Competition: Desperate to get back to theatre? Win a £50 ATG Voucher and take your pick of shows


Interview with Theatre Delicatessen

Image © @theatredeli via Twitter

Experimental theatre thrives in shadow of the financial crash

London Calling catches up with experimental theatre company, Theatre Delicatessen, a group that creates art in derelict and unusual spaces

Theatre Delicatessen creates experimental theatre that challenges and blurs the relationship between artist, audience and performance space. Having taken over derelict college buildings, disused workshops and the old BBC headquarters in Marylebone, Theatre Deli’s new venture is the five-storey Guardian newspaper building in the heart of Farringdon. Co-artistic director Jessica Brewster and creative spaces manager Dan Ball told us how they find spaces for experimentation amongst the hubbub and commercialisation of the capital.

London Calling: When was Theatre Delicatessen created?

Jess Brewster: It all started in 2007. There were four of us: three directors and one producer. We wanted to help each other produce work in unusual spaces. We found a fantastic old 1930’s workshop on Regents Street. We were meant to be there for just one project but the 2008 financial crash occurred and development on the building stalled. We ended up staying there for two years. We took turns putting on shows and playing with the space. They were rather traditional plays, quite far away from what we stage now, but we learnt so much during that time.

LC: What was the next step?

JB: We moved into our next space, just by Selfridges. We went from one floor to a whole building; that opened up a huge new range of possibilities. We brought in theatre-makers for a six-week long festival called Theatre Souk where each artist had a room to create their own world, based around the theme of money, in response to austerity kicking in. We suddenly had this whole community of artists to work with and it hasn’t changed since.

LC: How do you develop new artists?

DB: Members of our resident artists programme get a complete 360-degree theatre-makers course: literally how to make theatre from conception to performance and what you need to do to produce the best show you possibly can. We realised a lot of drama school graduates didn’t understand the nuts and bolts of how to put on a show. We help companies who haven’t yet had the space, facilities or experience to make unusual, exciting work. Theatre Souk taught us that the young and experimental theatre-makers we work with need to think of their production as a whole. From an audience’s perspective everything is important: the set needs to be as well considered as the central performance.

LC: You have so much space at 119 Farringdon Road. How are you going to use it?

JB: Just because we have space that doesn’t mean we will say, ‘You’re putting on a Shakespeare play? Great! We’ve got a studio theatre’. We’re very focused on experimental, new work that isn’t necessarily text-based. We have big spaces that aren’t normally available for performance and we provide a lot of support. People can build whole worlds at Theatre Deli, they can create pieces that couldn’t be done anywhere else.

LC: What shows are coming to the new building in Farringdon?

JB: In our June politics season we’re working with Gideon Reeling, the sister company of Punchdrunk. They’re doing a murder mystery show about the assassination of a political lobbyist. The show starts in his ‘office’ down in our basement, then in groups of four, audience members will find clues around the building and be sent to different locations around Clerkenwell. They will have to interact with the local community and businesses in order to work out the mystery. It has a really strong narrative. In the run up to the election we have a company called Brave Badger who will be doing a show where the spectators become part of a TV audience and watch a live surgery on stage. It’s all about the NHS and the liberal free market arguments for and against privatisation. A company called No Feedback are doing a piece structured around the ten steps to genocide which Genocide Watch have published. The audience arbitrarily get split into two groups, determined by whether you like anchovies or not. The two groups are then taken through the ten stages of genocide – one group complicit, one group naive. 

LC: What’s the most unusual show you’ve had on in one of your buildings?

DB: Shelf Life by Half Cut Theatre which was performed at the old BBC headquarters. You went down into the basement, through a fallopian tube, where you were born out of an eight-foot vagina. You were given a little latex balloon that looked like a condom. Helium was blown into it, you drew a face on it and gave the balloon a name. Then you followed your own tailored life story through the building: going to school, getting a degree, having a family, shaping this balloon’s life through it’s different ages, ending in an old person’s home dying, then letting go of the balloon from the rooftop. Like a balloon, our bodies can pass away at any time, so someone might bump their balloon and it would pop. Then a black balloon would represent you and you’d see the show from a different perspective.

In March avant-garde artists Mingbeast are taking over Theatre Delicatessen with their two-week festival ‘Point Blank Range’ of experimental theatre and live art. For more information and tickets, click here.