Audiences enjoy a summer Shakespeare offering at Iris Theatre

‘An immediate risk of collapse’: Iris Theatre appeals for urgent support

In Features, London theatre, Native, News, Opinion, Plays by Justin Murray

Iris Theatre have this week cancelled their Escape To The Forest summer season and launched an urgent appeal to save the company from imminent closure.

The staple of London’s summer theatre offering, which runs from St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, is now facing an immediate risk of collapse without significant, urgent support, in the wake of news that their Arts Council emergency support bid was unsuccessful.

For a company operating as seasonally as Iris, 80% of income derives from ticket sales in the summer season, and having to cancel their ten-week run places the company in dire financial straits.

As a small arts charity, Iris receives no regular public funding and any project-based funding they receive accounts for less than 6% of the annual budget.

Over the last thirteen years, Iris have presented a varied season of work, generally a Shakespeare and a more family-oriented show, every summer, in addition to work throughout the year: hits of the last few years have included Macbeth, The Three Musketeers, Hamlet, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

They have consistently represented an affordable and high-quality open-air option in the heart of London’s West End, with a commitment both to high-quality theatre and to keeping ticket prices affordable.

For about £15, one can enjoy a high-quality, site-specific production that begins in daylight and deepens as the dusk sets in around Covent Garden, meaning on a summer evening, an Iris audience tends to be younger and more diverse than the average West End crowd. The affordable group and workshop rates mean it’s rare not to see a school group or workshop around the Iris grounds delving into a Shakespeare play with some of the cast and crew.

Iris Theatre's Paul-Ryan Carberry and Paul Virides

Iris Theatre’s Paul-Ryan Carberry and Paul Virides

What’s more, Iris’ commitment to providing early-career directors with an opportunity to helm a midscale show in the heart of London is unparalleled. It’s given many directors, actors and writers a first foothold in the industry. In the past, they’ve also supported new British musicals with their Workin Process scheme. 

The current crisis also finds Iris at a key point in their journey, with new artistic director Paul-Ryan Carberry, executive director Paul Virides and general manager Sanna-Karina Aub recently taking over the reins from previous artistic director Daniel Winder. 

As ill-luck would have it, immediately before lockdown the company was about to announce their PLATFORM program, a freely available course of training tailored to new directors and designers, from working-class backgrounds for whom traditional drama school courses might not be an option.

Were Iris to become the next organisation to close its doors, after the Nuffield Theatre Southampton went into administration this week, it would mean the loss of a vulnerable, unapologetic player in our theatre landscape at a pivotal moment in its journey. 

The venue has seen a huge surge of donations and support online in the wake of their announcement, but are still struggling to fund basic overheads for the months to come. 

The company are now asking for individual donations of either: 

  • a one-off amount, perhaps the price of a ticket (particularly if you might have purchased one anyway)
  • converting tickets you’ve already purchased into donations 
  • purchasing gift vouchers towards a previous production
  • a monthly donation via Donorbox
Justin Murray on InstagramJustin Murray on Twitter
Justin Murray
Justin Murray is a director and theatremaker whose work has been seen nationally and internationally. He recently directed The Wizard Of Oz at The Scoop in More London Riverside as part of London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season. Justin was associate director of Actors of Dionysus for whom he directed Antigone (R&D and national tour). Justin is artistic director of Catharsis and has directed their previous five shows, Hippolytus (Hope Theatre), Hecuba (White Bear Theatre), purged (Brighton Fringe), The Complete Greek Tragedies (In One Hour) (Rosemary Branch) and Ashurbanipal (The Crypt Gallery). As associate director: FILTH (Camden Fringe) and Rounds (Southwark Playhouse / Bolton Octagon). Other work includes Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Assisting includes Helen for Actors of Dionysus, The Odyssey at More London Riverside, and The Cherry Orchard at The Union Theatre (both for Phil Wilmott).

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Justin Murray on InstagramJustin Murray on Twitter
Justin Murray
Justin Murray is a director and theatremaker whose work has been seen nationally and internationally. He recently directed The Wizard Of Oz at The Scoop in More London Riverside as part of London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season. Justin was associate director of Actors of Dionysus for whom he directed Antigone (R&D and national tour). Justin is artistic director of Catharsis and has directed their previous five shows, Hippolytus (Hope Theatre), Hecuba (White Bear Theatre), purged (Brighton Fringe), The Complete Greek Tragedies (In One Hour) (Rosemary Branch) and Ashurbanipal (The Crypt Gallery). As associate director: FILTH (Camden Fringe) and Rounds (Southwark Playhouse / Bolton Octagon). Other work includes Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Assisting includes Helen for Actors of Dionysus, The Odyssey at More London Riverside, and The Cherry Orchard at The Union Theatre (both for Phil Wilmott).