“It’s a season of new beginnings – new artists, new works, new ideas,” says Owen Calvert-Lyons, Head of Theatre and Artist Development at South London’s Ovalhouse. This week sees the launch of his first major season since taking over last year, featuring an imaginative and innovative programme of shows that runs until the end of April.
“I had a number of ambitions for this first season,” Owen explains. “I wanted to signal a return to our roots as a home for radical artists and radical ideas. I wanted to build a community of artists at all stages of their career. I wanted to take a risk on some young artists – giving them the opportunity to create work for our main stage. I also wanted to provide opportunities for a whole series of artists to work with Ovalhouse for the first time, which is why my first season is weighted towards experimentation – with eight new works-in-development.
“I think it’s a great season – there are shows that I can’t wait to see again and shows which I’m desperate to see for the first time. I am really pleased that five artists presenting work in my first season are graduates of our participation programme, which tells me that we have a strong future ahead of us.”
With so many exciting shows to choose from, how does Owen go about putting a season together? “I start with a series of principles – ideas that I want to see within the season: radicalism, diversity, politics, feminism, gender politics. Some shows I see at festivals – both JOAN and Eurohouse were at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and I saw a work-in-progress of Focus Group over a year ago and loved it. Other shows, such as Custody, have come to me more recently but have an urgency about them which demands to be heard.
“Then there are the FiRST BiTES – eight work-in-progress productions which we are testing out for the first time. All of these start with an artist bringing us a great idea; an idea which just needs some time, some resources and some love to start the journey towards becoming a great play. This season, I’ve also launched a regular strand of work for children and families. We want this work to have the same principles as our work for adults, so our first two productions explore grief (The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad) and gender politics (Moonshine’s Entirely Necessary Adventure).”
Presented with the thankless task of choosing some season highlights, Owen tactfully rises to the challenge: “It’s impossible to pick a favourite, but I would recommend Focus Group – a dark and unsettling journey into the world of Mister Kipling cakes, and JOAN – a beautiful re-telling of the story of Joan of Arc. Lucy, who plays Joan, won The Stage award for her performance, and rightly so, she’s brilliant. And Custody – Urban Wolf has been trying to get this play made for the past two years; it explores the injustices by the police which he’s witnessed first-hand in Brixton. He’s put together a great creative team, with a brilliant script from Tom Wainwright – it’s an urgent story and I’m really proud that we are going to bring it to an audience.”
For first-time visitors, he has a few additional tips. “I’m still amazed when people say to me that they’ve never been to Ovalhouse – it’s a hidden gem, right in central London. If you’ve never been before and want to dip your toe in, then come for a FiRST BiTE show for just £5. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, come to one of our *Discuss nights, where you see a show, immediately followed by an audience-led discussion over a glass of wine.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever be the sort of venue that pleases everyone – but this season has a pretty broad appeal. If you’re ever unsure if there is a show for you, just call our box office - we have a brilliant team who can talk you through the brochure and find a show that suits your tastes.”
Ovalhouse’s Spring Season runs until 29 th April 2017.