We are swiftly approaching theatre festival season – Brighton Fringe kicked off on 5 May and it won’t be long before the biggest theatre festival in the world, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, rolls around once more. At the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, the second of the year’s three festivals, And That’s Another Story, has kicked off. It runs this year from 3 – 25 May and focusses heavily on storytelling and literature at the heart of its programming, a nod to the heritage of the theatre building, which served as a public library for 125 years.
I caught up with Artistic Director Marie McCarthy to look at how the festival sits within the wider Omnibus ethos and development:
Now it’s kicked off, how is the festival going?
What’s been very interesting is the roots of it, the fact that we were a library for 125 years. When I first got here we had a thank you to everybody who supported the campaign and I was very interested with people’s memories of what the library meant to them. There was a real range of emotional connection to the building. I’d always been struck by this building as having a particular atmosphere. So, I was very intrigued by the fact that 125 years’ stories, aspirations and dreams have been in the bones of the building.
This is the first year when all those elements have really come together with theatre being the heart of that. We’ve tested some models in the past years that have been around writers or books but now we can really see how it sits and interweaves with the rest of the programme. I feel very excited about all the different angles to storytelling and the multi-disciplinary opportunities.
For example, in our show Bookish [by Laura Mugridge and Associate Artist Tom Adams], they have five books that they have created plays from and the audience chooses which show. The set takes place in our bar/ lounge area – a very cabaret, intimate feeling.
Then we’ve got Publick Transport’s We Are Brontë, which is physical theatre at its best – think Morecambe & Wise meets David Lynch. We also have two one-woman shows in Jane Eyre: An Autobiography and Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield , an exploration as to who the Narnia chronicles were dedicated to.
The work for this festival feels right, a nice mixture of different forms of storytelling. Next year I’d like to get more conversations and debates in to create more glue around the shows and grow the buzz, opening the building up more.
How important is it that storytelling remains at the heart of this festival, in a world that is becoming more technologically advanced and sophisticated?
It’s vital – it’s all about interactions and human connections. Part of our monthly offering is So, This Is What Happened… which is all about real people telling true stories. There is something inspiring about identification with the human being, which is really powerful.
When I saw the three main programmes of work initially in Edinburgh, I was struck and moved by each – the power of the connection between humans and the energy between actors. For example, Jane Eyre: An Autobiography showcases 15+ characters that the author created. Likewise, with all the pieces of work, thinking about how they take you on a journey through a quirk of the hand or a physical interpretation, you are transported through characters and that’s wonderful.
Technology has its place and I have used the elements myself. But to use imagination and to fill in the gaps is magical. It also connects with what’s happening at Omnibus in June – we’ve got A Midsummer Night’s Dream coming in as a promenade, but also The Faerie Thorn, which is adult storytelling from Northern Ireland. Both elements have magic in them, so the magic of storytelling takes the And That’s Another Story festival as a launch pad to connect with these shows.
For 125 years, the library was central to a community spirit. Does the festival retain that sense of community?
Yes and no – I think that we’re getting London-wide audiences now. Our local, South London audience is very important, but it’s been wonderful that people are coming from all around to see our work. The festival is one of three that we programme a year as well as other theatre and work that we make ourselves, all weaving in and out of each other. The festivals give us the opportunity to have conversation, debate and present multi-disciplinary work.
I was very keen to build relationships with the regional companies taking part in the festivals, so that this becomes their London host as well. We’ve got a couple of our associate artists currently out on tour who always start and end their runs here.
One of the shows, Bookish, is by Tom Adams, an Omnibus Associate Artist. What is the idea behind the programme?
We have eight associate artists – three are writers (Kat Woods, Victoria Willing and Miran Hadzic), two theatre makers (Tom Adams and theatre company Unholy Mess) and two directors (Scott Le Crass and Robyn Winfield-Smith). All of them come at storytelling from slightly different angles – I’m really interested in what the individual voice is and what they have to say and it all this feeds into our Engine Room, an opportunity to test work.
I’m very interested in artists from different disciplines coming together and seeing what new artistic vocabularies may be discovered. By getting spoken word artists or composers in a room with directors or traditional theatre makers and seeing the kind of conversations that evolve, I’ve always wanted there to be a space to allow people to make work and test it out.
We are starting next week to get all the Associate Artists together, to connect and look at what next year is looking like. It’s not just about supporting the work that they’re making or producing their tours, it’s also about what they want to test out, what they’re uncertain about. We’ve got a community of artists with different skills, so let’s talk about what the issues are. This is a space for that – development of people and development of work. As we grow and develop ourselves, I’m very keen that this is a strong strand to our work.
So, the festival runs until the end of May, then the two larger pieces in June. What is coming up in the next seasons?
We’re working on our Christmas show, a co-production with Little Angel. Before that we’ve got a European premier coming in, some exciting new writing. Before that it will be our Perception Festival in October (we have three festivals a year – our LGBTQ festival is in February). This programme looks at identity and conforming or not.
And That’s Another Story plays until May 25.