- BY MNR CONTRIBUTOR, HATTIE LONG
Tucked away above The White Hart pub in Stoke Newington, upstairs from the trendy North East London regulars, is one of the most exciting new theatre spaces to open in London in recent months. At the time of writing, Theatre N16 has been putting on shows for less than a week, but already their varied and exciting programme suggests an assuredness about them that one might expect from a more established fringe theatre.
It is not just their programming that is worth paying attention to, but the ideology behind the theatre itself. There is a distinct focus on working with up and coming practitioners, allowing them to work in a space with fewer financial overheads to deal with – a major restriction for many young directors and performance makers. With cuts to the Arts Council and the imminent closure of Ideas Tap, emerging creatives need help now more than ever to start building the foundations of their future careers. The clichés are true, young people are the future and without the opportunity to stretch their creative wings the arts will become stagnant and even more elitist. As a result of this emphasis on new talent, Theatre N16 is indirectly aimed at a younger demographic than perhaps the more established institutions without being specifically tailored or patronising.
The audience the theatre makers bring in with them and who may relate to them the most are likely to be of a similar age; it is this kind of environment that is important for theatre-goers and makers alike, offering an alternative to the larger, stuffier establishments that some may find off-putting. In some small way Theatre N16 offers a potential challenge to the stranglehold that the upper-middle classes have over the arts, with many of those in positions of authority coming from privileged backgrounds. By providing opportunity to those who might otherwise be unable to afford it, Jamie and his team offer hope for a greater level of equality in the creative industries.
As Theatre N16 do not charge upfront costs, they are wholly reliant on box office takings for their survival. Joint artistic director Jamie Eastlake explains that there have been a lot of highs and lows so far during the opening season: “It’s a very small team so we don’t have much in terms of energy or finances left over for marketing. We’re almost completely reliant on word of mouth”. Given its slightly out of the way location, finding a local audience is proving to be the main challenge that could make or break this fledgling organisation. It’s a matter of persuading the population to forgo the bars and clubs further down Kingsland road in favour of some theatre, which although difficult is by no means impossible. Theatre N16 have the talent and perseverance, now they just need the luck.
If all goes well, they hope to begin programming their next season in June ready for Fringe previews in July and August. Their current run of shows finishes on 30th May with a theatrical extravaganza of six plays and readings rounding off their debut festival. Fingers crossed they will have made enough to be able to continue the good work started this month. This tiny room over a pub could prove to be something special.
Hattie is a music and arts journalist currently studying English and Drama at Queen Mary University of London. She harbours an addiction to chocolate hobnobs. Read more at her blog https://hattiel.wordpress.com & follow on Twitter @batty_hattie