Bunny’s Catherine Lamb: ‘Making theatre for young people is a financial disaster’

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Catherine Lamb produces and stars in BUNNY, the one-woman play by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), which returns to the London stage this month at Tristan Bates Theatre after success last year at the White Bear. The revival is the inaugural offering from Fabricate Theatre. Here, she explains more about the mission behind the show and the company… 

I am on a mission to get a younger audience to the theatre. In January 2017, I founded Fabricate Theatre, a company dedicated to producing theatre which is relevant to a younger audience. There are so many great companies out there creating really exciting work and championing diversity in theatre which is fantastic. What has not yet been done, in my opinion, is acknowledging and representing the younger generation as a whole.

Our young people are growing up in a time of political instability, huge expense and in a world which seems more unpredictable than ever. My feeling is that young people today have been let down and are feeling despondent and lost. Why do I think this? I am a young person myself, and although there is a lot to be grateful for, there are also many reasons to be feeling pretty fed up. Although I am an actress and I love the theatre above all else, I do not necessarily feel that it reflects myself and my contemporaries. It must be part of theatre’s job to reflect the whole of our society, even the ones who cannot afford a pricey ticket!

Having worked in this industry for the last five years, it has become very clear to me that the roles for my age bracket tend to be generalised and two-dimensional. Roles such as ‘girl next door’, schoolchildren or gangs tend to be the main brackets used to represent the ‘youth of today’. There are very few plays with a well-written human character, with a young person at its heart. There are exceptions, such as The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, the classic Romeo and Juliet, and of course our very own BUNNY. Generally, though, they are few and far between, and we at Fabricate Theatre intend to change that.

The main problem, as ever, comes down to purse strings. I do not, for a second, think that we’re purposefully ignored. Making theatre for a young audience is a financial disaster. Or so people think.

Older people naturally tend to have more expendable income, and therefore it makes much more financial sense to target them as an audience. It’s no accident that almost every show in the West End targets the older generation as customers. This really dawned on me when I saw National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, about a group of Scottish schoolgirls on a raucous choir trip, transfer to the West End. I saw the show originally at the National in London and thought it was absolutely phenomenal. What a breath of fresh air to have such young and vibrant performers owning the stage. It struck me how unusual this was and how inspiring I found it sitting in the audience as a young woman myself. I could relate to everything on stage and enjoyed every second of it.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour transferred to the West End after success in Scotland and at the National

I’m aware that I have taken on a big challenge with my mission; however, I believe it is one worth taking. Seeing a fantastic show can energise you. I first saw Jack Thorne’s BUNNY when I was 19. I had always loved going to the theatre, but this was different. I enjoyed it in a much more personal way and got so much out of it. It was the first time I had felt that I was being represented – it inspired me to go to drama school and become part of this industry.

Now, years later, here I am using BUNNY to launch my own company. That is the power of theatre and that is why I want to make more theatre do that for other young people.

Accessibility is also a huge factor. We need to normalise theatre for the younger generation and make it part of their social life. Young people are much more likely to go to the cinema than they are to go to the theatre as a social activity. I think this is probably down to cost, as well as the fact that film can seem like a safer bet. Film tends to be more of a known entity. Trailers give you a taster of what you can expect and famous faces on the posters help you draw conclusions as to the style and genre.

Growing young people’s awareness of theatre by tapping into the platforms they use, such as social media, is key. There’s a lot to be gained from visiting the theatre. It can open your eyes to different people, cultures, experiences and lifestyles. It asks questions of you, demands an opinion and, perhaps most importantly, stimulates the imagination. Without it, our society would be a much poorer place and so young people should be experiencing it too.

As a company, we will continue to focus on producing short, dynamic, high-energy pieces that explore issues young people face growing up in today’s society. We hope that, by doing this, we can get the next generation to go to the theatre to be entertained and inspired. Young people need to feel represented and empowered now more than ever.

We need more riotous shows about young girls on choir trips behaving badly because, guess what, it sold! I am aware that I am at the beginning of a very long, long journey but I do passionately believe it is one worth taking.

BUNNY runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower Street, London WC2H 9NP from 15 to 27 January 2017, with performances (70 minutes) Mondays to Saturdays at 7.45pm. Tickets are priced £15 (concessions £12).

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
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MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.