Oxfordshire theatres rise to the tempestuous times

Theatre-lovers across the country have been watching news emerging from the sector with deep dismay in recent weeks. Even as pubs, cafes and cinemas prepared to open their doors again at the weekend, theatres and audiences struggled to find clarity and reassurance in the recently released road-map for their sector. Today’s announcement of a £1.57 billion funding package for the arts and heritage sectors is very welcome news, but there are difficult times ahead.

Here at TORCH in the Humanities Division we have been reaching out to our partners in the ‘Connecting researchers with Oxfordshire Theatres’ project. The situation has been grim, and venues are doing their utmost to alert their audiences to the urgent need for support. Our active projects are adapting, pausing, re-configuring in an attempt to make the most of the rich connections between researchers and performance, even in these troubled times.

Yet even while the need to champion the arts is so acute, Oxfordshire theatres have been demonstrating phenomenal creativity while their doors are shut. Oxford Playhouse, alongside its urgent fundraising campaign, has announced a series of collaborations with community organisations to bring people together through theatre and conversation. On Wednesday they are livestreaming comedy night A Theatre Near You with Stephen Fry, Marcus Brigstocke and Friends from their auditorium. Arts at the Old Fire Station has promoted live-streamed performances, and curated a fantastic ‘Arts at a Safe Distance’ list. The Theatre at Chipping Norton has worked with Oxford University researcher Professor Sally Shuttleworth to produce a beautiful and thought-provoking film version of the Contagion Cabaret project. Meanwhile The North Wall is looking forward to Invisible Music, an experimental new musical journey from Platform 4 from 15 July.

Many of us have been enjoying the opportunity to watch past productions online in lockdown, from the National Theatre to Graeae and many more. Oxford’s Creation Theatre Company have gone further and adapted their shows into live Zoom experiences, including The Time Machine, their recent collaboration with the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and the Humanities. Last week saw a dynamic rehearsed reading of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII at the Oxford Festival of the Arts - the first outcome of a Theatres Seed Fund collaboration between Dr Laura Jane Wright and Creation.

Oxfordshire’s performance collectives have also been engaging strongly with the wider challenges of our times. Mandala Theatre Company has hosted livestreamed discussions with their young performers about the Black Lives Matter movement. Justice in Motion have continued to engage with the issues of loneliness, and other societal challenges.

We look forward to sharing more innovative and outstanding performance with you in the coming months. We would also welcome hearing from Oxford researchers and external organisations about any future opportunities for collaboration: please do get in touch.