'Theatre Royal Plymouth changed my life' – over 70 artists, audiences members and writers on their time at the venue
Theatre Royal Plymouth is in serious danger of closing – here are a fraction of the stories about why it's such an invaluable part of the community
It's no secret that theatres are a vital part of every community, and Plymouth, which is at risk of closure without any support. We hear from over 70 artists, audience members and writers who adored their time at the venue, compiled by Laura Horton. You can donate to the theatre here.
There are too many positive memories I have of working at Plymouth as an early career playwright, learning the craft (I still am). The first thing you notice is the sense of 'place' the building has within the community. Like literally, in the city centre, where all roads seem to lead to it, and around it, meaning when - as is so common in places like this - the surrounding retail businesses shut up shop at the end of the day, there's not a lot else to draw people in, meaning that the hundreds sometimes thousands of people teeming into the centre are there for one thing - a night out at the theatre. Being together, sharing in something, with your neighbours and those travelling across Devon and Cornwall.
That sense of community extends to the work inside the building too. I LOVED spending time in the infamous canteen!, where backstage stage crew and technicians would sit alongside the touring actors and local artists and musicians to talk about the work or chat nonsense, almost unique these days in any theatre where everyone buggers off alone to Pret.
But I think one of my happiest memories will be opening my play Monster Raving Loony in the Drum (the building's studio space, designed to take risks and champion new voices). It was a political satire about the Monster Raving Loony party and partly because I'd done some political plays in London and partly the subject matter we got a ton of London critics and political commentators down to see it (not always easy). The night before we had given tickets to local students who had really invested in the show, giving the company huge vocal encouragement, laughing and playing along. Now the Great and the Good were here, including Quentin Letts and other sketch writers. But this was still Plymouth, with no airs and graces, and the show was interactive, the audience being a part of the lead character's mad political party. So as every night, gave them all party hats to wear, fake noses, made them join in with our skiffle band - which they did.
I'll never forget that night going back to the nearest hotel after opening, knowing that the nation's critics had been booked onto the same floor as me, and as I settled into bed, the surreal thought that all along the corridor people were typing their judgements only inches away - not the case in the capital. But more importantly, they were writing about Theatre Royal Plymouth, and it's unique place in the cultural world. Which was huge, for new writing. And has to be, must be, again... James Graham
I was always interested and impressed by the way it (Theatre Royal Plymouth) served every aspect of theatre and therefore its community from the big musicals in the main house to the commissions to some of our most innovative companies. It's loss potential is genuinely heart-breaking not just for theatre but for its community which doesn't just mean the people of Plymouth but the many thousands in rural areas for whom the theatre Royal was their only place to access culture. Lyn Gardner
I got to start a play down there. My first with a full disabled company. Graeae partnering with TRP. Learnt so much from our run and we were later able to transfer it to the National Theatre, the first time in it's fifty years history a disabled company had been inside. Jack Thorne
TRP have been a long-standing co-producer and partner of Paines Plough and they are a valued part of our history as a company. Most recently we partnered on You Stupid Darkness! By Sam Steiner; debuting the play there in 2019 before a transfer in early 2020 to Southwark Playhouse in London. It was only in January this year that we were in the bar in Southwark celebrating the press night of this show and cooking up our next project together. The in-house team at TRP are exceptional. As a new writing touring company we seek out co-producers who share our values and beliefs that new plays that explore the world we live in today have the potential to shape us. TRP share these values in spades; their commitment to platforming new writing and writers is second to none. Without them, the ecology of new writing in theatre will be a far bleaker place. Charlotte Bennett and Katie Posner Joint Artistic Directors Paines Plough
My son, now 38, joined the Young Company when he was in his mid-teens. He is autistic and struggled to connect with other people - understanding their behaviour, the meaning in what they said and all those invisible social niceties that other people take for granted and just absorb by osmosis. I've no doubt that it was hard work at times but they stuck with it, often taking take out to explain things to him that he was having difficulty with. They helped steer him through the minefield that can be teenage friendships. They embraced him, and others who had a wide range of difficulties. It was, and I don't say this lightly, life-changing.
He earned roles in shows on merit and he thrived. Suddenly he was just another member of the company - not the autistic in the room - and became more confident and outgoing. He treated being a teenager as another role he had to play. When he was too old for the Young Company, he joined the People's Company and developed his performing skills and his confidence even further. He created a drag act... with the hairiest chest of any drag artist you have ever seen! Nobody laughed at him (well, unless they were supposed to). His peers and the professionals were non-judgemental, supportive and welcoming. Many organisations pay lip service to their work with differently-abled people. At TRP they jump in feet first in a joyful celebration of what it is to be different. The Funky Llama Festival is unique and wonderful, produced by and for people with disabilities and giving them the opportunity to Be Themselves.
Welcoming theatre companies, dancers, singers and other performers from around the globe with open arms is only one part of what they do at TRP. They are at the heart of the city and beyond and need our love and support, now more than ever. – Su Carroll
The partnership between my former company Paines Plough and TRP stretches back 40 years. Together we have co-commissioned and co-produced seminal plays including Philip Ridley's MERCURY FUR, Rona Munro's LONG TIME DEAD, Mike Bartlett's LOVE, LOVE, LOVE and James Graham's THE ANGRY BRIGADE.
I have had some of the happiest, most creative, fulfilling and successful times of my career at TRP. I remember touring Mike Bartlett's debut play ARTEFACTS in to The Drum in 2008 and heading back to London with a hangover and a commission for a new Mike Bartlett play. Two years later we spent a month holed up at TR2 by the glistening River Plym making LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. It opened in the Drum to rave reviews and the following year more than 14,000 people saw it on tour nationwide prior to a sell out run at The Galway International Festival. It won the UK Theatre TMA Award for Best New Play and transferred to The Royal Court where it sold every ticket for 12 weeks. There have since been productions around the globe and Mike went on to write the all-conquering KING CHARLES III and attract an audience of 10 million for the finale of DOCTOR FOSTER. Our next partnership was on a James Graham play. I was reminded of our rehearsal days while watching him appear on Question Time last week as one of our nation's most venerated playwrights. Last year we presented the World Premiere of YOU STUPID DARKNESS! by Sam Steiner, a young playwright with a glittering future whose name will soon be as celebrated as those who have gone before him.
TRP is an absolute powerhouse of a producing theatre. It's a national theatre in all but name staffed with top class, passionate people in every department from workshop to wardrobe to front of house. In the small but mighty Drum Theatre, TRP has for many years been one of the nation's most important and influential progenitors, developers and producers of new work. Its homegrown plays, productions and artists have had a profound impact on British theatre and beyond. It is a travesty that it may now be lost. Without TRP there may not be a new Mike Bartlett, a new James Graham, a new Sam Steiner. British cultural life will be infinitely poorer for its loss. James Grieve
Without TRP I wouldn't be at all where I am today. I am currently at the RSC working as the education programme developer, which includes leading workshops and developing projects alongside the repertoire. I started in the TRP youth theatre and then it became the young company performing in many of their shows. I did my work experience whilst at school there; I went on to be a dresser and then worked in their education department before going to drama school. My journey from drama school to where I am now has been full of opportunities that wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for the support and guidance from staff at TRP. I have obviously made lifelong friends from all my experiences there, which is probably the most important thing to mention! Sophie Hobson
As I started my tenure as AD at ATC I was been greatly rewarded by the artistic team at TRP who massively got behind Amsterdam, my first production enabling us to tour this Dutch/Israeli piece of theatre in translation to the South West. Following this we got our heads together again and commissioned Nessah Murty to explore the dirty underbelly of the Internet. Neither of these projects would have happened without TRP and their exceptional, brave and committed artistic team. Matthew Xia
9. In the early days of the Theatre Royal I took my small daughter to see Whinnied the Pooh and the Blustery Day and I think this was when her love of theatre was born and why she chose the path she did.
I've been to comedies where I've laughed uproariously and to plays where I've sobbed uncontrollably. As a teacher, I worked with young people with mental health issues and many of my students suffered with social anxiety and low self-esteem. A visit outside school was often fraught with difficulty but the staff at the Theatre Royal always helped provide a safe and comfortable experience for my students. We were offered visits behind the scenes and this was a great favourite with the young people. Several students went on to join the Young Company where they gained a sense of self-worth and an opportunity to flourish in the arts.
Saving the Theatre Royal isn't just about the finances. The theatre gives us a chance to escape from our usual lives, an opportunity to embrace our differences, to laugh and challenge our thinking. A place of enchantment where, in the semi darkness, we ride the magic carpet of dreams and come away refreshed and more open-minded than when we entered. Babs Horton 10. I've enjoyed Theatre royal productions for many years. A few years ago, I was taken ill during a performance. I can't remember the play only that Alison Steadman was in it and I'd been very excited about that. I passed out and had to be helped out of the Lyric. I was mortified at having disrupted a performance but the care I received was extraordinary.
A member of staff, whose name I have never forgotten came to my aid- Stefan- a veritable prince among men, took care of me, contacted the emergency services and supervised everything. Sadly, I missed the play, but my own drama was directed with empathy, care and genuine compassion. I still go regularly to the theatre because I know I'm in safe hands. The thought of losing the theatre fills me with a personal sadness but also worry that the gap it will leave in our city will be enormous. Pat Gigg
11. I was one of the handful of Resident Assistant Directors the theatre's had in recent years (I was there 2015-2016); landing that job marked a series of firsts for me - my first salaried job in theatre (had been working freelance three years previous, and 3 out of my 4 years since then have been freelance), the first time I could financially support myself *solely* through (assistant) directing work, my first time working outside of London, my first time working in a theatre beyond fringe/studio level, the first time I wasn't worrying every month or two about seeking out my next job.
My time at TRP was genuinely one of the most fulfilling I've ever had. I worked on a range of shows (a naturalistic civil war drama; a non-linear debut Russian translation; a stripped-back abstractly staged three-hander; a comedy in the style of 30 TV shows of the past several decades), the variety of which I can't imagine working on elsewhere in such a short period of time. The on-going, year-long conversations I had with the artistic team (then Simon, Louise and David), were incredible and gave me such space and opportunity to think about what kind of work I wanted to make, without the pressure of needing to think about the next job *now*.
I also had the joy of running workshops for community groups, assisting on Plymouth's part of the 'We Are Here' project in 2016 (to commemorate soldiers in WWI), running post-show discussions and getting to know both visiting companies and regular audiences. I look back on my time in Plymouth so fondly and thankfully, because it was the first time I started feeling the kind of confidence and self-assurance I needed to make further inroads into the industry, and I always felt so welcomed by the theatre and everyone there (to the degree that moving to a city I'd never known before, away from all friends/family, to live alone, never felt lonely or isolating).
I've never worked with a theatre as welcoming as Plymouth, or as conscious of its place as a hope and support point for artists. I've visited many times since my residency ended (thanks to the kind invitations of the theatre), still talk to the artistic team, and it's always been made so clear that, even after you stop working there, they still care about you and what you're doing. Chloe Mashiter
Hello, my name is Olivia Parsons and I am 13 years old. The theatre royal Plymouth has been a massive part of my life since I was little. It has a special place in my heart because I have so many memories there. When I was 8 I was lucky enough to perform with Plymkids in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I have seen so many pantomimes and west end shows that have been touring that I can't even count them. One reason why the theatre means so much to me is that me and my Nan love going to the theatre together and have created so many memories. I love going to the theatre and performing there was amazing that so many other people should get to experience it. One day I hope that I can perform on that stage again because I love it so much, but if the theatre shuts then I won't get too Olivia Parsons
Theatre Royal Plymouth is a unique and vitally important theatre within the UK theatre ecology. Working at TRP as Assistant Director in 2012-2013 was absolutely formative for my career as a director. In fact, I seriously doubt I would still be in theatre at all if it wasn't for this experience. I was under confident and having not come from a privileged background, seriously beginning to doubt if I could sustain a career in this industry.
While I was there, I was exposed to work from some of the best home-grown and international companies and artists, including Complicite, Robert Le Page, Ontrorend Goed, Graeae, Paines Plough, Told By An Idiot, ATC. Not only did it teach me so much about the workings of a theatre of this size, but also I saw first hand what the theatre did for its community, including inspiring youth programmes, nurturing community programmes. It felt like the theatre welcomed everyone and the community connected and came alive in those buildings.
What I didn't realise was that once you work at TRP; you become part of the TRP family. Since I worked there, someone from TRP has seen every show I've made, they have re-employed me on several occasions and invited me back for numerous events and opportunities. I've toured my own work there and was about to direct a TRP in house production in the Drum before lockdown. This demonstrates how much this organisation truly invests in the talent it supports - many yearlong schemes are just that, you do the year and you move on, but if you work for TRP they are with you for the long haul. This is how they work with companies and writers too - they support you as you figure out what kind of artist you are, regardless of whether your next show is a hit.
This is what emerging creative talent in this industry so desperately needs and often so sorely lacks, so to hear that the hard working artistic department who spearhead all this work are facing losing their jobs is devastating. The knock on effect of this is huge, from the emerging writer who won't get their first commission to the young person who will no longer be able to access award winning, critically acclaimed work in their local theatre.
Without TRP, the theatrical landscape of this country is diminished. We must do everything we can to save it. Bethany Pitts
TRP was my first engagement with the arts as a little girl, going to the pantomime with my grandparents. I watched the children on stage at the end, and knew I wanted to be up there one day. Living outside of the City, I returned to the theatre on a school trip, when a production of ‘Metamorphosis' inspired me switch my A-level choices at college to study drama. I went on to East 15 acting school and worked in London for a couple of years afterwards.
I returned to Devon to start my own theatre company, and joined TRP's lab company programme. I received training, support and mentoring from the team before being given employment as an assistant practitioner, working up through the scheme to become a lead practitioner and then, producer of the People's Company show in 2019. Companies I have produced for have become Lab Associates, and received money to create work and match fund arts application. The support has been truly bespoke, guiding me and my individual needs. The programmes TRP offer are truly outstanding, supporting the whole community in Devon. It's much more than just the shows - which are a gateway - it's a rich ecology of arts, go-getters and communities. Please, invest now before it is too late. Helen Bovey
TRP was everything to me for the best part of three decades. I loved every bit of it in a way I can't fully articulate but it was so much more than just a job. It was part of my soul and I couldn't have imagined working anywhere else. In my heart I believe it was the people who made it so special and unforgettable. They were more family than colleagues and I have never known a more talented and committed group of people. No matter how stressful things became (and in the arts, things are often stressful!) I will never forget the buzz I got whenever I took my seat for a show, realising, every time, this was what we were all working towards each day. The blood, sweat and tears were all worth it. It will always hold an irreplaceable part of my heart. I wouldn't have missed it for the world and I hope that we can somehow keep this treasure alive and thriving, as it deserves. Beverly Walton
I'm not normally a big theatregoer but I saw a production from Hofesh Schecter and was completely blown away. It was just electrifying, I've never seen something so raw, it really made me think about toxic masculinity and the way men relate to each other. Jack Horton
It is without doubt one of the theatres, which shaped my understanding, and love of theatre. Growing up in Devon, it was pretty much the only space nearby that attracted national/world class theatre and made it accessible for school trips and outings with parents. New writing, dance, experimental work. All hugely formative on my viewpoint of the world. We can't start losing regional theatres like this it will literally be a disaster. Daisy Bowie-Sell
18. They co-commissioned two of my plays for young people. Girls Like That, my most performed play all over the world, began with them (and Birmingham REP and West Yorkshire Playhouse). Their youth and community programme is a leader in the field, putting young people's voices in the driving seat of their work. It's devastating for Plymouth and the wider theatre ecology that they're losing their creative, ambitious, and nurturing staff. Evan Placey
My name is Siofra and I grew up in Plymouth until I left for uni at 19. I was on the first pilot year of TRP's Company 15, which gave 15 young people a chance to learn and shadow all aspects of the theatre for a week. (By far the best work experience anyone had in our year). I also saw the incredible productions they put out including many Frantic Assembly co-pros. I took part in many young company workshops, even doing their youth theatre in a church hall type venue when TR2 was being built. Although I left in 2013, I still followed the successes of TRP through the amazing tours they put out across the country. They've been a flagship for creating bold theatre, taking the risks that others may not have strived for and being a massive arts hub for the southwest. I know how much TRP means to the region and national landscape, but more importantly to the city of Plymouth. I owe my love of all theatre to TRP; they showed me how diverse theatre could be. It's a genuinely brilliant space that sparked the fire for a career I love. Siofra Mckeon-Carter
20. I'm a freelance sound designer/composer for theatre. Early on in my career I did a show with frantic assembly at the drum, and from then on I was essentially championed by Simon Stokes and the team down there, being employed regularly on shows at the Drum for over a decade and being introduced to one of the most important collaborators of my career, Told by an Idiot, which in turn led to another opportunity, working with another ambition, Improbable theatre. As a freelancer I can't emphasise what it meant, having a familiar place of work to return to, somewhere I knew I'd be supported, welcomed and looked after in a job that is often hard, underfunded and under acknowledged. Losing TRP will be a hard pill to swallow both for the local community and the freelance community as it has been an extremely important feeder for new writing and nurturing talent all the way to the top, and shouldn't be underestimated. There will be a big black hole in the centre of an already struggling austerity ridden town that was beginning to find its feet. – Adrienne Quartly
I began my journey with theatre royals young company in 1991 when I was 7 years old, as someone who struggled with learning, the theatre and it's amazing practitioners gave me a safe place to learn and grow and develop my confidence in a way that suited my learning needs. I have learned so many key skills from being a part of the Theatre Royal. In 2003 I was asked to be involved and support the tours for the opening of TR2, which gave me a great sense of pride and achievement. Over the years of being a part of the young company I have had the opportunity to perform on the main stage and in the drum theatre on many occasions including working with companies such as Rambert, and The Welsh National opera, these are all priceless, experiences thanks to the Plymouth Theatre Royal. I believe the experiences I have had, have taught me professionalism, great social and communication skills and above all a love for theatre that I will cherish forever. I managed to get my 2:1 BA hons in Drama with Sociology despite being diagnosed with scotopic sensitivity once I got into uni, and I don't think I would have been as driven to study drama to this level if it wasn't for the theatre. Rachael Woods
There is so much I could say about how TRP changes lives everyday, but on a personal level - I used to dance at TR2 when I was young and the teachers I met there inspired me to become a dance student. TRP gave me the chance after university to work as a dance and theatre practitioner for 5 whole years, I was so young but they picked me up and ran with me. Without them I would have simply crumbled and never pursued my dream job. They are the reason I learnt how to be a teacher and gain all my skills in inclusive arts. After leaving in April 2019 for London I realised how incredible their teaching was, without them I would never be where I am today, I would never have got the job I have here. Their support as a regional theatre is invaluable, they are widely known elsewhere in the country as a rock for artists in the southwest and I owe my life to them.
In the year 2000 I was 20 years old and undertook a two-week work placement at TRP under the guidance of Mark Hawker, who was still working there up until last year as far as I know. This work experience was a fundamental moment for me, as Mark took me – and the other student hopefuls – completely seriously. He gave us meaningful jobs and treated us like we could absolutely become the professionals we wanted to be. I remember him making this clear through the tasks he set us and the way he treated us. It made me feel like I could actually work in theatre for a living. I'm now 40, and in the last 20 years I've had two plays tour into the Drum from London (with Half Moon Theatre), twice collaborated as a writer/dramaturg and commissioned playwright with their young company, worked closely with David Prescott between 2009 – 2012 in the steering of the then South West New Writers' Network (later Theatre Writing South West), worked as a visiting workshop leader and freelance dramaturg with both The Lab Company and The Lab Associates and, most recently, was about to have an internationally-linked play tour into TRP in May this year thanks to associate funding from TRP.
That work experience many years ago also helped introduce me to the theatre ecology of the South West, and my relationship with the venue played a large part in my decision to move to Bristol in 2008 where I still live, and have since continued to work, freelancing across the South West as a dramaturg, writer and university tutor (Exeter, Plymouth). What is so hard to encapsulate in arguments for funding is the ripple effect of such impacts as that work experience week: regional retention of artists, cross-fertilisation of ideas, passing ideas on to the next generation of artists in the region – this is why regional theatre is so important. TRP has always, always championed me even as a very young and wide-eyed artist, but that's always how they saw me and that meant a huge amount. David Lane
My family and myself have a strong connection to the TRP. My grandma worked in the wardrobe department for many years. I remember going in and seeing the fantastic costumes they made for Les Dawson's Panto dame and being just amazed by all the fabric, colours and trinkets lying around. I was super lucky as many of the fabric cuttings and odd bits of material were gifted to me by the department and used to make my dance costumes. One year the designer Hugh Durrant (who was working on a TR production) kindly designed my costumes. I still have the designs he did, amazing drawings with little pieces of fabric glued to the edges so I could see exactly how the finished costume would look. When I danced in my TRP costumes I felt I could achieve anything. The support from the department was invaluable and helped a little girl dream big.
I remember watching London Contemporary Dance Company, which was so different and new, compared to anything else in the South West at the time. I saw 42nd St twice in a week because I loved it so much and had the opportunity to take a workshop with cast member on the main stage. I was determined to work in theatre, however it was watching Northern Ballet Theatre at the TRP, which put me onto the classical ballet path and helped me decide to train at the school associated with NBT. NBT's Cinderella is still the most beautiful piece I have ever seen and I saw it first at 14 here in Plymouth.
I started my own dance career at the TRP. My very first paid job was at 4yrs and as a Panto babe, way back in the 1980's. I also finished my professional career at the TRP many years later as part of Matthew Bournes Nutcracker! It felt so right to finish my performing back at the place where it all began.
The dance-performing baton has now been passed onto my cousin Jamel, who again started in TRP Panto and last year performed with Matthew Bourne's Romeo & Juliet as part of the youth company. Once he has finished his professional dance training I'm sure he'll back to tread the boards with a dance company/show.
My own students (Hartley House Dance Club) have performed on the Lyric Stage and were blown away with the experience of that big stage and huge auditorium - they were so excited.
The TRP is so important for young aspiring performers. It's often the place that gives Plymouth dancers their first taste of the job and whether or not they go onto a career in the Performing Arts, that passion the theatre ignites, stays with them for life. Maryam Pourian
I have many stories about the Theatre Royal Plymouth, over many years, because it has been such a significant, fantastic, colourful, part of my life. I flew across the Lyric Stage during a pantomime workshop, aged 12. I sang with Dame Vera Lynn and a cast of what felt like hundreds of proud Plymothians in High Heels in the Rubble, aged 14. And I have sung, and danced, and laughed, and cried with family members and friends in all three of the theatre's auditoria. But the story I want to share, that has had the greatest impact on me personally, was the creation of the Lab Company in 2013. I had only started writing plays six months previously. I didn't even know if I could (and, again, the Theatre gave me the safe space to try, through a People's Company workshop with Nick Discombe) but once I tried it, I had been bitten and wanted to write more and more. In the summer of 2013, the Theatre invited applications for a new theatre company, the ‘Lab Company', to celebrate the opening of its new studio space in the Theatre's basement, the Lab. Through an audition workshop process, eleven of us were selected. In our first workshop, I was reticent because, at 37, I could see I was the oldest of the company by a good ten years, and was twice the age of several members. I worried that I would be the group misfit, but I was so wrong. We all felt like misfits and that, paradoxically, was how we fit together like alchemy. Over the course of an incredibly intensive five-week period, we devised and performed our first play, Sanctuary, under the amazing mentorship of Christopher Gorry. The final performance was almost incidental. We got to know each other, eleven creatives, from different backgrounds, with different aspirations, and different stories, and we stuck to each other like glue. We had found our tribe. We stayed together after the original project and now, seven years later, we are still making theatre as Rabblerouse Theatre. New members have joined, originals have moved on, but the joy of creating, the buzz of being in a shared space, and having the freedom and support to try new things, new forms, new writing, new ideas, is a constant. The regional theatre festivals are highlights of my year. In my tribe, I have found my happy.
My closest, most precious, friendships were formed in the Theatre Royal. My confidence and identity have been nurtured and grown in its spaces, and most of my social life takes place within its walls. I am a member of its Playwrights' Forum and its People's Company. Theatre Royal staff and supporters are my mentors, my colleagues, my muse, and my friends. When lockdown kicked in, the light at the end of the tunnel for me, living on my own, was that the theatre would still be there, its inclusivity, its joy, its opportunities intact when we emerged, blinking, into the light again. To learn that that light will be dimmed at the very least, strikes at the heart of my life as I know it, and the lives of many hundreds.
I hope the Story Campaign illustrates the importance of the Theatre Royal Plymouth beyond its economic impact, behind the glossy big-name musicals, and takes you to its heart - people, and the love that pours from them into the Theatre, and which is returned in spades.
I grew up in Essex, on the fringes of London, with professional theatre only available through a difficult and expensive trip to the West End, or occasional tours to school halls. I moved to Devon with a young family in the 1980s and my children were able to enjoy a much richer range of productions close to home through the Theatre Royal programme, including shows created in the region for a family audience which were clever and entertaining, rather than featuring TV celebrities being vulgar. The range of activities the Theatre has undertaken is remarkable, from premières of shows which went on to become West End staples, to community productions tackling serious questions, to touring shows telling minority stories rarely heard in the south west. Its presence also provides a strong base for the wider theatre scene in Plymouth, for example through participation in the Plymouth Fringe, and the use of the Lab to show work in development.
I have benefited personally from artistic development through writing courses and the Playwrights' Forum. Playwriting is a creative activity I have taken up in retirement, with several of my scripts staged or published. The constructive, non-judgemental, accessible setting, which the theatre provides through the Forum, helped me learn from others and develop my voice. It also provides cross-generational contact - something which can be hard to find elsewhere. One product of this, soon to be published as a audio drama by recorded in lockdown a local amateur theatre group, is a play I scripted from the memories of local residents now in their 90s, as told to a local support charity. This will have value in passing down their stories, including their wartime experiences, and has helped hold people together in a purposeful activity while unable to meet together.
I write about things which matter to me, rather than as a representative of any "community". However I am aware that nationally there is under-representation of writing by women, by people living outside cities and the south east, and by the over 65s. Having theatrical centres in Plymouth, Exeter and Barnstaple matters for this. The South West cannot be served just by Bristol and Salisbury, which are more than 2 hours travel away. Kit Walkham
I've so many great memories at the theatre with my mum. It's such a special place for us. Gemma Laing
I went to youth theatre around 1990/91, new to the city and FE college. I got so much out of being part of that group, quietly observing the more confident people and making theatre. Two of my most formative years. Dr Catherine McNamara
I was in a co-production with TRP in London. They were there on the first day of rehearsals, sent cupcakes on the first night, flowers midway to cheer us up and came twice to the show. I have never stepped foot in the theatre but felt their presence, support and passion throughout. Jenni Maitland
Growing up in Plymouth, TRP had a massive influence on me from the get-go; the plays and shows I saw there as a child captured my imagination like nothing else and set me off on my own creative journey. Several decades later, it was the place that gave me my break in theatre - producing my first and second plays. The support I've received from TRP is unparalleled. Like so many creatives working across the industry, I owe it a huge debt of gratitude. Today, as I continue to work in theatre and television, the people who make up TRP's artistic community continue to be a source of inspiration and guidance. Simply put, it's an unbelievably special place. Glenn Waldron
I've worked with The Young Company and People's Company on multiple shows and they gave me the confidence to pursue theatre as a career. Without everyone at TRP, I wouldn't be where I am now – Laura Fergus
Going to the Panto was the highlight of my year as a little kid who was always into performing arts, but TRP really changed my life when I was about 12 and was taken to the RSC season. I still remember vividly watching Alex Jennings playing Hamlet; it was the first Shakespeare I'd ever seen and I wasn't sure I'd understood all of it but it was so beautiful and powerful that I sobbed all the way home and then became obsessed with Shakespeare. From then on my dad would take me to see everything from ballet to opera to the Vagina Monologues; incredible, international productions that I would not have had access to if we'd had to travel further afield. Growing up rurally can often feel so isolating and that the rest of the world is passing you by but TRP meant we weren't left behind artistically. In the intervening years, TRP developed a world class theatre programme bringing international artists in to develop work and it's been even more exciting to see the recent expansion of programming and championing of local artists, diverse voices and new companies. TRP is such a beacon for the region and the loss of its artistic programming would be an enormous blow not just for the region but also for the entire ecology of our industry. I may be biased but there's some world-class talent coming out of the West Country and without TRP we are going to lose more than we will ever fully know. Bea Roberts
33. I have so much to thank Theatre Royal for as a drama practitioner. I grew so much as an artist, writer and a practitioner through my association with Theatre Royal Plymouth and had a chance to bring arts and drama to young people of all ages through my time there. Gregory Ash
I think in many ways my time at TRP and performing with the young company quite literally saved me. I started performing in the Drum when I was around 18, only two years after the sudden death of my older brother. I never thought I could be happy again after his death, but the summer of 1999 was one of the best periods of my life. I played a leading role in the Young Company's production of the lost domain. The friendships I found through being a part of the Young Company are still some of the close friends I have today. It was the Young Company that gave me the confidence to go to drama school and work as an actress before setting up my own theatre company back here in Plymouth ten years ago. It truly was, and is, a remarkable place and I know so many people that have such magical memories of the joy it brought to their lives. Beth Hewlett
35. I've had a wonderful time as a tour guide backstage for 26 years and as a dresser for several shows backstage and a supernumerary in 'An Inspector Calls.' I am a local poet, writer and playwright and for the last ten years I've been a member of the Writers' Forum with David Prescott and Jon Nash and been lucky enough to have some small plays/readings produced in the DRUM. I also appeared in and wrote a piece for CITIZENS in the DRUM last year, and have attended several writing workshops at TR2. As you can imagine, the TR has played an important part in my life. I've been fully involved as a volunteer, benefitted greatly from meeting up with such a wide variety of people, loved the atmosphere, learnt a lot and felt privileged to be treated as a member of staff. It's made me very happy, I've made friends along the way and enriched my artistic life. It will leave a huge gap. Jill Grange
36. I saw a fantastic production starring Edward Woodward. At the end of the production (and a standing ovation) he came out on his own to announce the birth of a grandchild and I just felt part of a family, something really special and organic. I have so many wonderful memories at Theatre Royal Plymouth. John Horton
I started my electrical apprenticeship with Theatre Royal Plymouth when I was around 18; they put me through college on a work/college 4-year course working for the maintenance team. I also got to work for the stage door team and a few times the technical team. It made me the person I am today. Before that I was floundering with no direction and they gave me the confidence once qualified to move to London to study at drama school. Lauren Enron
I've been truly blessed to work in two regional theatres here in the South West (Exeter Northcott Theatre and Theatre Royal Plymouth) and my time in both has shown just how integral and important these cultural venues are to their cities and communities. As a theatre maker in development, under the brilliant guidance of the Talent Development programmes at TRP, I have been able to present my work in front of audiences, which would not have been possible without those vital roles offering to nurture talent here in the South West. To see entire artistic departments being told they are no longer required is an industry-wide catastrophe. Where will the new writing come from? Who will seek out the emerging talent? Who will support the people of colour? How will the theatre strive to champion the voices of diversity? So many questions that unfortunately are now at risk of being set back. The outreach and engagement work that the theatre gives back to its community and those from all walks of life means that the theatre is never just seen as a stage, it is a place of solace and refuge, which provides an avenue of escapism from the outside world which for many, and even more so in these troubling times, is vital, and in some cases life saving.
I remember after performing my small scale show in The Lab space at Theatre Royal Plymouth to an audience of 40-50, I took my bow, people filtered out, and suddenly a woman approaches me and at first I didn't quite recognise who it was, as the lighting was in my eyes. As we introduced ourselves it became very clear it was the amazing and lovely Julie Hesmondhalgh I asked her 'What are you doing here?' realising that I sounded rather rude when actually I was ecstatic and shocked. She replied that she was down visiting the South West and fancied a spontaneous night to the theatre, but wasn't too keen on the commercial offering in The Lyric, and wanted to check out something different and support a young local artist. I have to say a big thank you to Clive who is our regular Big Issue vendor. His usual pitch is outside the theatre doors and he helps welcome visitors into the building with a smile and also provides some great insight into the running times, who is performing, and any other little bits of information. As Julie entered the building he recommended her to come and see me perform downstairs in The Lab. It's moments like these I thought, that makes everything worth while, the wonders of theatre, how they bring people together. In that 20 minute post show chat with Julie, I don't remember what we even spoke about as I was still riding my dopamine kick from actually performing my show to an audience, but that feeling will never be forgotten, and I hope that I and many others have that opportunity again to experience our own moments of how wonderful and lifesaving theatre can be. James Elston
39. I was a huge supporter of the Theatre Royal Plymouth before it even opened its doors. So many people were calling it a white elephant and in those early days I sat watching Jesus Christ Superstar to a half-empty theatre, but it wasn't long before word got around about this amazing place that sat in the heart of Plymouth. I nowadays it's a sell out. I was so proud to take our dance school to perform on its stage in the Summer Spectaculars; we also performed the Wizard of Oz in the Drum. But the best buzz of all is when I sit in Auditorium to watch my former pupils, now professional dancers perform in the many productions that it brings to our region. We must back the Arts. Sue Cook
Beautiful memories of working there last year with a touring company. Awesome green room with fresh cooked food, the friendliest staff and an auditorium where you feel just a stone throw away from what's happening on stage. Alex Jackson
My Grandparents treating me to visits to see Panto & musicals as a child, then school/college coach trips to watch world class performances from Rambert, Frantic Assembly, Matthew Bourne and others which nurtured my love of theatre. I would not have embarked on my arts career without it. One of my proudest moments was when I finally got to tour to the Theatre Royal and stage-manage a production on the main stage. It felt like I'd come full circle. (Since then I've also loved bringing touring shows to the Drum.) Elaine Faulkner
42. As a local boy, 1983 saw ‘Sleeping Beauty' & immediately started my classical training aged 6. 1987 performed my first professional show ‘Dick Whittington' with Anita Harris, 2004 returned with Matthew Bournes ‘Play Without Words'. It's been absolutely instrumental at every stage – Theo Clinkard
I've worked with The Young Company and People's Company on multiple shows and they gave me the confidence to pursue theatre as a career. Without everyone at TRP, I wouldn't be where I am now – Laura Fergus
I joined Theatre Royal Plymouth's Young Company age 14, as something to do after school. I went to the weekly design groups at TR2, and set and costume quickly became something I thought about taking further. Alongside this I got involved as an ambassador for the Young Company, and joined the Young Reviewers Scheme, and became a ‘young rep' with TRP for the Arts Council's scheme ‘A Night Less Ordinary', giving free tickets to under 25's. All of this in my mid-late teens meant that TRP was providing young people like me with a wealth of opportunity to become involved in the theatre - we felt like we were part of something. YC shows (usually in the Drum) gave us a sense of real experience within the theatre, for both those working backstage and those acting on stage - I can name many successful peers whose early steps in theatre, like me, were in YC productions.
I went on to study Theatre Design at Rose Bruford College - largely thanks to the weekly YC design sessions. I had a difficult summer after my first year and deferred for a year, where I was able to work at TR2 in the workshop as a painter on a casual basis. There is something great about that purpose-built, impressive building. The staff there taught me a huge amount and it furthered my interest (and skills) in scenic art. I went back to uni and finished with a First. I'd felt really fortunate to have worked at TR2 - when I finished at Rose Bruford, TRP/TR2 gave me more work alongside the various design projects I did that year.
I felt a real sense of full-circle gratefulness when I was asked to come back as a professional designer for Young Company production 'The Blue Road', with director Nik Partridge. Helping out with productions on the Drum stage was always exciting but to return roughly a decade later with ownership of the set and costume felt really satisfying. In a way it felt like passing the baton to the next generation, when I was working with the backstage YC members, and that feels really important. I think TRP is a good place for that. I've always felt supported there, and it has honestly felt instrumental to my career development.
Since then I've done a Masters in Scenic Art, and returned as a freelance painter to the workshop. I really do feel like I have TRP and its practitioners to thank for getting my career started, and will always look at it with fondness. That it is undergoing a really difficult and uncertain time breaks my heart, and to know that its artistic staff will be laid off is a travesty. It's such a valuable institution for our city. There are huge numbers of people like me who have come up through the theatre as young people and gone on to forge successful arts careers.
I've seen countless productions both on the Lyric stage and in the Drum Theatre, where I have been moved and challenged, laughed and cried. It's a centre for excellent entertainment in the city, but it's more than this; it's a hub for developing artists, reaching out to communities and making really important and valuable work. Nina Raines
I remember doing a 3.5-hour coach trip up to TRP, from Penzance, with my Nan as a young kid...I'd never seen anywhere that big and it was a huge deal! Very sad news. Tamsyn Kelly
I volunteered in the Creative Learning department at 19 & then got paid training to SM the community shows. I later moved to the prod department for the world premiere of Wind in the Willows They gave me the experience to do all the national and West End work I've done in my career. Sarah Donaldson
I went to youth theatre around 1990/91, new to the city & new at the FE college. I got SO much out of being part of that group, quietly observing the more confident people and making theatre. Two of my most formative years. Dr Catharine McNamara
I was a part of Theatre Royal's "Lab Company" scheme, so I spent a year working with Lucy Hirst and Ben Lyon-Ross and the rest of my group in the lab. And I'm so glad I did it, I feel like I developed so much during my time there and had so much fun. I'm also so grateful for the opportunities this has lead me to, I feel much more connected with the Plymouth theatre scene now, I've met people I never would've known without the theatre, in the lab and throughout TRP, and I've made decisions about my career and education that I wouldn't have done without that experience. Outside of that, TRP always puts on amazing shows in all its theatres. Grace Felstead
I've worked with The Young Company and People's Company on multiple shows and they gave me the confidence to pursue theatre as a career. Without everyone at TRP, I wouldn't be where I am now. Laura Fergus
I'm a 20-year-old working class lad from Plymouth, without TRP I wouldn't be about to start at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in October. I saw my first ever show when I was 6, I believe it was Cinderella at the Theatre Royal and I've been hooked since then. We couldn't afford to go up to London and watch West End shows, so TRP was the sole place I saw professional theatre until the age of 17.
I've been involved with numerous productions with TRP's Young Company programme, which was vital to my development as an actor and as a person. The support and education I received from two summers of working with the Young Company was far superior to years of GCSE and A Level Drama. I was given the opportunity to work with industry professionals in a supportive creative environment that allowed me to express myself fully up on stage. They believed in me, they gave me so much more than I've ever experienced before. I was fortunate enough to do a young company production the month before I moved up to London to start on the foundation course at East 15, the creative team gave me insight, support and advice about moving up to London and starting my training, which as you can imagine was extremely daunting to a young 18 year old who's only ever known Plymouth.
I have also been working as a FOH usher at TRP on and off since December 2017. I was welcomed in with open arms by the TRP family and became a valued member of their team. Actually working at the theatre, being backstage with the casts and crew of these shows and being involved in the delivering of performances to audiences really gave me a lot of insight about this industry. Once again, the support I've received from the FOH department has been humbling and has helped to push me to work as hard as I can to achieve this dream. I consider the FOH department to be friends for life; there are so many hard working people who work as a team to give patrons the most enjoyable experience. We also had the opportunity to work with and mingle with the creative / backstage crews that make the theatre tick. At the Theatre Royal every single member of staff, no matter how big or small their role may seem, is completely valued and treated as a vital cog in the system. I have been through good times and bad times with this job, but I have always been treated with the most utmost respect and with the same love and appreciate I was always shown. This year I've been a part of TRP's Lab Company programme. This has obviously been disrupted by the covid-19 outbreak; as a result of this I now will be leaving the programme without the opportunity of finishing our piece and performing it at the theatre. Once again, the creatives around the theatre have been incredibly supportive of my career aspirations and me. I've received an incredible amount of guidance and assistance throughout this year, both for my acting, writing, my personal life and also my mental health. It's been a really challenging year for me personally and I could not have made it through it without TRP and their truly amazing and beautiful team.
I simply cannot express in words the amount of gratitude I have for the Theatre Royal Plymouth. They are a force for good, they enable working class kids to chase their dreams and have fully supported me through thick and thin. There are far too many people who have played such a big part in my development to shout out everyone, every single person at TRP is passionate and driven beyond belief.
There are so many more examples I can give you of TRP's work. I could write a novel length email about the good they do. This year when I decided I wanted to try out writing my first ever play, I've received feedback, notes, support and creative input from numerous creatives at TRP. I've been made to believe I have the capabilities to actually do this, they constantly guide and push me in the right direction while still allowing me to have full ownership of the project. When I told TRP that I didn't want to stay in Plymouth and I wanted to move back up to London and train at drama schools I was extremely anxious that this would negatively effect my relationship with TRP, however they completely understood and supported my ambitions. Creatives have taken time out of their day to help me with my audition monologues and then followed up their support throughout the auditioning process.
I am a product of the Theatre Royal Plymouth. I say this with unimaginable pride. TRP enabled me as a working class boy to find my passion, and myself then they have supported me every single step of the way. I have no doubt that I would not be going off to study acting at one of the top drama schools in the country without TRP. But my individual achievements aren't a special case, I am just one of many young people born in a deprived part of the country who has been given a path into this industry by TRP. The confidence I have been privileged enough to have inherited from TRP comes from the fact I know they have my back 100% of the way. They taught me lessons on respect, teamwork, humility, working hard and how I can champion those around me. We are a family, we are all vital cogs in a system that works as one to empower and give a voice to people who are unheard within our society.
The treatment the arts industry has received from the government is not good enough. TRP supports thousands of artists, not just in the South West but also up and down the country. The standard of productions produced by TRP are unmatched outside of London, the artists that come down here all speak so highly of our beautiful theatre and in return bless a too often ignored and isolated part of the country. I would not be following this career if it wasn't for TRP. I owe so so so much to them and I'm really not the only one.
I hope that in sharing my story I can shed a light on the force for good that is the Theatre Royal Plymouth. A true cornerstone of our UK theatre industry. I am immensely proud to have represented and been a part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth. They have made me the man I am today, which breaks my heart to now see so many great people facing unemployment. We cannot just let this happen, it's not right. Alex Ward
I have been attending Theatre Royal Plymouth since it opened in 1982. I now write theatre reviews for The Reviews Hub and have covered several productions at TRP. If the worst happens, my link to theatre is gone. Helen Tope
52. The first time I stepped on to a professional stage was at the Theatre Royal Plymouth. I was 8 years old and Roger Redfarn was at the helm as Artistic Director. The show was the very first UK National tour of The Sound of Music and I played Brigitta Vontrapp. After that I performed there in at least2 shows a year. I even went into labour there with my eldest daughter on returning from working in London attending a performance of Miss Saigon. The Theatre Royal was, and still is a magnificent building. The Jewel in Plymouth's crown, but not just that, it is held in such high esteem throughout the Performing Industry. Zoe Vigus
We have a six-year-old daughter. A year or so ago, we took her to her first show: Matilda at TRP. She was spellbound. From start to finish she was wrapt. This has lead to her enrolling in a theatre school nearby and wanting to be on stage all the time! I'm an actor myself and obviously some of my interests have rubbed off on her but her experiences at TRP have been Invaluable. Nathan Masterson
TRP was the making of me, both personally and professionally. It has always been a venue where the people matter, so to be going through a redundancy procedure must be unfathomably difficult for all involved. I remember being a kid and going to see the Panto, starring Les Dawson. My dad worked for Royal Mail and they'd arrange a trip for all the families to go for cheap, and it was such a joyous thing; that shared experience was something special even at a young age, and underlined just how much the theatre matters to the people of this city.
When I was getting ready to do my GCSEs I didn't know what my long-term ambitions were. My drama teacher at school suggested I consider auditioning for a part in Theatre Royal's production of Union Street – a large-scale community project specifically about the city. I thought I might as well; I didn't have any other plans for the summer, and reasoned there'd also be girls there (going to an all-boys school meant this was always appealing!). So I auditioned, and I was successful – marking the beginning of a 20-year relationship with a theatre, which means so much to me. Being in the Young Company made me realise just how much I wanted theatre to be my career. I loved being a part of that community, being on those stages and being a part of that world. And it felt like that theatre cared about me. When I had to delay going to uni for a year because I couldn't afford to go straight after sixth form, TRP offered me my first paid work as a trainee practitioner. And they have kept offer me opportunities over the years.
It would almost be easier for me to tell you what I haven't done at TRP than what I have: I spent a good chunk of time working on Box Office, both before I went to London to pursue my dreams and when I came back from London because I was broke; I've assisted on and led workshops for pretty much every age group imaginable, ranging from preschoolers to over 70s; I worked in the Development department talking to individual givers who were, almost to a person, lovely elderly people who wanted to give the theatre money because they loved coming to shows; I even gave the first public tours of TR2 when it opened. I know their spaces inside and out, because the company knows its staff is part of its family.
Many venues would find it easy to make redundancies at a time like this; the age-old ‘upstairs/downstairs' dynamic, which exists in a number of venues, would mean many senior jobs would be safe whilst those at the bottom of the food chain would be gone. But how can you make easy cuts at a place like TRP? The people are the foundations upon which it succeeds. The artistic team is seemingly already gone, at one of the biggest regional producing theatres in the country. A building which sees hundreds of thousands of people pass through its doors every year may have to lose some of the people who are key to those relationships with audiences – Box Office, Front of House, marketing, housekeeping and others. Their Talent Development department delivers a wide-ranging programme of work across the city, the region and beyond – but some of them may be at risk. With a successful capital programme still fresh in our memories, the Development department who were key to this may be facing losses. The Production and Technical teams work at an insane level to not just make high-quality work happen on TRP's stages, but also in building shows which tour nationally and internationally. Dan baker 55. Theatre Royal Plymouth was my local theatre growing up and it encouraged my love of theatre from an early age. Between 2015 and 2017 I was part of the bloggers' scheme, which was an amazing experience and helped me develop my skills as both a writer and a theatre maker. As a young aspiring pit band musician I also sat in the band pit for several touring productions, and I would not have been able to make these subsequent industry contacts and have these experiences if it wasn't for such an incredible venue on my doorstep. Megan Hilling
My story is the joy of working on a show – Speed Death of the Radiant Child. Being able to leave rehearsal as the actor and pop next door into that massively brilliant build space and have a chat with the carpenters etc., and jump about on the stage. And then go next door to the costume department and have a look at what they had and then have a dress made for me for Mad Man. Just everyone being there together in the same building working on the project, not just departments in separate buildings (as you so often get in London). It was really magic. Gemma Brockis