Opening a series of Look Back in Anger production updates, director Dominic Kelly explains why it’s so important to him that the project will reach out to a rural community
As a boy raised in a small village in the Lincolnshire countryside, my outlook in the world was particularly flat; surrounded by endless fields, I could see the church in the next village six miles away. There were very few trees and absolutely no hills, so my perspective on life was ‘what you see is what you get’.
With a mother who was a nervous driver, especially at night, activities to broaden my world view such as karate, Scouts or even the cinema, were not available to me. There was no internet: my best friends were the four channels on the TV, a Sega Megadrive and an endless imagination.
Until, that is, a theatre company came to town and caused quite the stir by providing unconventional workshops, treating the kids who enrolled in them as adults, and encouraging a curious and anti-normalised outlook on life. I rolled all over the floor pretending to be an amoeba, we were sentenced to life in prison for a non-stop fully-immersive three hours, we were led through exercises that made us reflect on who we were and who we could be.
The local council was wary and the local papers didn’t know how to report what we were doing. Some parents spread poisonous rumours about the people running the group. Luckily, we were also producing crowd-pleasing musicals like My Fair Lady and Joseph, so the more edgy work in our weekly sessions was largely obscured by the smokescreen of jazz hands and sequins.
As a teenager, I realised country life was not for me; I had no history of farming in my family and no ties to the land. London shone like a beacon, and my sole aim was to live there, work there and be free and happy.
Back to my roots
Among the tall buildings, industry and crowds, something began to niggle away at me. After 20 years away from the country, I was being drawn back, but this time I wanted hills. The novelty of not knowing what was round the corner, with trees obscuring my view, was calling out to me; a call back to the wild.
As I arrived in Shropshire, it all came flooding back: how a theatre practitioner changed my life, gave me hope, and made me appreciate my innate creativity. How lost I was, and how I saw no real future for myself. By having experienced youth theatre, I was inspired to follow a career in the arts, leading me to become a teacher, director, producer and an actor. What a gift!
Other friends from my youth theatre days went to work in telly, became linguists, worked in publishing – looking at the people I spent evenings after school with, I see that the influence of theatre spreads much further than its own art form; each person I trained with then has pursued an occupation that fulfils them.
Osborne and After
Naturally, I wanted to offer other young people the same opportunities, and so here I am, working with my neighbours to create their first theatre arts festival (Osborne and After), celebrating the life and work of John Osborne; who is buried in Clun. After a successful Arts Council funding bid put together by local residents, I was able to run workshops with a local secondary school, allowing 20 11 to 14-year-olds an insight into the Meisner Technique, improvisation, stage combat and devising. Some of the group will be able to work with The salon:collective’s actors in rehearsal early next month, as we put the final touches to our flagship production of Look Back in Anger for the festival. Arts Awards are also on offer (in a schools-based programme for young creatives similar to the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme), as well as workshops for older residents with myself and the cast.
After hearing recently that the Clun Amateur Dramatic Society has decided to fold due to a drop in younger members, this new injection of enthusiasm for theatre is more vital than ever.
If I can help grow a healthy attitude to the arts in my new community, I will be proudly paying back my debt to Geoff Cresswell and the ACT Theatre Company, who changed my and many other teenagers’ lives for the better in 1996.
Look Back in Anger is at Clun Memorial Hall, Shropshire on May 7 as part of the Osborne and After festival. Read what Dom’s pre-performance workshop participants thought. Catch up with more production news and the cast’s video rants