When you think of ‘important theatres’, what will often come to mind are the National Theatres, and the resident homes of all the nation’s most beloved musicals. However, regional theatres are actually just as important to culture, and as I have learned more about what they have to offer, I have grown to appreciate them.
Here on the University of Southampton campus, we are lucky enough to have the Nuffield Theatre- winner of The Stage Awards’ Regional Theatre of the Year 2015. For nearly two years, I have volunteered as an usher at the Nuffield, and it has taught me so much about what regional theatres have to offer.
There are indeed many things that such establishments can provide that larger theatres cannot, and these can be split into three main categories: inclusion, innovation, and intimacy.
One thing that is great about regional theatre is that it allows for more opportunities in terms of getting local people involved. There is often time and space dedicated to enable Amateur Theatre Groups to have somewhere to perform, and though admittedly the performances can range from impressive to purely dreadful, this still offers people with the chance to explore their passion for the arts. Another way that the regional organizations can increase inclusiveness is in emphasising the importance of theatre to the next generation. Regional theatres often have many school groups come in, and in exposing young people to the wonders of live performance, hopefully it will keep the stage world alive for a new era of fans. The Nuffield in particular has a renowned Youth Theatre, and as someone who has seen multiple shows of theirs, it’s fair to say that they are raising a group of incredible actors. These young people are always so passionate, professional and manage to evoke an emotional response in a way that always astounds me. I think that in providing these opportunities for the local area, regional theatres are able to welcome locals into a community in a way that larger theatres simply cannot.
As well as touring performances, regional theatres produce many in-house pieces, as well as co-productions with other theatres, and some of these are just fantastic. There seems to be more of a willingness to tackle challenging topics and experiment a bit more in these shows, because there just appears to be a bit more freedom in what they produce. When theatres are managing their funds themselves, they are free to invest them in whatever way they choose, and this often leads to some really exciting performances. What is encouraging is that these risks are beginning to be recognised nationally, with shows such as A Number not only having run here in Southampton, but also on West End Stages.
Naturally, most regional theatres tend to be on the smaller side in terms of audience capacity. To be honest, I think that this is an advantage, as it allows intimacy between the audience and the performers. The whole novelty of theatre stems from the fact that you are within the same space as those telling the stories, and in being in a smaller venue, you are permitted to be even closer to the action.
From these different qualities, it is clear that regional theatres offer something unique and I don’t think we should underestimate what they can do. After all, it’s through a combination of different formats and stages that culture becomes as exciting and relevant as it is.
The Nuffield Theatre can be found on campus, visit its website here.