by Georgette Purdey
I was feeling quietly satisfied as I got out of the cab at the Theatre Royal in Margate. The cabbie had spent the entire journey from the station telling me about the show I was en route to see – she had heard Ross, the director, interviewed on local radio. This always bodes well when your job is to market the show.
Rather than just programme Tortoise in a Nutshell’s hit show Feral into the Theatre Royal, Fuel commissioned a new version – Feral in Margate – as part of New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood. This is a luxury few shows are afforded, but it made all the difference. The company spent a week in Margate conducting local-specific research and development, meeting with a variety of locals: councilors, schoolchildren and shopkeepers. And they reimagined their show as a result.
NTiYN’s mission is getting ‘new audiences’ into the theatre. It was obvious in the foyer that night that Feral in Margate had done just that. The theatre was open early to allow audiences to filter in and watch the entries to the #mymargate film competition – an invitation to locals to make something of their own, to accompany the performance. The 11 entries had been compiled into a show reel of people’s favorite Margate spaces: from the imposing Arlington House to some locals larking about in Fort Road Yard. I was sat behind some of the entrants who were giggling with pride seeing themselves up on the big screen.You can watch the entries here.
After a free drink at the bar courtesy of NTiYN the crowd was in the right frame of mind to see the show. It was a crowd quite unlike any other I have sat in in a theatre for a while. Gone were the usual ranks of silver-haired middle classes, replaced by an eclectic mix of families with older children, arty types and a man who said quite loudly mid-performance: ‘It’s been ages since I haven’t had a fag for this long.’ I had that wonderful sense that the crowd was unpredictable. Their reactions to seeing their own town made in miniature on the screen shifted from excited to saddened as the story unfolded, and for most ended with hope as the town rebuilt itself.
As the show closed the audience didn’t shuffle off into the cold; instead they all stayed and joined the cast on stage to look more closely at their town, their history, their streets laid out before them. The crazy cat ladies, the local councilors, the shopkeepers, were all there in a beautiful coming together of a community. In the performance the Council is pictured as an authoritarian body, distant from the ‘real life’ of the townsfolk. Up on stage at the end the local town councilor was happily joking that at least her miniature counterpart was a man – so she might not be recognised!
Most residents liked it, some didn’t, but they were all on stage, examining the set and engaged in debate about their town. Not a chocolate-box, picket-fence toy town – but a real town with its old-school seaside charm rejoicing in a piece of work made just for Margate, being performed in its beautiful and historically significant theatre.
‘This was brilliant! I didn’t know what to expect but knew it looked interesting. Totally captivating from start to finish. Funny, thought-provoking. Can’t praise highly enough.’
‘The attention to detail was astonishing! The whole concept and production was so inspiring. Many congratulations on such excellent work! Please do more!’