Catherine Love: Reasons to be cheerful

It might be a gloomy time of year, but there is plenty to remain optimistic about in theatres across the country as we enter 2014, says Catherine Love

Joan Littlewood
Joan Littlewood

Apparently today, the first day back at work for many after the festive break, is the most depressing day of the year. The Christmas decorations are down, the last of the mince pies has been eaten and the inbox is exploding with unread emails. But – at the risk of sounding like a tired cliché – the start of a new year also offers an opportunity for optimism, enthusiasm and change, three characteristics that can certainly be found in theatres in 2014.

In my recent look ahead at the next 12 months, I pointed to just some of the exciting theatre that 2014 promises audiences, while Michael Coveney has identified some more upcoming treats. Even beyond these tantalising offerings, however, there's a tentatative flavour of hope in the air.

This can be seen over the next couple of weeks at Camden People's Theatre, for instance, which is displaying real confidence in theatre's potential for activating change through its programming of Hard to Resist, a festival celebrating idealism and resistance, featuring artists such as Tom Frankland, Lucy Ellinson, Chris Thorpe and Hannah Nicklin. The annual session of Devoted and Disgruntled later this month, meanwhile, offers an opportunity for theatre-makers and theatre lovers alike to share their passion and frustration – and perhaps even come up with some answers to the problems we all face.

And the optimism is not restricted to London or to the next few weeks. One of the most exciting projects to emerge from last year's Devoted and Disgruntled was Fun Palaces, an effort to create the never-built brainchild of director Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price. The original idea for the Fun Palace, dreamed up in the 1960s, was a venue to house culture and science; an inclusive space where anyone would be welcome, be it to learn, play, create or simply watch.

Now Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings are attempting to make this vision a reality with a festival to coincide with Littlewood's centenary in October of this year. For one weekend, temporary Fun Palaces will pop up all over the country, many of them in existing venues but also in car parks, tents, town squares – anywhere that local people choose to create them. Each individual Fun Palace will be different, but the aim, as Duffy has explained, is to link them all through the spirit of Littlewood and Price's original dream.

It remains to seen whether the Fun Palaces project will live up to its ambitions, but the level of interest and activity it has already generated says something about the passion and appetite for culture that still exists, despite all the harbingers of doom. That, surely, is something to be cheerful about while the rain relentlessly lashes the windows. If the Fun Palaces project demonstrates anything, it is that we all have the power to make change, hope and – perhaps most importantly – fun.