In a season of festive fun and frolics, Creation Theatre’s family shows at the North Wall are in a class of their own. This year they’ll be presenting their unique take on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast and we were excited to learn more from Chief Executive, Lucy Askew.
Tell us about the Tale of Beauty and the Tail of the Beast.
We're very excited about it. It’s not a panto – that’s always worth saying – it’s very much a family show so not specifically designed for small children but small children are really welcome and there will be nothing offensive in it. It’s a production which was originally written by a composer and writer called Paul Boyd. He feels part of the Creation family although we've not done one of his shows before but he's been on our radar for a while and we love him. He originally wrote it for The Lyric in Belfast and it just felt like an absolutely perfect fit for Creation. It has this lovely framing device; it starts with a troupe of French travelling 18th century players telling the story of the Tale of the Beauty and the Tail of the Beast and it all goes wrong. They drop the script and they’re not quite sure if it is one story they are telling or three, and then it all comes together. It has that slight anarchy and chaos and silliness that we love to bring to our Christmas shows.
I think you might have answered my next question, which is Creation Theatre has a very discernible identity. How would you describe this to someone who hasn't seen one of your shows?
With all our shows the idea is to be as creative as possible. We chose the North Wall as our Christmas venue because one of the things that I think is quite unique about Creation is that we like it to be very intimate; you always feel close to the action and you always feel part of the experience. Actors come through the auditorium and so you’ll able to see their costumes and their facial expressions in real detail, and feel like as an audience member you have been part of that whole joyful Christmas madness.
Over the year, how do you choose which shows to preform?
It always feels like they choose us, really. We always say the universe provides the answer to the question what we're doing next, because it will be a combination of which venues we are talking to, which are available and what stories feel right for that space because we tend to build on the environment. Sometimes it’s also what directors we are looking to work with, and what their style is and what makes sense to them.
There’s an element of absorbing the mood of the audience. We do our own front of house and box office so we see our audience a lot. There’s a very personal relationship there, so we take the barometer of what we think the audience needs; what they want to get out of their cultural theatre experience at this moment in time. Our Christmas show this year is very consciously a little bit less dark. We really love a slightly dark and weird sense of humour but we've reigned it in a little this year because we feel the situation in the world is such that actually what our audience need is something that’s a bit sillier and less cynical. We need something more comforting at the moment.
At OX, we’re looking forward to our annual Christmas party. What about you? Does Creation have a traditional works do?
Do you know what, we've never mastered it because we have this really joyful intense bonding experience going through the Christmas show, and the moment to relax and celebrate and have our party never seems to come because as soon as we finish one show we start on the next one. Also, we get so much of everyone else's Christmases so we don’t feel like we've missed out because we see so many families coming in with their Christmas jumpers on and things on their head – you don’t feel like you’re missing out.
What about secret Santa?
Yeah, we do a Secret Santa. One year we made Christmas stockings for all of the cast out of leftover scraps of their costumes and when they came in on Boxing Day they were hanging up on the stage. A lot of years we do a secret Santa and then on Boxing Day after the last show or in-between shows we gather on the stage and sometimes we make one of the actors dress up as Santa.
What’s the budget?
A few years ago it was £5 I think it was possibly £7 in 2019 but obviously inflation…A lot of our cast this year have got children so we're probably going to have some sort of Creation children's party. It’s an amazing thing that those children give up at Christmas, they have their mum or their dad out at Christmas entertaining other people.
I think you should have the party for the spouses.
That’s the other end of it. It’s the people take care of the children and keep things running while their other half are in the theatre until late every evening.
And what are your plans for 2023?
We are in the process of launching a full-time repertory company of actors. Most of the cast are going to be on full time PAYE two-year contracts with Creation. It’s a huge innovation in terms of the business model of theatre and in terms of our commitment to performers and mental health and wellbeing. The freelance system is just awful for actors, always going into a job for maybe ten weeks and they don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of that.
We feel like the industry needs some radical change and Creation is doing what it can to champion that. Maybe this is the way forward and a way we can make things better. It’s going to be a very interesting experiment that we are very excited about.
Creation Theatre’s The Tale of Beauty and the Tail of the Beast is on at The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford from 4 December – 7 January 2023.
For more information and ticket bookings, visit creationtheatre.co.uk