We are determined to experience as much of the cultural offerings of Bath as possible. High on the list of cultural activities has been theatre. There are six main theatre spaces that I am aware of so far. These are:
- The Theatre Royal
- The Ustinov Studio
- The Egg
- The Rhondo
- The Mission
- Burdall’s Yard
You will see that two of them are grouped under the Theatre Royal as they are smaller studio spaces belonging to the parent theatre primarily geared towards youth performance. Similarly, Burdall’s Yard, which is just along the London Road from us, is the performance space of the Bath Spa University Performing Arts Faculty.
I’m going to report on two productions here, both of which were by youth groups of one sort or another. The first is “The Harvest” at the Ustinov which is a brilliant little theatre most recently refurbished in 2008. Though small, perhaps seating 100-150 people it is a fully fledged, state of the art performance space. The play is by Belarusian playwright Pavel Pryazhko and this was its UK première.
The play is only an hour in length and is almost a “play about nothing” in the Seinfeldian sense, although it could be about a number of things as themes suggest themselves and then fade as others come to mind instead. As four young workers pick apples in an orchard we wonder if it could be a parable about Belarus/Russian society and notions of “bad apples” or incompetence and bureaucratic disorganization or is it really a light hearted comedy of manners with a little sexual tension thrown in? We probably can’t know but it was very skilfully staged and the four young actors were very impressive and confident.
In contrast the Onset Company’s (Bath Spa University 3rd year Acting and Theatre Production students) production of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s “Blood Wedding” at Burdall’s Yard was a much more sombre affair. First performed in Madrid in 1932 and then shortly after in Buenos Aires in 1936 where it was a huge hit, it is a simple tale of thwarted romantic love and blood feud in a classic “Honour and Shame” culture. As we anthropologists know “men have honour and women have shame” and in societies where marriage rules are strict and an individual’s choice highly restricted, star-crossed love is a common theme.
In Lorca’s play we are given a quite stylised view of exactly this with an added chorus provided by “Death” and the “Moon” who declaim in highly poetic language reminiscent of a Greek tragedy. I venture to suggest that this would be a very difficult play to pull off even for a fully professional company so all things considered I thought that they did a commendable job. The set designs and costumes were all by students and showed originality as they worked with the very limited space of the old brewery vaults.
Reflecting on these productions some comparisons may be drawn with Australian theatre and the most obvious conclusion is that Britain with a population nearly three times that of Australia affords many more opportunities to someone hoping and training for a career either performing or producing in film, TV and theatre. Whilst there will always be more hopefuls than achievers in these endeavours I would say that proportionate to size of population there are still probably more opportunities in Britain. In just one relatively small provincial town such as Bath there are all the venues mentioned above and this is then replicated throughout the country with the larger cities all having at least one major theatre for both local companies and touring companies. Moreover some of the most interesting and experimental theatre companies are based in cities that are not London. However to gain some idea of the scale of London theatre, there are about 47 West End theatres and a further 66 fringe and other venues, for a city of just over 8 million.
Then there are the TV channels such as the BBC and even the independent, commercial channels that produce considerably more drama than their counterparts in Australia that import most of their drama programs. While the British film industry is quite small it would dwarf that of Australia although both tend to be used as locations for film-making by the US more than making their own films.