Artistic director voices hope for 2021 as latest plays launch

Nadia Fall

Nadia Fall is artistic director at Theatre Royal Stratford East. - Credit: Michael Shelford

An artistic director has said she is hopeful audiences will return to live theatre in 2021 at the launch of a series of plays just for east Londoners.

Nadia Fall was speaking as Theatre Royal Stratford East released four free online performances.

Fatima Abukar

Romani Girl is written by Ambreen Razia, performed by Fatima Abukar and directed by Sita Thomas. - Credit: Theatre Royal Stratford East

Press Play Here can be viewed by scanning a special code on posters which are only found in Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

Ms Fall said: "We're inspired by our local community. Press Play Here is a very special love letter to our neighbours to cheer everyone up.

"We want to say we're still here and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

"We want to make sure we don't disappear from people's lives."

Ribena writer Daniel Ward

Ribena is written and performed by Daniel Ward. It is directed by Eva Sampson. - Credit: Theatre Royal Stratford East

After scanning the QR code, audience members choose from a menu of options: Jack and the Beanstalk Pocket Panto, Cabaret De Rien, Romani Girl and Ribena.

Cabaret De Rien

Cabaret De Rien is written and performed by Alexander Luttley and directed by Sita Thomas. - Credit: Theatre Royal Stratford East

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The series of shorts were originally meant to be performed live and within the community.

The idea was to stage the plays in a nail shop, school staff room or barbershop. But Covid-19 meant they were transferred to film.

Stratford East building

Press Play Here brings audiences into Stratford East. Posters can be found in Newham, Hackney, Barking and Dagenham, Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets. - Credit: Theatre Royal Stratford East

As with many live venues, Theatre Royal Stratford East has had to adapt because of the virus.

Its digital work has included key worker tribute piece No Masks, featuring Years and Years actor Russell Tovey, which aired on Sky Arts Freeview.

A 360° immersive virtual reality experience, Petrichor, set in a dystopian world where happiness has been traded for a world without pain, also saw audiences tune in online or return to the socially distanced theatre, albeit in limited numbers. 

But Tier 3 restrictions mean the theatre's doors have been forced shut yet again.

Ms Fall said: "It's quite maddening because you think, if you give us some indication not to open, we would not spend time, energy and money opening."

On the past year, she added: "The hardest part is the shifting sands and the unknown.

"You can make a thousand plans and then the rules change. It's really tough to plan. It's been really tough financially.

"We were really grateful for the government bail out - we had bitten our nails right down to the bone - it's allowed us to survive.

"But the money isn't really to help support any activity. We still have to take some tough decisions. But we've tried to stay positive."

The theatre received £500,000 from the government's culture recovery fund and was hailed as a "launch pad" for diverse talent including Meera Syal and Dame Barbara Windsor who joined Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop based at the venue in Stratford.

The theatre has also enjoyed the support of people who donated to its fundraising campaign.

Ms Fall added when lockdown was eased no one caught the virus from a visit to Stratford East which has in place a "rigorous" cleaning regime and social distancing measures.

The determination to support the army of freelance theatre workers who bring stories to life and entertain audiences remains strong.

"People need theatre just as much as they need the vaccine. People don't want to lose us - which is a possibility if we don't stay vigilant - so it's really important for us to keep making work, even though we are closed," Ms Fall said.

Stratford East's artistic director remains optimistic about 2021 with a new season of work due to kick off with The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars by Stratford writer Dipo Baruwa-Etti in February.

On whether theatre has been changed permanently by this year, Ms Fall said: "I do think something will shift.

"We've had this time to take stock. Theatre has rightly been called to account with Black Lives Matter.

"There's been a call for more transparency and diversity. Stratford East has always been leading that kind of thing."

On 2021, she added: "I hope by autumn next year we will see some kind of life as we knew it. But it's going to be a really tough year. Hope is really important."

Press Play Here videos will be available to watch until January 3.