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Cultural Treasure

We talk to Jerry Gunn, executive producer of Rose Theatre, about its tenth anniversary season…

What have been the highlights so far in your tenth anniversary year?
We’ve had a wonderful year so far with a diverse range of Rose Theatre Productions (productions that we create here at the Rose) and have some very exciting work coming up that I’m looking forward to immensely.

As we turn ten this year my highlights include Curtains– a very poignant, moving and often extremely funny play by Stephen Bill about assisted suicide! Allowing us to look at a very important and current contemporary issue through the lens of a darkly comic play about a very normal family having to deal with this subject, testing their relationships and trust. It was superbly directed by Lindsay Posner and acted with an exceptional company of actors.

Later in the spring our audiences were delighted by Much Ado About Nothing with a hugely talented company led by Mel Giedroyc and John Hopkins in Shakespeare’s most popular comedy set in a “family” hotel in a contemporary mafia riddled Sicily – an inspired idea by the director Simon Dormandy. Great fun and the audience loved it!

Later this year I am excited about the Israeli director Gadi Roll’s production of Schiller’s romantic thriller Don Carlos with his collaborator the actor Tom Burke who stars as the Marquis de Posa. The two of them have some exhilarating ideas about how this urgent and thrilling play is presented.

We are in rehearsals for Hogarth’s Progress. Two brilliant plays - one revival and one new play (a World Premiere), set thirty years apart and both written by Nick Dear. We have assembled an astonishing cast to take us into the artist’s world: Bryan Dick plays the younger Hogarth in The Art of Success, and Keith Allen returns to the Rose playing Hogarth towards the end of his career in The Taste of the Town. They will run from the middle of September and I am incredibly excited about them. Don’t expect a history lesson, expect a white knuckle ride! This project has been a long time in the planning for me and I can’t wait.

Lastly, we are now in the fifth year of our unique Christmas shows where we present a Rose Youth Theatre & Rose Theatre Production co-production and showcase the talents of the Rose Youth Theatre telling a story for families on the Rose main stage alongside a handful of professional actors. Great festive fun this year is in the form of Hansel & Gretel.

And the highlights of the last ten years? For the theatre and for you personally?
I think the biggest highlight for the theatre must be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Peter Hall and starring Judi Dench and a fabulous cast including Charles Edwards, Oliver Chris, Rachael Stirling and James Laurenson. It was a great production and a huge event which put us firmly on the map back in 2010 and a lot has been said about it since.

Acclaimed director Sally Cookson directed and devised our adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s novel Hetty Feather with her long term composer associate Benji Bower, and which we co-produced with my collaborator Kenny Wax. This beautiful family show was a huge hit at Kingston and has since toured both nationally and internationally, had two West End runs, played as a Christmas show both in Manchester and Southampton, and was nominated for an Olivier Award.

Another very important moment for the theatre and for me personally was The Wars of the Roses in the Spring of 2015. This adaptation was originally created by Peter Hall (my old boss) and John Barton and was expertly directed by Trevor Nunn. We had a top drawer cast that included Alex Hanson, Rufus Hound, Joey Richardson, Robert Sheehan and Michael Xavier. I had been appointed as the executive producer about 18 months before and was now responsible for the creative output of the theatre. In my mind the Rose absolutely had to take a major step forward and put the theatre back on the London theatrical map and present a major piece of work that would change our currency. There was some resistance but thankfully I was right and with a large company of actors plus a Community Chorus directed by a hugely skilled and experienced director we presented three Shakespeare history plays in a day for a period of six weeks. The production got excellent reviews and the audiences were absolutely spellbound. We had put our head above the parapet and said – Yes we are a major player on the London scene and we can sell out shows in this unique 900 seat playhouse!

What have been the biggest challenges since the theatre started?
One of the main challenges we suffer from, and many other theatres have the same problem, is trying to encourage more young people to come to the theatre. Good theatre can be quite life changing for people. It was for me as a young person and we’re very keen to get that audience to the Rose to see something that they can relate to and that will move them in some way. We have all sorts of initiatives to make the Rose accessible to all and there are many great deals for young people particularly with our £8 Under 26 tickets and student concessions. I think a lot of young people have so many options these days to entertain them that they just don’t see the medium being for them, so we must continue to challenge that view. We do however have a massive audience for children’s and family work and we give a lot of free tickets to borough schools. We’ve been doing that virtually since we started and it’s certainly helping – get young people in the doors at an early age and hopefully they will have a good experience, remember it and consider theatre an option in their choices of what to do of an evening a bit later in life.

Can you tell me about the importance of the Rose in the local community?
It’s vital in my mind. Performance art is a means of telling other people’s stories and we can learn much from these stories. Our stories are about history, relationships, friendships, mental health. We work with young people, we put on productions for all ages, we present stand-up comedians, contemporary and classical music, we present dance. We host the International Youth Arts Festival now also in its tenth year, we host a festival for and with people with learning disabilities. We host a number of free events in our café, including lunchtime concerts, art and photographic exhibitions, choir recitals, school concerts and regular dementia friendly coffee mornings. We have hundreds of volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life who very generously give us their time and without whom we simply couldn’t operate.

Hogarth’s Progress: Thu 13 Sep - Sun 21 Oct Don Carlos: Tue 6 Nov - Sat 17 Nov

A Midsummer Night’s Dream ©Nobby ClarkJerry Gunn Executive Producer & Robert O’Dowd Chief Executive