Catherine Love: Regional theatres looking forwards and outwards
Sam Hodges' exciting inaugural season at the Nuffield Theatre might offer a model for regional buildings to nurture the new and the local
As new season announcements rush into inboxes thick and fast, it's fascinating to trace the shape of the country's theatre over the next few months. The Young Vic has achieved something of a coup with its blockbuster year of renowned international artists, while the Finborough Theatre continues with its strong track record of new plays and rediscoveries of lost classics. But last week, one announcement in particular caught my attention: Sam Hodges' inaugural season at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton.
As a former student of the University of Southampton, I have to fess up to a particular interest in the fortunes of the Nuffield, but this is an exciting season by any standards. Hodges is strengthening existing relationships, with another visiting production from Cheek By Jowl and the continuation of the Emerging Director Development Programme in collaboration with Headlong and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, as well as bringing in new blood. A host of exciting young associates are joining the venue, including directors Michael Longhurst and Blanche McIntyre and designer Tom Scutt, while Hodges has stated his intention to develop the relationship between the theatre and the University whose campus it sits on.
It's these last two developments that suggest the most promise. Regional venues like the Nuffield surely have a responsibility both to future generations of artists, whose development is necessary to sustain both the building and its audiences, and to the area in which they are situated.
Hodges' plans cannily marry the two: through collaborating with the University to appoint the theatre's first writer-in-residence (Adam Brace), it may be possible to at once develop a playwright, nurture future theatre-makers coming up through the University, and establish a stronger connection with a local student base of theatregoers. A major outdoor project next summer, meanwhile, will jointly celebrate the 50th anniversaries of the Nuffield and the City of Southampton, headlined by a new commission around Southampton Football Club.
Elsewhere in the country, other incoming artistic directors are likewise looking forwards and outwards. Lorne Campbell, who has recently taken the reins at Northern Stage, sees it as one of his main priorities to continue supporting the network of artists across the North of England that was developed under his predecessor Erica Whyman. He is also emphatic about the need for the theatre to be truly local, programming work that speaks specifically to Newcastle and its people, as well as participating in discussion with a national and international context.
A prime example of Campbell's local, national and international outlook is next year's production of Catch 22 – which is, incidentally, touring to the Nuffield. It's a show produced by Northern Stage, in partnership with a leading young international theatre-maker – director Rachel Chavkin of The TEAM – which is then touring the country. Who says local has to be parochial?
Another of the Nuffield's partners shares a similar vision. The West Yorkshire Playhouse under James Brining has the development of emerging artists at the heart of its purpose with schemes like Furnace, while this year's Transform Festival provided an early but telling statement of intent about Brining's tenure. The festival ran with the subtitle "My Leeds, My City" and had a suitably local flavour, offering work that engaged directly both with Leeds-based artists who were new to the theatre and with participants living nearby.
Of course, Transform is just two weeks of the year, but when I visited the building for the festival there was a definite sense from the team there that this might well be sign of things to come. My hope, for the benefit of both artists and audiences, is that this sophisticated sense of place and forward-looking momentum can continue beyond the first, thrilling ripples of change.
Look out for Catherine's interview with new Northern Stage artistic director Lorne Campbell later this week