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Guest Blog: Reading Rep Artistic Director Paul Stacey On DORIAN

The Oscar Wilde adaptation will help put Reading on the cultural map

Guest Blog: Reading Rep Artistic Director Paul Stacey On DORIAN
Paul Stacey

When I told people I was going to start a professional producing theatre in Reading the reaction was often the same: a sort of bemused smirk.

I grew up in Reading and was fortunate enough to be taken to the theatre by my parents and on school trips. But these trips were never to Reading. I was going further afield. To London, to Bristol, or to Oxford. After school I was fortunate enough to continue my training in theatre, at the Moscow Art Theatre, at the American Rep Theatre and at Harvard University.

But on returning to Reading in 2012 not a great deal had changed. So I decided to try and set up a company myself. The aim was simple: to try and create world-class theatre with, by and for the people of Reading. In so doing I hoped to get my local town on the national cultural map.

The reality wasn't quite so simple. I didn't have money, a company, or indeed a theatre. So, I founded Reading Rep Theatre with my £500 overdraft and moved into the company's first home: a black box studio that belonged to Reading College. While the roof leaked, there were no toilets, nor front of house facilities, we still managed to produce packed-out plays on a shoestring. It became clear that it wasn't just me who was tired of leaving Reading to see great theatre.

Before long, Reading Rep grew to be a beloved home and playground for many of the UK's leading theatre-makers, including Barney Norris, Roy Alexander Weise and Mischief Theatre. Collaborations and co-productions with leading regional and London theatres including Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Arcola Theatre and Oxford Playhouse placed Reading within the heart of the regional theatre landscape.

As our reputation grew so did our need for a bigger theatre. And so began the journey that brought us to our new venue. Before the pandemic we started to raise funds to convert a beautiful ex-Salvation Army hall into a theatre. It was hard going, and when the pandemic hit and the country went into lockdown, it didn't get any easier. Costs started to spiral, supply chains came to a halt, and there was no end in sight. But with the support of our community, our stakeholders, and our donors, we rallied through.

Guest Blog: Reading Rep Artistic Director Paul Stacey On DORIAN

Reading Rep Theatre's inaugural season in its new venue is special for several reasons. The company has spent two years raising £1 million to create the town's first ever professional producing theatre. The pandemic has meant that we haven't been able to create live theatre for nearly two years. And the people of Reading have been in and out of isolation for more than a year, starved of the one thing that makes theatre so special: sharing something live with the community.

Which brings us to the first production in our new venue: DORIAN. A world-premiere adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray by the brilliant Bruntwood Prize-winning Phoebe Éclair-Powell and Royal Shakespeare Company associate Owen Horsley and Reading Rep's 25th production.

In Reading gaol by Reading town

There is a pit of shame,

And in it lies a wretched man

Eaten by teeth of flame

So said Oscar Wilde in his ballad of Reading Gaol. Wilde's imprisonment was undoubtedly a shameful moment for Reading and for the country. But while DORIAN commemorates the events that brought Wilde to the Gaol, it's also a celebration of the man's indelible life.

It seems fitting then that it should be the first production in Reading Rep's brand-new venue. While Reading will forever be known as the place in which Wilde was imprisoned, this world-premiere adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, DORIAN, aims to be forever remembered as one of the plays that helped put Reading on the national cultural map.

Find out more about Reading Rep here

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