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David Hutchinson - Sell A Door

As international calling cards go, having the words New York, London, Dundee emblazoned on your stationery is possibly as good as it gets. For David Hutchinson, who as a young graduate of Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2009 co-founded a small theatre company called Sell A Door, it's one more milestone on what after seven years is looking increasingly like an ongoing exercise in world domination.

This week sees the company's production of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach arrive in Edinburgh as part of a tour which has just visited the Middle East and will soon travel to Hong Kong. The company's take on Footloose: The Musical will shortly arrive in Glasgow and Aberdeen following a run in Edinburgh, while a revival of grown-up puppet musical, Avenue Q, was seen in Edinburgh earlier this month. In the autumn, ambitious plans for a new stage version of iconic comic strip The Broons are already under way, while a new tour of cult musical Little Shop of Horrors will also visit Scotland.

Amidst this whirl of activity, it is Sell A Door's new production of Green Day-based musical, American Idiot, which looks most intriguing as it tours to Glasgow next week. Taken from the American band's 2004 concept album about three young men's life in post 9/11 America, American Idiot was first seen on Broadway in 2010 before touring the UK. When Hutchinson and co saw it, however, they decided they wanted to do it differently.

“That original production was done in a huge concert arena,” says Hutchinson in his office in Sell A Door's South London HQ, not quite cushioned from the sounds of singing auditions for Little Shop of Horrors which echo down the corridor. “That was great, but we thought that another version of that story could be told. Here's a story about three young men, one of whom joins the army, one settles down with his girlfriend, and one gets involved in drugs. That's quite an intimate story, and nothing says that it has to be done in a 3,000 seater auditorium. We said, okay, let's take off a zero and put it in an underground arts theatre and see what happens.”

Racky Plews' production ran at the Arts Theatre in London for twelve weeks.

“Racky completely got the intimacy of the show,” says Hutchinson, “and that was always going to be a risk in terms of making the numbers work, but it worked brilliantly, and after that we thought we could scale it up for this tour, but do it in a way that still has that intimacy.

“The great thing about this show,” Hutchinson continues, “is that it's not just for Green Day fans. If you like music theatre there's probably something there for you. I think the fact that we had an eighty-five year old with purple hair in the other night who was having an absolute blast speaks volumes about the appeal of the show.”

American Idiot is the latest in an ongoing line of Sell A Door shows that recognises the popular success of an already existing work before putting the company's own stamp on it that allows them to adapt to mid-scale venues as well as larger spaces.

“We choose titles which are audience led,” says Hutchinson. “If you look at something like Avenue Q for instance, there's a huge demand for that show, and where I think Sell A Door has found its niche is that we can go to big venues, but we can also go to mid-scale ones which are undersold with product, and where we can try and engage with new audiences. Up to sixty or seventy per cent of audiences who went to see Avenue Q are first time theatre-goers, and that's something I'm really proud of.”

Sell A Door began, as with many theatrical ambitions, as a student operation on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“We founded the company with fifty quid doing a show at Venue 45 when we were all still at LIPA,” Hutchinson remembers. “I was on the acting course at LIPA,but what was amazing about being there was that it allowed you the possibility of exploring other realms, and doing little shows on the Fringe gave you a good vocabulary.”

A break-out show for the company was a 2010 tour of Liz Lochhead's stage version of Dracula.

“Before that we were doing small-scale work travelling around in the back of a van,” says Hutchinson.

Sell A Door's Scottish had already been cemented early on by way of a production of Anthony Neilson's controversial two-hander, Stitching. This continued when in 2012 they co-produced Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All The Luck with Mull Theatre. In 2013 Sell A Door became an associate company with the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, and in 2015 Hutchinson directed Jo Clifford's version of Jekyll and Hyde, which toured the UK. Relationships with Perth Theatre and now the Gardyne in Dundee have followed.

“We're loving being at the Gardyne,” Hutchinson says of its latest collaborators. “It's a new venue finding its feet, and it gives Sell A Door A meaningful Scottish base for our tours.”

The first fruits of this relationship comes in the autumn with The Broons, in which playwright Rob Drummond, whose career began at the much missed Arches venue, will attempt to put the legendary comic strip family onstage.

“Rob Drummond has theatre in his blood,” Hutchinson says of the Rutherglen born writer of Bullet Catch and Quiz Show, “so I know that whatever he does, his take on The Broons won't be some big empty cardboard production, but will have a life of its own.”

With more than fifty shows under their belt and a full time operating staff of fifteen, as well as a recently acquired New York address -”It's literally just an office - Sell A Door have blazed an increasingly ambitious trail akin to the Lloyd Webbers, Cameron Mackintoshes and Bill Kenwrights of the commercial theatre world.

“We're not in a place yet where we can just put the company's logo on the poster and get an audience in the way that some companies can,” Hutchinson says, “and I don't know if that will ever happen, but we really want to be based in a building, and to be able to launch shows from there. Of course what the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Bill Kenwright have done is created excellent timeless shows, and I want Sell A Door to be able to do that. I want a Wicked. That's not about box office. That's about creating something that people will be talking about for years.

The only thing I find difficult with that is the people who think that putting on commercial theatre is somehow about not putting on quality productions. I find that quite insulting. Everything we do with Sell A Door is done with total integrity and total care, and I want to develop that even more. We've had five shows come to Glasgow in a year. In a few years I hope some of the shows we bring will be brand new works that we've commissioned.”

James and The Giant Peach, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, May 24-27; American Idiot, King's Theatre, Glasgow, May 31-June 4; Footloose: The Musical, King's Theatre, Glasgow, June 13-18, His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, June 20-25; The Broons, Perth Concert Hall, September 27-October 1 then on tour to Inverness, Kirkcaldy, Stirling, Aberdeen, Ayr, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow; Little Shop of Horrors, Theatre Royal Glasgow, November 14-19.
www.selladoor.com

The Herald, May 24th 2016

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