arts complex, the bite programme has played a key role in the transformation of the Barbican Centre and, according to the Barbican, is critical in stimulating cross-arts collaboration.
At today’s lunch, Sheffield reeled off a list of impressive statistics from bite’s first ten years: 307 different shows - 74 of them co-commisioned/co-produced by Bite, 46 nominated for awards (of which 20 went on to win) - presented by 189 artists/companies from 37 countries and seen by more than 1.3 million people. Equally impressive, especially in 2007/8, has been the impact at the box office.
Speaking today, Sheffield said there’s no evidence of the credit crunch yet at the Barbican: “The last financial year was the best ever year for bite in terms of ticket sales. We have far exceeded our target for the January-July 2008 period thanks to hit shows like The Harder They Come and Black Watch. The next season is looking healthy. We fully expect Lipsynch to sell out before it opens and the return of Complicite’s A Disappearing Number is the hottest selling ticket of the season.”
Since its run at the Barbican in March, The Harder They Come, co-produced with Theatre Royal Stratford East, has transferred to the West End’s Playhouse. The National Theatre of Scotland co-production of Black Watch won rave reviews last month for its London transfer to the Barbican, where it finishes its sell-out season on 26 July ahead of further international touring dates.
Lipsynch and A Disappearing Number are the two biggest theatre highlights of the September to December tenth anniversary schedule. The autumn season kicks off with the world premiere of Lipsynch, a nine-hour epic ensemble piece by Ex Machina directed by legendary Canadian director Robert Lepage, which runs from 6 to 14 September (See News, 13 May 2008). And Complicite’s A Disappearing Number returns from 10 October to 1 November after its 2007 Barbican premiere, which garnered it Best New Play prizes at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Laurence Olivier Awards (See News, 1 Apr 2008).
Other bite theatre highlights this autumn in the Pit include: Helium, Slung Low’s promenade piece which won this year’s Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust award (3 to 20 September); Theatre O’s latest, Delirium, a retelling of The Brothers Karamazov (5 to 22 November in the Pit); a season of two Iranian plays, Mungu Theatre’s take on Greek myth Daedalus & Icarus (25 to 29 November) and Amir Reza Koohestani and Mahin Sadri’s documentary-style Quartet: A Journey North (2 to 6 December).
Over the festive Christmas period at the end of the tenth anniversary year there will be three different offerings: Catherine Wheels Theatre’s promenade staging of Hansel and Gretel in the Barbican Theatre (1 December to 4 January 2009); alternative adult show Ida Barr: So this is Christmas (10 to 23 December) in the Pit; and the interactive Miss High Leg Kick and Boogalo Stu’s School of Dance (3 to 20 December) in the bite rehearsal room.
- by Terri Paddock