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Theatre Tourism: we thespians and theatre-watchers need to get out more

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We thespians and theatre-watchers need to get out more.

I don’t mean to say that theatre is an inadequate pastime, quite the opposite; I just mean that we’re too narrow in our selection of local theatre closer to us, or in obsessing over London theatre, often heinously so. Instead, I argue we need to view regional theatre as the nerd version of the football away-day. It’s a way to see great theatre and to see the country at the same time.

Image courtesy of 'igorovsyannykov' from Pixabay

There isn’t one hegemonic theatre in the UK, despite what ATG tickets might make you think, and travelling around means you can see the wonderfully varied things people are doing on stage. Not only that, but local theatre can combine seeing unique theatre with learning more about a new area when it tries to tell local stories.

For example, ‘The Shadow Factory’ at the Nuffield Southampton this year was a play about the Spitfire built by Supermarine in Woolston, just a few miles from the Nuffield’s new downtown home, featuring a community chorus, or there was ‘The Big I Am’ at the Liverpool Everyman which adapted Ibsen’s Peer Gynt into a John-Lennon-esque character traversing Liverpool in the 60s.

The first thing to do is to follow pages on Facebook such as WhatsOnStage and The Stage, as they frequently recommend great regional theatre. Be proactive too! Do a regular check up on the programming for the best regional theatres – start with the Nuffield Southampton, Birmingham REP, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Manchester Royal Exchange, Sheffield Theatres, Bristol Old Vic and Northern Stage, and feel free to add your own as well.

I’m not saying disregard London theatre, but it’s definitely given too much importance when thinking about British theatre, so readjust your priorities accordingly. Also, given the price of most London theatre, and the quality and creativity of regional theatre, there’s a definite value/quality hierarchy which puts regional Arts Council theatre above the National Theatre, which is above London Arts Council theatre, which in turn is above London commercial theatre, which in turn is above regional commercial theatre.

Of course, there are those specific theatre festivals where a city really shows off its ability to attract some of the most innovative companies. Such events should be considered in a different league to the regional/capital/commercial paradigm, the prime example being the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. If you live in the South that’s a long way to go – but the whole point of this is seeing the country, and popping up to Edinburgh is the perfect way to crack off an away week with an abundance of great theatre. Money is an issue, sure, but there are other fringe festivals if Edinburgh is definitely out of your reach: for example, in Camden, or, adorably, in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight.

Now, I know you’re dying to hear some practicalities as to how you can pull this off yourself. I might be accused of bias seeing as I’m a theatre reviewer and get my press tickets for free, eliminating a good third of the price of ticket, travel and accommodation. But I assure you that I did this exercise long before I had to, and here’s how:

Megabus can get you almost anywhere in the country for less than £30. Now, £30, just by the way, is the most liberal estimate I could come up with – I once did Southampton to Newcastle for £1, which is about 2p/mile – I just didn’t want you to be disappointed. Definitely experiment with time and date of travel if you have a few possible showings for a play you want to go and see.

Of course, coaches aren’t the nicest way of getting around: alternatively, there are the various ticket-splitting services for the train, which are usually able to knock scandalous quantities from what National Rail Enquiries would have you pay. Just last week I managed Birmingham to London for £3.75, on a Saturday, booking on the day of travel. So, you know, shop around.

A problem with choosing theatre as your excuse for travelling is that as plays (usually) finish late in the evening. Airbnb is very cheap: if you don’t mind sleeping in a chemical-smelling single bed on the other side of Bath, it’s £10-15 for the night – outside of London, of course. And honestly, it’s not as bad as I make out; it’s often just very basic but nonetheless clean and sleep-able. You’re there for city and the show, so don’t be too fussy about frills on your lodgings.

And now, you’re all set to experience the wonders of regional theatre around the country – fly my pretties!

This article is part of our coverage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Click here to read other articles written by our contributors. 
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