‘It’s a little theatre of big ideas. Some may look at that space and think it’s limiting. But it’s not. Our imagination isn’t limited by four walls in a room. It’s about creating a world together, with the actors and the audience.‘
Situated above a pub in Islington, The Hope Theatre is challenging perceptions of conventional theatre space. Within these ‘four walls’, audiences have been transported to a deserted island, Scotland and now Greece in the latest production of Antigone from Tales Retold. Director of this production and Artistic Director of The Hope Theatre, Matthew Parker took some time to talk to me about Antigone and this special space.
On working for The Hope Theatre, Parker notes, ‘We’re proud to do what we do and I think we do it well. We’re a theatre which guarantees a legal wage for performers, not just those in our in-house productions, plus all stage managers and box office staff. We are the only 50 seat theatre in London that has such an agreement with Equity in place.’
It’s not just the space but the people and companies which make it special, with Parker collaborating with a number of familiar faces on this production. ‘Brendan Murray and I have known each other for a few years and he’s bloody brilliant,’ Parker enthuses of writer Murray, who he worked with on The Cherry Orchard at The Jack Studio Theatre in 2014. ‘What he does so well is he takes a classical play and makes it sound modern, but without removing any of the gravitas or importance of the original text. It’s still recognisable to a modern ear.’ Parker also reunites with Cassandra Hodges of Tales Retold, who he met while at drama school. ‘We’ve worked together a number of times before, in producing and directing roles,’ Parker recalls, ‘But we’ve never worked as actor and director before, so that’ll be interesting!’
Hodges leads an all female cast in this production, with the Greek chorus or ‘interlude’ in this production formed of a ‘beautiful and powerful’ five part acapella. This emphasis on female characters and expression is characteristic of Parker. ‘I’ve been a director for seven years now,’ he reflects, ‘and I’m very attracted to strong, female protagonists in my work.’ And strong they certainly seem to be judging by the sound Maria Haïk Escudero is going for in choral arrangements, which Parker describes as a ‘tribal roar…think Kate Bush!’
On what else attracted him to this project, Parker praises ‘the brilliant dynamic’ at the heart of this production. ‘It’s what I call ‘total theatre’: we have a great text, we have great music, great acting and great movement.’ Antigone is also something new for Parker, who admits, ‘I’ve never done Greek theatre before, so it’s really been amazing digging into it and getting to know the piece. I’m learning on the job every day. And with only two weeks until we open, it’s a lot of learning!’ And this short time frame doesn’t worry Parker, as he confesses, ‘I love this intensity! We’ve been talking about doing Antigone since last year and now it’s here. And it’s an intense piece, where all the action of the play takes place in one day. So I like the mood in the rehearsal room to reflect the atmosphere in the play. It’s so fast, intense and intimate.’
‘Intimate’ certainly is the word, with the audience mere inches from the actors in the theatre. ‘Some would call it ‘intimate’ and mean something else, derogatory. But we’re trying to reclaim that word: it’s a little theatre of big ideas. Some may look at that space and think it’s limiting. But it’s not. Our imagination isn’t limited by four walls in a room. It’s about creating a world together, with the actors and the audience.’ And having seen The Tempest staged here last year, ‘limiting’ is not what I’d associate with the space. ‘Right,’ Parker recalls, ‘with a production like that it was so intimate and so immersive. And that’s what’s great about the space: you can go from seeing that to seeing this production and the space will feel entirely different.’ And it’s this quality which is at the heart of The Hope Theatre and makes it so unique. ‘You’re so immersed in this collaborative space, that the audience is part of that world for an hour or so…maybe not in The Little Mermaid way though!’