The Rep is one the brightest jewels in the city’s crowded crown and after 18 tough months grappling with Covid closures, the theatre is ready to celebrate 50 years in its Centenary Square home in style
The oldest building-based theatre company in the country and the only one in the region producing new work, the Rep is pioneering and remarkable. Genuinely a forerunner of the RSC and the National, the Rep has led the way since its inception in 1913, producing and attracting the very best talent. Olivier made his debut on the Rep stage and the pull for emerging and established talent just gets stronger. Anyone catch Tom Hiddleston in The Play What I Wrote?
Moving to Centenary Square from Station Street in 1971, the Rep has produced more than 130 new plays, presented over 60 productions on its three stages each year and has built up an admirable outreach programme – one of the largest and most diverse of any arts organisation in the country with 70,000-plus contacts with young people and adults in the community on projects ranging from writing workshops to large scale productions. The theatre is also hot on nurturing new talent through youth theatre groups and training for writers, directors and artists starting out in their careers through the Rep Foundry theatre-makers programme.
Sean Foley, pictured, joined the Rep as artistic director three weeks before the pandemic changed everything and says he’s spent much of that time fire-fighting: “Covid has been terrible for the theatre. Everything has its context, but it was genuinely close to bankruptcy. Were it not for the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund we’d have been in serious trouble. Even with that support there had to be redundancies.” The theatre reopened in September with East is East which was well received by audiences and critics, followed by new production What’s New Pussycat? and The Play What I Wrote directed by Sean.
Too many Rep productions to name here have gone on to tour nationally and internationally including festive favourite, The Snowman which is celebrating its 25th anniversary as well as Anita and Me, Lovely Bones, Nativity! The Musical, Of Mice and Men, The King’s Speech to name just a snapshot. The 2022 season features six world premieres as part of Sean’s aim to bring ambitious popular theatre to the city.
The programme includes brand new musicals and writing exploring issues of class and race, reinventions of classics, and combines work from both established and new talent. On being back in front of live audiences, Sean says: “Re-opening after such a long close-down has been an exhilarating, somewhat hair-raising, and occasionally genuinely electrifying experience. Now we toast the Rep’s 50th anniversary in its Centenary Square home with new shows that innovate, investigate and celebrate.”
There’s a lot of original work to get your teeth into in the extensive celebratory programme, including Birmingham’s Poet Laureate, Casey Bailey’s first play, Grimeboy plus Sky Comedy Rep – a series of inaugural short plays from the writers on the Rep and Sky Studios new comedy writer development scheme premiered in a short festival in March featuring Brum’s own Ryan Walker-Edwards. (Check out page 52 to find out more about Ryan’s involvement.) Also, Sean’s brainchild, Park Bench Plays which brought together the work of some of the country’s brightest writing talents to create a collection of 10-minute plays originally performed as pop-ups across public spaces in Brum which have now been filmed and are available on Sky Arts. Next month, The Covid-19 Variations – a world premiere one-off film and concert – features a collaboration between artist Alison Jackson and Rep artistic associate, composer Richard Thomas directed by Sean is a must-see. There’s so much more and in truth, the whole year looks brilliant.
Work to transform the foyer of the theatre’s iconic curved structure was due to finish at the end of 2021. Slightly delayed, the hoardings should be down by the time you read this. Sean says the biggest change will be having a front door! Referring to the subtle side entrance, Sean adds: “When I arrived at The Rep I thought, ‘well, how do I get in?’ The changes will be incredible.”
At the time of writing, there’s talk of mask wearing in theatres again and we’ll take that if it means the arts staying open. Bearing in mind the hardship of the last couple of years, we urge you to support the Rep and Brum’s other arts venues when you can. As well as experiencing some stunning work, you’ll be helping preserve the city’s rich and varied arts scene.