A VIEW FROM OUR ARTISTIC DIRECTOR :  ONE OF BRITAIN’S OLDEST STREET THEATRE COMPANIES COMES TO BELL SQUARE

Introduction              

Bash Street Theatre Company rolls into town on Saturday 22 June with their new show, Bellevue Hotel.  Set up 28 years ago by partners Simon Pullum and JoJo Pickering, this is one of Britain’s oldest street theatre companies.  Now performing with their 2 sons, Lochlann and Finbar, and niece, Kesha, this is a traditional family-run company that tours all over the world.

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Street theatre

Bash Street perform fast-moving, silent-comedy, street theatre shows with live musical accompaniment. 

Their shows draw on a long tradition of street theatre that stretches back many hundreds of years.  It’s often claimed that street theatre is the oldest form of theatre – and even that as long as society has existed, people have created theatre.  Outdoor theatre in ancient Greece and Rome goes back over 2000 years but, on the streets, there are records dating back to the 4th century of the Church in England putting on plays to convert people to their religious beliefs.  Since the 1100s, Midsummer Watches celebrated the summer solstice, with similar Christmas Eve Watches in the winter.  And from the 1400s, the Mystery Plays, telling stories from the Bible, were performed in English cathedral cities, most notably York and Chester.

From the 1500s, more secular theatrical events such as royal pageants and the Lord Mayor’s Show became common.  At the same time, the early performances of Shakespeare’s plays, often criticising the monarchy, became very popular outdoor entertainment!

Much modern street theatre, though, has its roots directly in the English tradition of ‘strolling players’ who travelled around the country at this same time performing in the inns and taverns.  They performed shows that challenged the aristocracy and a particular favourite was Robin Hood, the famous story of stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  They were not popular with the government of the day and, sadly, in the late 1500s, the strolling players were banned when the government claimed they were spreading disease, especially the Black Death, around the country!  Popular theatre then increasingly had to find its audience on the streets. 

Street theatre today ranges from lone buskers, like those in Covent Garden, to organised theatre companies like Bash Street that tour the world.  The practicalities of performing on the street, traditionally with little technical support or amplification of sound, meant that street theatre has often used dance, mime and slapstick rather than complex, spoken narratives.  The performances have always needed to be very visual, loud and simple to enable a large, assembled crowd to follow what was going on.

Why street theatre?

Street theatre is often used to make social comment.  The companies often choose to perform on the street as they are able to engage people of all ages and backgrounds, taking their stories to local communities far and wide.  These shows aim to make people think, to talk about the social issues of their time.  Street theatre is often funny and entertaining, giving it power to reach large crowds of people and raise awareness of the issues in the show.     

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Bellevue Hotel

Bash Street’s new show, Bellevue Hotel, is set around a small, run-down hotel.  It tells the story of the hotel landlady and her battle with the gangster boss of the ice cream factory next door who is determined to buy her property.  But the landlady will not give up without a fight!  She and her hotel guests do battle with the nasty neighbour – and even with the demolition men when they arrive to knock down her hotel.

The show has live piano music, silent comedy, magic and some hair-raising action!  It is performed in the silent-film, comedy style that Bash Street has become famous for.  In a very entertaining way, it talks about one of the social issues of our day.  It looks at the challenges that many people face when a developer moves into their neighbourhood, and the fight they have on their hands to stay in their property.

So, this modern-day street theatre is really no different to the outdoor London performances of Shakespeare 400 years ago.  What a tradition!

Come and see Bash Street Theatre on Saturday 22 June at Bell Square.  The show starts at 3pm.

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Bash Street Theatre can be found at www.bashstreet.co.uk

And you can follow them on Twitter @bashstreet and on Facebook @bashstreetco