Merlin Betts previews two productions from Theatre Nation

Last week I met up with Tom Daldry and Patrick Kealey, founders of Theatre Nation, an innovative Hastings-based theatre company that works to keep young people engaged with the arts. Patrick acts as learning mentor and artistic director, and eloquently guided our meeting through its various topics. Tom meanwhile is the young and exciting writer/producer behind an increasing variety of new plays, one of which Polyamory? will be performed at the Pig’s Palace from 25-28th July. This and a solo performance from Patrick The Life and Rhymes of Archy and Mehitabel are showing as part of Hastings Fringe 2019. The pair hope to support young and disadvantaged people pursue their creative dreams, despite the frequently harsh economic realities in which inexperienced actors and writers often struggle. 

Theatre Nation was established in July 2017. Its website proudly proclaims “Theatre ought to be accessible, affordable and aspirational. People shouldn’t have to travel to see professional-quality theatre: it should be on our doorstep. Thus Theatre Nation was born…Hastings is rife with exceptional artistic talent, and we want to work with a wealth of artistic disciplines. We want to harness this talent into exceptional theatre productions: creating new work and adapting classic pieces alike.” 

Its successes include a musical drama Paris Snow that premiered at the Kino-Teatr St Leonards in 2017, a minimalist production of Hamlet and Tom’s debut play Caravan of Love. The company’s take on Shakespeare’s classic was particularly noteworthy as it featured a female Hamlet and was performed equally well in the cavernous space of St Mary-in-the-Castle and the close quarters at the top of Printers Playhouse in Eastbourne (no members of the Printers’ audience were harmed in their fully choreographed fencing scenes). 

Caravan of Love toured in Eastbourne, at Prague Fringe Festival and at Barnstaple Fringe Festival in May/June 2018. One reviewer described Tom’s writing as the “love-child of Beckett, Pinter and Orton”. Patrick explained to me that the piece was conceived on a kind of writer’s retreat he set up for Tom in a caravan in Ireland, the idea for which came as Patrick looked for ways to support his young friend’s previously repressed dreams of becoming a playwright. 

Tom’s next offering Polyamory? examines the unusual relationships and allocations of power between three residents of a ‘House of Games’. The house is owned by the eldest of the three, who uses their desire for shelter and home to keep them bound to the place and its schedule of entertainments. Patrick described to me the way Tom’s characters use language as a weapon, and explained how interesting and rewarding, but also how challenging the work could be for actors, who have to be able to express a character’s true feelings through the subtlety of an opposing emotional artifice… like an iceberg whose depth is invisible but still obviously present.   

Archie and Mehitabel on the other hand is Patrick’s party piece – a much loved and well-rehearsed solo act that he’s played many times, in many places. The central characters are Archie, a poet reincarnated into a cockroach, and Mehitabel, a sultry alley cat who proclaims “I was cleopatra once”. Both were invented by Don Marquis, a 1920s New York satirist, and have been adapted from free verse by Theatre nation to fit the format of a one-man performance. Despite the age of Marquis’ writing, the satire has powerful environmental themes, with characters imagining a world in which humans will ultimately be replaced by much more efficient insect dominions. 

You can find some of Tom’s words on Hamlet and Caravan of Love on our website. Archy and Mehitabel will be playing at St Leonard’s Pub, London Road on 21st July, 3pm, 22nd and 23rd July, 7.30pm. Polyamory? Will be at the Pig’s Palace, White Rock on 26th July, 9pm, 27th and 28th July 7.30pm. Also at the Printers Playhouse, Eastbourne, 2nd and 3rd August, 7.45pm. Tickets are £10 or £8 concessions. Book through theatrenation.org


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