Out of site

Nick Smurthwaite looks at theatre groups that eschew traditional venues in favour of makeshift settings, which set different challenges for set designers

‘What never works is a designer coming in and imposing his or her ideas,’ says director Ben Harrison, whose award-winning Decky Does A Bronco was acted out in a children’s playground. ‘The sensitive designer will complement what’s already there,’ he says.

Harrison sees site-specific theatre as a reaction to ‘our blockbuster culture’, a scaling down with a view to intimacy and adventure.

That’s certainly the intention of theatre company Shunt in its latest show, Tropicana, which will be acted out in the winding labyrinth of railway arches under London Bridge Station.

‘The audience won’t be passive observers, they are part of the action. There is no room for them to be relaxed or anonymous,’ says actor/deviser David Rosenberg.

A theatre space doesn’t have to be a monumental civic presence. If you go back to its roots, theatre was often makeshift and ephemeral. The Elizabethans literally picked up their theatres and transported them over the river. Five centuries on, we are still finding new ways to stage drama, and new places in which to present it.

Macbeth, produced by Out Of Joint, will be touring nationwide until 13 November. Shunt’s Tropicana will take place at London Bridge station until 16 January

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