Redbridge is not a sexy borough. It has neither the deprived-so-we-must-help image of, say Tower Hamlets, nor the prosperous middle class ambience of, for example, Bromley. And my perception is that because of this it tends, rather unfairly, to get overlooked or overshadowed by more clamorous London boroughs.
So I was interested to hear about the good work which goes on at Redbridge Drama Centre - a receiving house, producing theatre and focus for education and community drama-related activities and projects. It also runs youth theatre and other opportunities for young people.
But I am concerned to learn that it’s under threat. Redbridge Council, based at Ilford Town Hall, is proposing to cut £186,000 from RDC’s budget in 2012 and £292,000 the following year. Few members of the Friends of Redbridge Drama Centre, which is campaigning hard, believe that RDC can survive such a loss.
Vital Stages Theatre Company, RDC’s professional theatre company, was formed in 1995 by Keith Homer, head of the Redbridge Drama Centre and Michael Woodwood, a freelance actor, writer and director. As a professional touring theatre company Vital Stages takes educational theatre to schools and produces fringe and small scale touring productions (such as Shakespeare, Miller, Pinter etc), for venues in London and nationally. It also provides corporate theatre training (such as Forum Theatre and presentation skills) and responds to special theatre commissions from organisations in the public and private sector.
“Vital Stages does not keep a permanent ensemble of actors but contracts artists as and when required for each particular project,” a spokesman told me. “However, a number of actors have made regular appearances in a variety of our productions as well as taking part in workshops and corporate training sessions.”
And I like the sound of the education activities and work with schools. In addition to the usual range of workshops and classes Vital Stages produces touring shows for both primary and secondary education. On a number of occasions the company has responded to special commissions for touring shows, most notably the NSPCC, which funded a five-year touring project, called Before the City, for London schools on the theme of Racial Bullying.
Vital Stages has also worked closely with the police and victim support service on producing a touring production on the theme of parenting. This production, called Let’s Keep Talking, toured London secondary schools for three years.
Vital Stages also produces work directly related to the curriculum, either choosing to tour a set text such as Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet for secondary schools, or shows such as Theseus and the Minotaur, designed and written for primary schools.
“As with all Vital Stages shows we believe that every production should stand in its own right as a good piece of theatre that is both entertaining and stimulating as well as being educational,” Keith Homer said.
Forthcoming shows include Nigel and Louise’s Festival of Adventures on 23/24 February with schools’ performances through the week, The Seagull Effect (Idle Motion) in April and Wasted (Paines Plough, Birmingham Rep and the Roundhouse) in May.
It all seems to add up to an asset for Redbridge. I do hope, therefore, that Redbridge Council can be persuaded at least to moderate the cuts so that arts work - too often a soft target when times are hard - can continue in the borough for the benefit of many hundreds of people, especially young ones.