The Hope Theatre recently announced part of its 2018 season and put on another Off-West End award nominated production. Daniel Perks catches up with Artistic Director, Matthew Parker:
Every theatre has a personality, a feeling that washes over you as you enter. Whether you are impressed by the plush grandeur of your surroundings, or comforted by the cosy, bijou nature of the space, a theatre with identity lets you know its intentions as soon as you walk through the doors. It’s instinctive; it’s in the DNA of the place. My impression of The Hope Theatre is that of vibrancy and energy, a small space aiming high and punching above its weight. I suspect this is in part down to the vision and persistence of its Artistic Director, Matthew Parker:
I’m only 8 years into being a director – I came to this very late in life – but I’m very driven and have big ambitions. I’m always looking for how I can move forward and keep learning; I don’t like standing still.
You’re only as good as your last show
If the above comment is true, then Parker is very good indeed. The last production he directed at The Hope Theatre, Brimstone and Treacle, was nominated for two Off-West End awards (both for Best Male in a Play). This year alone, the theatre’s productions have gleaned seven nominations (three for Best Director) – it has won three Offies in the past, including Parker himself winning Best Artistic Director this year:
For the first time, three other directors – Scott Le Crass, Niall Phillips and Max Kirk – have been nominated for Best Director here. Until May this year, I was the only person lucky enough to be nominated.
By the end of 2016, it was my aim to make The Hope Theatre as known as it possibly could be on the Off-West End scene. We’ve clearly done that because this year the choice of work that I have is much more than it ever has been. It feels like we are now established on the Off-West End scene.
It does feel like a particularly pivotal year for the theatre – Parker has been at the helm for three years now, after the venue was originally founded by King’s Head Theatre Artistic Director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher. Now, there are a strong core group of staff, writers and theatre makers who all have galvanised their relationship with The Hope Theatre. As a result, the quality of the work is going from strength to strength.
Is it difficult to turn down more people, now you get more submissions and are inevitably more popular?
Yes. But in the end, I will only ever put brilliant things on stage. It’s quite a process to go through before we agree to collaborate on a piece of work here. It starts with candidates sending in a submission of the script. A couple of my literary team read the play separately and feed back to me. I cannot read every single script, there are way too many. I’m very lucky to have this team of 15 people who do everything on the first read. The second read is me and then the third stage is meeting the company and finding out whether we’re going to collaborate well together or not.
In the end, I will only ever put brilliant things on stage
It’s really important to me that I run a theatre with no bullshit, in the true spirit of collaboration with companies who are incredibly passionate about what they’re doing. They could be really experienced or not, I don’t care, as long as we’re going into it with a very open dialogue of what’s going to work best for both the show and the theatre.
What advice would you give to people looking to submit something for The Hope Theatre?
Make sure you read the information that’s on our website. At least once a day I get an email that I have to reply and redirect to the website – that’s why that information is there.
It doesn’t matter how polished the script is; it doesn’t matter how together you are as a company yet. What matters is that you’re passionate about what you’re doing.
Also, please don’t send me anything that is a kitchen sink drama, with a linear narrative that runs through in chronological order, about a relationship of people in their twenties. I get millions of those and I don’t put them on regularly.
What matters is that you’re passionate about what you’re doing
The Hope Theatre is more of a theatrical space than lots of other pub theatres. Because it’s so small, and because of the way we do the seating, you can create a complete world in your design and the way that you approach a play, which the audience are sat inside of.
Anything that keeps the audience at arm’s length… lovely, but not here. Go somewhere else, there are many other theatres that will take it.
Parker’s artistic vision rings true in the variety of semi-immersive productions that have played in The Hope Theatre over the recent months – we at Miro have had the pleasure of experiencing a great selection of them this year. From the visceral and violent, yet tender and touching Skin Tight; to the unapologetic and determined Turkey; to the caged, feminist masterpiece that is Torn Apart, Parker lets the companies run wild with their imaginations:
As a director myself, I have a strong visual imagination. So, I want to run a space that has no limits. When I direct in that space, I ignore the walls and the ceiling and ask myself what I want it to feel like when people walk in. It’s much more exciting for audiences to feel close enough to lick the actors – here, you are never further away than 2 metres away from the performer. That is a very different feeling.
The theatre company also has ownership of the piece that’s happening. Take Turkey for example, that show looks like it was written for The Hope Theatre. That’s what I’m after – you can’t imagine it anywhere else.
Currently, the venue is halfway through a run of Flycatcher, a new piece of writing from a very established director, Gregg Masuak. It’s a dark, comic thriller – a genre that isn’t often explored in the British theatre scene. After that, and entirely in contrast, is The Curmudgeon’s Guide To Christmas Round Robin Letters, adapted by Off-West End nominated director Le Crass from a book by Simon Hoggart. It looks farcical, glittery and completely at the other end of the spectrum to the previous show:
I try and programme things that I can’t do, which aren’t necessarily my taste but that I think will really work in the space. If I were to programme things that were just my taste – quite theatrical and OTT, a bit dark and weird, occasionally quite gay – it would just look like a vanity project. That’s not what I do.
I’ve got 2018 programmed up to June and we’ve announced the first third of the year already, including my sixth in-house production [a world premiere of Foul Pages].
We’ve also got a 50/50 gender split of writers and that’s really important. I will only take the best show, but I don’t agree that there aren’t enough female writers out there submitting work. I’m really lucky that the shows coming up are brilliantly written and just happen to be written by women.