Interview: Owen Calvert-Lyons, Ovalhouse Spring 2017

“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.”

JOAN, 11th-22nd April

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 

Moonshine’s Entirely Necessary Adventure, 13th-14th February
Moonshine’s Entirely Necessary Adventure, 13th-14th February

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

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
 April 2017.

Interview: Owen Calvert-Lyons, Ovalhouse

Owen Calvert-Lyons was recently appointed as the new Head of Theatre and Artists’ Development at Ovalhouse Theatre in South London. The former artistic director of The Point and The Berry theatres in Hampshire joins the Ovalhouse team as they prepare to move to a new home in Brixton in 2019.

Owen Calvert-Lyons

So what does a Head of Theatre and Artists’ Development actually do? “My role is to ensure that art and artists are at the centre of everything that we do,” explains Owen. “I want to give a voice to a new generation of artists, particularly those from South East London. I will programme the mainhouse (Downstairs) and studio (Upstairs) theatres, commission artists to create new works and I’ll build an artist development programme which supports, nurtures and champions artists.

“My first season of programming will be Spring 2017, which will see a really exciting mix of new and familiar artists presenting bold and innovative productions. Before that, in July we have Seiriol Davies’ How to Win Against History, which is a hilarious, anarchic new musical.”

The new Head of Theatre is full of plans for audiences and artists alike: “I want to grow our audiences. I want people from across London to see Ovalhouse as a place that they can come to enjoy performances by the most exciting artists around.

“And I want us to be an artist’s first port of call when they have a great idea. A place where they can make their vision a reality. Ultimately, artists want to create great work and audiences want to see great work. We are creating an environment in which artists and audiences can come together to explore new ideas.

“Ovalhouse is a special venue, with a long history of radicalism. This has meant something different for every decade: feminist theatre, LGBT theatre, political theatre, performance as protest etc. This has meant that Ovalhouse has been a space for new ideas and new voices, which is always where the most exciting work comes from. We are in the process of defining what we think radicalism means for 21st century artists and audiences.”

Owen joins fellow new recruits Stella Kanu (Executive Producer) and Gary Johnson (General Manager) at a huge moment in the theatre’s history, as plans get underway for the move to Brixton: “Stella and Gary are great. They are bringing new ideas and new ways of working. This has engendered a feeling of energy and optimism amongst the whole team, so that we are all working together to ensure that Ovalhouse has a really exciting future.

“The whole team is bubbling with excitement about the move. The new venue will be right in the heart of Brixton. One of the things that makes it distinctive is that it will have seven rehearsal rooms, so it will be a creation centre full of artists making extraordinary things.

“Many of the spaces will be rigged for aerial work, so we will be able to support the development of contemporary circus as well as theatre and dance. The two new performance spaces will be bigger than the existing Ovalhouse studios and better equipped, so we can make even more exciting work for even bigger audiences.” 

Find out more about How To Win Against History, and see what else is coming up in the Ovalhouse Spring/Summer 2016 season at