When Lu Kemp announced her inaugural season as artistic director of a re-developed and re-energised Perth Theatre last year, she declared on these pages a long-term goal of creating an ambitious programme that reached right across the Perthshire region. Kemp also expressed the aim of developing the theatre as a community space that belonged to everybody.
As she reveals her second season in full in the Herald today, that continues to be the aim, with a programme of old and new work housed in the theatre and the purpose-built Joan Knight Studio. The latter is named in honour of Perth Theatre’s former artistic director and legendary doyen of its past glories. The season will also take in a rural tour that follows on from last year’s initiative, as well as a visiting line-up of shows both for adults and young people of various ages.
Critically, last season can be deemed a success. Kemp’s productions of Shakespeare’s Richard III and a fine revival of David Harrower’s contemporary classic, Knives in Hens, both received nominations for the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland. This included one for Kemp as best director for Knives in Hens and for Joseph Arkley as best male performer, while Jessica Hardwick won the best female performer category for a remarkable turn in Knives in Hens.
All of which is a difficult act to follow, but one which Kemp is relishing even as she takes stock of the achievements of the previous year. The fact that she is also planning for impending maternity leave after co-helming this year’s Perth Theatre pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dames, with Perth stalwart Barrie Hunter, makes things even more interesting.
“It feels really different,” says Kemp sitting in her office, which, before the rebuild, was the site of the theatre’s ladies’ toilets. “That’s partially because I’m not directing any of the work apart from the pantomime, but it’s interesting going into a second season, and having to adjust to what works for an audience and cut a path that has something for all.”
This is part of the thinking, one suspects, behind Perth Theatre’s main-stage spring production of Gaslight, Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play about the psychological manipulation of a woman by her over-bearing husband, who convinces her she is going insane. Filmed twice, on one level Gaslight is a tried and tested classic. The use of the term gaslighting to illustrate real-life examples of psychological abuse has been in circulation since the 1960s. It has come to the fore again more recently in a way that makes its appearance in Perth a canny sleight-of-hand, not least because it will be overseen by director designer Kai Fischer.
“As a play Gaslight an absolute classic,” says Kemp, “and is something that front and centre should appeal to a Perth audience. Bringing in an artist of Kai’s calibre should give it a fresh enough resonance, but it’s also a really interesting moment to be doing it. The term gaslighting has become so familiar, and seems to speak so much about a contemporary malaise that the play can be seen in a completely different way now than it was even just a few years ago.”
Already announced is a new studio production of Miss Julie, August Strindberg’s simmering cross-class erotic battle, seen here in the version by Zinnie Harris. This will be directed by Shilpa T Hyland, the first winner of Perth’s Cross Trust Young Director Award, designed to nurture emerging talent.
Lost at Sea is Morna Young’s new play about a fishing tragedy which will be seen on Perth’s main stage in a production by Ian Brown, while Marie, which has already been seen in Edinburgh and Brighton, is a Mary Queen of Scots inspired play co-presented by the House of Mirth company that will form Perth’s 2019 rural tour. For children, Jenny Worton’s take on Prince Charming will be seen in the Joan Knight Studio in co-production with the Little Angel company.
Following visits to Perth by Barrowland Ballet with two children’s shows, Tiger Tale and Playful Tiger, and Red Bridge Arts’ take on Black Beauty, the theatre’s autumn season opens with the first of a thread of work that marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War One. The 306: Dusk is the third and final part of a trilogy of plays by Oliver Emanuel presented in co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland. This thread continues with Sound and Fury’s sonic installation, Charlie Ward and Rosie kay Dance Company’s 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Front Line.
The visiting programme continues with visits to Perth by hit musical Glasgow Girls, the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh’s staging of Touching the Void and the Manipulate festival of visual theatre. For something completely different, there is the hen night-based comedy, Girls’ Night OOT!, and the Dolls company in the self-explanatory if double-edged Dragged Up.
Beyond such japery, Kemp is currently in the thick of programming Perth Theatre’s 2019/20 season. Integral to that is an ongoing ambition to raise the bar of what Perth Theatre can be, both at home and further afield.
“Long-term, it’s about making much stronger connections, both nationally and internationally,” Kemp says. “We’ve got the facilities and the capacity here to make much bigger productions and have an annual touring profile. In the times we’re living in there’s no excuse to be isolated. We want to make connections as much as we can, and for people to look at Perth Theatre in the same way they might look at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow and the Lyceum in Edinburgh. I think Perth Theatre is perfectly capable of having that same sort of profile, and to collaborate with as many people as possible.”
The 306: Dusk, October 10-27; Snow White and the Seven Dames, November 30-January 5; Miss Julie, February 16-23 2019; Gaslight, March 23-April 6 2019; Lost at Sea, April 27-May 4. Tickets for all shows at Perth Theatre except Marie and Prince Charming are available now at www.horsecross.co.uk. Tickets for Marie and Prince Charming will be available shortly.
The Herald, September 18th 2018