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Guest Blog: Director Alastair Whatley On CAROLINE'S KITCHEN

Guest Blog: Director Alastair Whatley On CAROLINE'S KITCHEN
Alastair Whatley and Jasmyn Banks
in rehearsal

Caroline's Kitchen has been simmering away since 2016, when we commissioned Torben Betts to write a brand-new play about a (fictional...) celebrated TV chef whose gleaming life in front of the cameras masked an escalating crisis behind them.

It's been a real journey in the truest sense of the word, which has seen us develop the play through multiple readings, a workshop that toured East Anglia in late 2016, and a production last summer which opened in Malvern and finished playing to packed houses at Park Theatre in London.

It's not always been an easy ride. In 2015, we decided to revive Torben's acclaimed play Invincible on tour. However, theatres were nervous of booking a relatively unknown play without a cast of TV faces. It was hard to book and even harder to raise the money to make it happen. It took every bit of persuasion, some blind faith and a bit of even blinder luck to get it into the rehearsal room.

Once it hit the stage, we were firstly reassured and then bowled over by the audience response. The number of people willing to leave the comforts of Netflix and their sofa to see a bit of theatre unfamiliar to them was both humbling and beyond what we could have imagined. Invincible ended up outselling our more commercial productions - which, in turn, led to a second tour in 2017 and a run in New York.

Invincible emboldened our programming. It would seem safer in times of financial uncertainty to baton down the hatches and choose plays which offer some security in their familiarity to both audiences and theatres. Yet we have made a conscious choice that the only way to encourage audiences into theatres across the country is by producing plays which dare to be original, to offer something new, and which don't play it safe.

We have acquired a (still nascent) faith that given a challenge, audiences will rise to it. Furthermore, that there is a palpable hunger for stories which reflect the times we are living through. A hunger for new stories. Which fortunately means we are finally living up to our name. Original Theatre.

Torben has been writing plays for decades. His plays are published and performed all over the world, and yet somehow, for many in the industry, he still has a moniker as an 'up-and-coming' writer.

He has a rare ability to form characters who can divide loyalties almost from line to line, generating rippling tension and danger in his dialogue and in the situations his characters create. In short, you never know quite what will happen next.

Guest Blog: Director Alastair Whatley On CAROLINE'S KITCHEN
Aden Gillett, Caroline Langrishe and
Alastair Whatley in rehearsal

He writes roller coasters for plays often played in the seeming domestic calm of family homes and living spaces. He has taken the baton from Alan Ayckbourn, holding up the mirror to the middle classes and exposing the fault lines at work beneath the ground we walk on. We think he is a major talent and want to showcase his work to as wide an audience as we can muster.

And yet, to offer some balancing ying to all that positive yang, and writing this mid-rehearsal, it is sometimes hard not to curse that same writer for writing such high-wire, gravity-defying dialogue for his actors - who all struggle to pin down the precise rhythms and speed of thought required to propel the play. It is fiendishly difficult to get right.

I liken it to a Formula One car: you have to drive it hard and fast in order for it to grip to the asphalt. There is no respite for character or actor alike, no safety net and no cheating. It requires complete control, ruthless precision and nerves of steel, underpinned by a deep emotional well.

In short, rehearsals are hard work. Actors needing to bring their A game day after day, night after night. Fortunately, we have cast a selection of superb actors led by Carloline Langrishe and Aden Gillett, who are willing to put in the extra miles this play demands. And when it sings, it really sings.

This is our 15th year on the highways and byways of the currently less than United Kingdom. Following on from Caroline's Kitchen, we have productions of Meghan Kennedy's heartbreakingly beautiful play Napoli, Brooklyn. It's a play I saw on Broadway in 2017, fell in love with within 20 minutes, and then spent the next 18 months acquiring the rights to bring it over the Atlantic. We are, this summer, giving the play its European premiere, directed by Lisa Blair.

This is then swiftly followed by Hattie Naylor's adaptation of Sarah Waters' multi-award-winning novel The Night Watch in the autumn.

It is a busy, brilliant, frightening and frankly plain crazy time to be producing theatre. But I wouldn't be doing anything else. Much to my family's great distress...

Find full tour dates and venues for Caroline's Kitchen here

Photo credit: Sam Taylor

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