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The New Actors Company – if you haven’t heard of them already where’ve you been?

12 June 2012 | Tom Butler

The New Actors Company are a young theatre company who, even in challenging times such as these, are thriving. London Calling's Tom Butler talks to their manager and founder about their recent success at the Finborough Theatre and what lies ahead for the company.

It’s said that in times of financial strain people become more creative. It’s also said that in such austere times, people are only willing to part with their hard earned cash when they feel the expense. And when it comes to such ‘luxury’ items as theatre tickets this becomes ever more pertinent.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to see a small independent theatre production company going from strength to strength. The New Actors Company was set up just three years ago in 2009 and has since gone from strength to strength.

London Calling met up with company manager, Rob Laycock, and producer and original founder, Thomas Shirley to see how they differ from other companies out there, their most recent success, and where they see it taking them in the future.

London Calling: With the number of theatre production companies out there, how important is it for each one to set themselves apart from the crowd? Talk us through your approach.

Rob Laycock: Throughout history, companies of actors have always staged theatre and how the collective of the actors comprehend the plot, the characters and their relationship has always influenced the style and the direction of the production. Nowadays many production companies prefer to exert top down control over their productions, rather than letting the productions develop through the creative team. So the way we work and have been developed is that a core company of actors will decide amongst ourselves which plays we will consider producing, then we put it through a workshop process with the director, then we’ll work out how the play will be done, how the themes, the style (most importantly), is going to work.

Also in that workshop process we discuss future marketing techniques. Everything like that is decided with the director before anyone else is brought in. What that allows us is that decisions are always made artistically with the interests of the production first and foremost. It’s very much a different process to say someone with no acting experience choosing a play. We always choose them to be commercially successful, don’t get me wrong, but we also choose them with the acting quality and the staff at the forefront of our minds. It’s very different - I’m not saying there isn’t another company that does this, but I’m not aware of one. The last company that did what we do is the company that we take our name from, the original acting company.

LC: You’ve just had a fantastic run at the Finborough Theatre performing Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Grand Duke’

Thomas Shirley: It sold out rather quickly and took some people by surprise, but it was really good for us. It put a contemporary slant on a Gilbert and Sullivan show, which had been staged in its original production in 1896. It proved to be a historically significant piece but had been left by the wayside as more of a curiosity as people hadn’t had an opportunity to see it, and the production stage with all the cast and everyone who worked on it made it a very vibrant piece.

I think Gilbert and Sullivan has a cult following, so for those people in particular to have the opportunity to see Grand Duke with the cast that we have was great, because there were some of the leading Gilbert and Sullivan performers to date. So to be able to see the show with that cast is something that people didn’t want to pass up, as you don’t know when that opportunity is going to come up again.

LC: Do you see yourselves as traditional theatre enthusiasts then?

TS: We have always been advocates of traditionalist theatre. We are always of the belief that theatre has always very successfully blended the qualities of playwriting with pure entertainment. Whether it be a mouthpiece, or social or political comment, or simply to act as a means to chronicle historical events and public reaction to them. So that’s the tradition that we really wish to continue.

Having said that, one of the first plays we ever staged was a piece of new writing, so it’s something that the company has always been very close to and is very important to the longevity of theatre in general. We are dealing with two pieces of new writing at the moment, so if someone wishes to put them in their venue then we would undoubtedly stage them! Going on with that, the only way theatre is going to continue is not by continually reviving old plays, but by doing new things.

LC: Are there any venues that you would particularly like to perform at? And do you have a favourite one at all?

RL:I think we all have an admiration for the Southwark Playhouse, although they’ve sadly lost their home recently, but they’re getting a new one. But something has always just fitted quite well with the work and how we stage it at the Southwark Playhouse. So I think that is a venue that has always niggled at the back of the mind when we’ve considered any production, because it’s an adaptable theatre that can stage conversely. The Trafalgar Studios is a venue that we would like to shoot towards as well, purely because it’s tickling at the West End and that’s pretty much where we’re trying to aim now really.

LC: Is it correct that you’re planning your first Shakespearian production next year?

TS: Well what we’ve always agreed on is the fact that being an actors' company Shakespeare should be our bread and butter, because he was an actor and he wrote for an actors' company. It’s just happened, not through design, but by chance that we haven’t gone there yet. It’s always something that we’ve wanted to do it just happened that there was a venue available, for example, and we felt that another play was more appropriate for that venue.

 

In August the company will be announcing their sixth production in just 3 years. For more information and all updates on future productions, please visit their website.

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