The excitement about Perth Theatre reopening its doors has been growing each passing week since Horsecross Arts announced that this year’s Perth Panto – Aladdin – would be returning to the historic city centre landmark. It was the only show of the new Perth Theatre programme that was officially announced, until now.
The full relaunch programme has been officially unveiled which will include the first performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ in Perth Theatre for nearly a century. Artistic director, Lu Kemp, has been responsible for creating the programme which features the best of local, national and international work, building on the rich heritage of the theatre in new and exciting ways.
Over a coffee and a scrambled egg roll, Lu shared her excitement and enthusiasm for the return of Perth Theatre to Perth’s cultural community. Having been in the role since May 2016, she knows just how big a part the theatre has played in the city’s past just by talking to some of the locals about their memories.
“When I talk to people around Perthshire, there’s so much interest in the theatre and people are genuinely excited about it reopening,” she told me, “people have great memories of this place.” What I love about it is there’s a meeting point between the past and the present in it.
The theatre has been closed since 2014 to undergo major refurbishment, with significant investment upwards of £16million helping to bring the building into the 21st century while retaining its rich history and heritage as one of Scotland’s oldest and most-loved theatres.
“What I love about it is there’s a meeting point between the past and the present in it,” Lu told me while describing the transformation, “it’s absolutely beautiful."
“What used to be the outside wall is now in the foyer and you can actually see the marks of the old doorway and windows. You get this real sense of continuity through time and I think that’s really important in the theatre – it’s a place with incredible heritage, and you want to hold that history in conversation with the present."
My earliest memories of Perth Theatre come from walking down in early December from St. Ninian’s Primary School, delighted at the chance of an afternoon skive out of the classroom to take in the panto. Schools from across the region would flock to the iconic High Street building, pack the auditorium and get right into the festive spirit.
Earlier this year, Aladdin was announced as the homecoming panto for Perth Theatre and straight away it brought back great memories. Local schools are still very important to Horsecross Arts as they aim to inspire the next generation of theatre-goers from a young age. As well as Aladdin generating a lot of excitement among the little ones, Lu thinks that the family and children’s programme is going to delight both kids and adults alike.
“I’m so excited for Aladdin! The panto has always been a huge thing here and it’s very unique compared to other cities panto’s because it’s got that special, local feeling to it. It doesn’t function without the audience and I love that the only way a panto can be concluded is with child volunteers being involved.
“We do a lot of work with kids and in the panto it’s all local children who’ll be involved on stage. A lot of the lead in work to the reopening of Perth Theatre was done out in the community at local schools and this year we’ve got four associate artists who’re out there in primary and secondary schools, as well as in the rural communities too.
“I’ve put this programme together in the hope it attracts a wide variety of people to come along to the theatre. I’m particularly excited about our family and children’s programme and we’ve got three of the leading Scottish theatre makers for children playing across next year. We created this programme with a view to attracting as many different people as possible.
“It kicks off with ‘White’ which is an international hit show. It’s for two to four-year-olds and it’s simple but absolutely beautiful and funny. Then we’ve got Andy Cannon’s ‘Space Ape’ and Shone Reppe’s new version of Baba Yaga – a Russian fairy tale.”
Lu’s personal favourite in the new programme is Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ – a story about the tyrant king who lacks morals and she commented that this play in particular was “very relevant just now given the way the world is at the moment.”
The artistic director has aimed to create a programme which attracts newcomers as well as keeping in line with Perth’s loyal audiences expectations. The pride in the community of Perth is something that has struck Lu – who was born in Watford and has worked in Glasgow for most of her adult life – since she came to the city.
“We created this programme with a view to attracting as many different people as possible. We want to see a range of audiences come along and experience the programme. We have a fantastic loyal audience but I’m also very keen to get people to Perth Theatre who haven’t been before.
“Of course I hope that everything will appeal to everybody but what’s most important to me is that mix of people. Theatre is like sport in the sense that it’s a communal activity. You’re surrounded by people you wouldn’t normally come across in normal life because you have different jobs and different lives. It brings people together and it’s a lovely thing.
“Perth stands out to me as a city where there’s a very rich community. It’s a place where people are truly interested in each other and get heavily involved in things. It was sad when Perth wasn’t selected for the City of Culture but I think it definitely gave the arts a big push in the city.
“So, we weren’t successful – but why not try again in four years? I think it would be a great thing for Perth, it’s a unique place with lots of talented people.”
The theatre officially opens its doors on Monday 13th November, when the public will be able to access the box office, café and bar. For many, it’ll be the first time they’ve set foot in the building for many years and Lu thinks that people will be pleasantly surprised by the foyer's new lighting.
“The architects have created a stunning design, where light just pours down the walls in through the ceiling. The old foyer was quite a dark space but that’s now been completely flipped on its head. I think people are going to love it!”
Aladdin runs from Saturday 9th December 2017 to Saturday 6th January 2018. International hit show ‘White’ will be showing on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th February 2018, ‘Space Ape’ on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th April and ‘Baba Yaga’ on Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th May.
‘Richard III’ will be performed in Perth for the first time in nearly 100 years, running over two weeks from Saturday 17th to Saturday 31st March 2018.
Other season highlights include ‘Knives in Hens’ (Thursday 1st to Saturday 17th February 2018) and ‘Wind Resistance’ (Tuesday 17th to Sunday 22nd April 2018).
You can find a full version of the season brochure here.
For more information on the full Perth Theatre programme including the new Studio Season, visit the Horsecross website or contact the Horsecross Box Office on 01738 621031.
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