The Benefits of a Small, Close Room
As a Londoner, I’m used to a night out at the theatre being a busy, bustling affair. The West-End is a glitzy, glamorous place, full of eager people ready to enjoy a musical or a play. Productions are normally huge, well publicised and go on runs that can last for years. Which is all well and good, especially when so many tourists come every year, hoping to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap (now running for it’s 63rd year) or Stephen Mallatratt’s adaption of The Woman in Black in the delightful Fortune Theatre.
But we mustn’t forget the oft-overlooked charm of the small fringe theatre. In a place like St Andrews, it’s hard not to hear about the Fringe Festival every summer, and, if you manage to make it to Edinburgh, you’ll normally find signs pointing you to venues in the most innocuous places. But these theatres still exist outside of the parameters of the festival, and all over major cities in the UK, and it’s about time for a renaissance of the small, personal performance.
The first time I experienced the charm of a small-scale play was at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, a tiny attic performance space at The Royal Court Theatre. I was there to see a translated version of the Colombian play Our Private Life with my mother. I had been pulled out of school (I was there to see the matinee) and onto a small wooden bench, only one of seven in this tiny, wooden-panelled room. I had never before experienced anything like it. For the first time, I didn’t have to strain my eyes to catch the emotion on an actor’s face, or struggle to hear what they were saying. It was the first time seeing a small production. Since then, I’ve had a voracious appetite for finding small productions of my favourite novels and plays, from the underground Union Theatre to the Etcetera Theatre, located above one of my favourite pubs in Camden.
And just because there aren’t many people to make up the audience doesn’t mean that big actors aren’t drawn to these venues. The Donmar Warehouse, albeit slightly larger than the average attic theatre, is a 251-seat theatre in the heart of Covent Garden. Atmospheric in a way that larger theatres struggle to be, it invitess names such as Eddie Redmayne (Richard II), Jude Law (Anna Christie) and Ian McKellen (The Cut) to tread its boards.
So, as you can see, there are many benefits to a small, close room.