We Can't Lose Nuffield Southampton Theatres - It's The Beating Heart of Our City
My relationship with Nuffield Southampton Theatres technically started at the end of my final year of university, in a completely untheatrical way, when I trod the boards during my graduation ceremony. I was soon back as a Master's student, however; I bagged a few tickets to see Headlong's 2012 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet as payment for flyering across the University of Southampton's campuses.
Eight years on, and the theatre has become my second home. I soon went from seeing the occasional production to practically living in either of their two venues, reviewing shows for my blog and, eventually, for BroadwayWorld. For someone whose lowest mark at university was for a somewhat substandard first attempt at a review of Debbie Allen's production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2009, that's not too shabby.
NST is not just my favourite place in Southampton because of its beautiful buildings (I can't resist the campus venue's copper roof and the city venue's impressive presence). It's not just because it's home to my favourite writing spaces, or because I get to attend its brilliantly glamorous press nights. It's not just because of the incredible shows it produces, or the performances it hosts on tour.
This is a place where stories come to life - but not just on stage. For me personally, it's helped me to push forward with what I love to do: writing. I've been able to hone my skills and my career while witnessing some truly powerful and magical moments on stage. I've had the chance to perform my own work and poetry on their studio and cafe stages. I've witnessed members of the NST Youth Theatre proving that they have the skills and drive to turn theatre on its head as soon as they're able to. It's introduced me to some incredible people in my short time engaging with the NST community - and it's even brought love back into my life.
I owe an awful lot to NST, as I think many others do, too, judging by the huge response to the news of its recent lurch into administration - both locally and nationally. This local theatre of ours is the beating cultural heart of Southampton, and, only two years into its city-centre glow-up, it's been cut short in its prime.
I'd like to say that this makes NST unique, but the truth is that there are countless theatres and creative venues nationwide that are considered the centre of their communities. Outside of the theatrical powerhouse of London, there are venues and teams - big and small - in cities, towns and even villages across the UK which will be teetering on the very edge at this stage of the lockdown.
Even when we're able to socialise safely again, it'll be a long road to recovery for the theatrical community. Not only will they need to be patient with their audiences and their tentative return to the stalls, but they'll need to resurrect old projects, source new shows, and put the hard work in to start developing the productions that will hopefully draw in the crowds. This revival will not be instant: for them, the end of the pandemic will only be the beginning of it all - that's if they even make it that far.
Theatres are more than just a place to watch a show. They are community hubs, political spaces, and a key part of education. They work to traverse social barriers, enlighten minds, and inspire both personal and professional growth. These are the places that dictate what we see on our screens; they are frequently the birthplace of ideas and careers that create and develop the next big thing on TV. They nurture future talent, beckon people out of their shells, give platforms to unheard voices, and evoke real change.
The appetite for storytelling through performance continues in lockdown, thanks to the mass popularity of online events such as The National Theatre's #NationalTheatreAtHome series. Alternatively, Slung Low's incredible efforts to both entertain and support its local community is evidence that these groups and teams go far beyond the stage doors when it comes to making a difference - even when there are no shows to produce, and no audiences to entertain.
Our country will be far worse off for the damage this pandemic might do to our creative industries. All we can do now is to continue to support online endeavours, donate money, encourage at-home creativity and community, and look forward to the day when we can return to the stalls, eat interval ice cream, and leap up for that standing ovation once again.
For now, I'll be hoping my hardest that NST will pull through and that our personal journeys with this wonderful place have not come to a premature end. Nuffield Southampton Theatres, like many others, is very close to our hearts and still has so much more to offer us - just as we have so much more to offer in return.
At the start of lockdown, I wrote a poem to support NST's fundraising endeavours, but really it was there to give the theatre community a little hope in these strange times. It seems like the right time to share it again with you all.