When James Grieve and George Perrin took over as Artistic Directors of touring theatre company Paines Plough in February 2010, it must have been with a certain amount of trepidation. Certainly, the company had a 37-year history as a foremost exponent of new writing that the pair had to live up to and, with such luminaries as Vicky Featherstone (National Theatre of Scotland), Anna Furse (Goldsmiths), and Roxana Silbert (RSC) having held the AD’s post before them, the vacant boots must clearly have seemed daunting and cavernous.
However, Grieve’s pedigree as founder and Artistic Director, and Perrin’s as Co-Artistic Director, of Nabokov Theatre held them in good stead and the tangible result of that is that Paines Plough is one of the few companies that saw its Arts Council funding actually increase after the generally crippling review of earlier this year.
Grieve is ebullient about the changes that he and Perrin have brought to Paines Plough. “When we took over the job we did so with an ambition to continue Paines Plough’s core remit, which is to produce new plays and to tour them, but we wanted to produce even more plays than the company had ever done before, tour them to more places and return to those places more often.
“Our first season was nine productions in 30 towns and cities around the UK. This year we’re aiming for 10 plays in around 40 towns and cities. Next year we’re aiming to do 10 productions again but this time going to 100 places. So it’s more work, so producing more great plays and touring them as widely as we possibly can.”
True to form, Paines Plough took an unusual offering to Latitude, Wasted, a gritty three-hander by performance poet-cum-rap artist Kate Tempest. Indeed, Tempest’s rhythmic metre is obvious throughout the tale of a group of post-Skins 20-somethings who find themselves caught in a cycle of work and hedonism with little respite between. It’s all the more poignant for the constant reference by the three protagonists to their deceased friend, Tony, who has perhaps died at the same time as their childhood. Grieve is clearly not enamoured with the comparison to the Channel 4 series. “Skins was very much set among a group of middle-class teenagers whose opportunities were there even if they chose not to take them,” he asserts sharply. “Wasted looks at working class people who have to strive even harder to find those opportunities. There’s a lot of great work produced at the moment about a generation of young people who are not sure of their place in the world, whereas their parents’ generation had a clearer path – leave school, go to university, get a job – it seems more complicated now for young people.”
Despite the obvious challenges of sound and weather, James Grieve is a strong advocate of events like Latitude. “They’re massively important,” he says. “The audiences here are incredible; it’s one of the most exciting places anywhere to make work. We had a huge crowd on Friday night of 600 or 700 people, who were all at a music festival and choosing to come and watch theatre when they could have been watching one of the bands. They’re really lively, exciting and vibrant crowds but they’re also audiences with taste and integrity. It’s 12 o’clock on a Friday night at a music festival and they’re all sitting and engaging with theatre.”
So with muddy and wet challenges of Latitude 2011 now firmly behind them, James Grieve is looking to the future. “For the first time, Paines Plough is going to have its own theatre,” he enthuses. This is evidently a subject that inspires. “It’s going to be portable, a 150-seat auditorium – in the round – that will flat pack into the back of a lorry. In the autumn it will pop up at Sheffield Theatres in the Crucible Studio and, along with Sheffield Theatres, we’re producing a repertory of three plays with an ensemble of actors running from September to December.
“Then, as of next year, the auditorium will tour all over the country, initially to theatres but then to school halls and village halls, and sports centres.”
Who knows? With James Grieve’s obvious enthusiasm for the festival, it a fair bet that Latitude will also be on the cards.
This interview originally appeared on Blaidd da – The Words of Paul Couch and is reproduced with permission
Further Reading Paines Plough website»