Programming a season of work at the Gate Theatre is always an emotional experience. Producing or directing a show is such a labour intensive process that you have to believe very profoundly in every production you decide to make. Finding the right combination of plays you feel passionate about and artists that you believe in is one of the key joys of my job. But it also feels like a big responsibility – especially when working with younger and emerging artists. You want to champion these brilliant people whilst also protecting them from the damage that can come from too much exposure too soon. I am lucky to have such a remarkable team of people at the Gate to work with on this – they are passionately committed to the shows we make and to supporting the artists that we all believe in. Coming into the Gate office each day is a huge pleasure – it is rare to find a place of work that also feels so much like a home with such a wonderful family in it.
It’s for this reason that programming this season has felt like an especially emotional process – because whilst putting it together, I have also made the decision that it is time for me to move on from the Gate. I have projects that I want to pursue in the wider world, and I firmly believe that the Gate truly thrives on the inventive energy that comes from the process of discovering how to do a job for the very first time. This is the first theatre I have ever run (and I fervently hope it won’t be the last) but soon it will be time for someone else to come and try and solve the wonderfully impossible equation that is this tiny theatre with huge ambitions.
So I guess it is not surprising then, given all of this, that ‘home’ is the key theme of our upcoming season – Too Close To Home. We often define ourselves in relation to the places in which we live and through the people we are surrounded by. And when a place changes, or a group of people shift, that can be a profoundly traumatic experience. So each of the shows in this season takes a distinctive look at how these processes can deeply affect us at both a personal and political level.
At the heart of this season sit two major new Gate productions. Firstly I will be directing Al Smith’s remarkable and radical adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman. Al has chosen to set his version of this story in South Queensferry – a small suburb of Edinburgh, most famous for being the home of the Forth Rail Bridge. His play turns the descent in to madness of his central character – Pop Sheeran – in to a remarkable exploration of masculinity, and national identity in an increasingly globalised world. It is also seriously funny. I am especially happy to be opening this show at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh during the Festival Fringe. Not only has the Trav become a home away from home for the Gate over the past few years, it feels only right that this beautiful story should play in the place in which it is set.
We follow this up with Tinuke Craig’s production of Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s I Call My Brothers. The play asks what do you do, walking around your own city the day after a terrorist attack, when everyone thinks you look like a terrorist? How do you live when you suddenly feel like an outsider in the place you call home? This play feels especially pertinent at a time when xenophobia and prejudice dominate the headlines – whether as a result of Donald Trump's ascendancy in the US or through the EU referendum in this country. Whilst this is Tinu’s directorial debut with us, she returns to the Gate family having been our associate director throughout 2015.
Alongside these two productions, I am thrilled to announce that we will be staging a major community project, Meet Your Neighbours @ the Gate, that we have been developing for many months with the remarkable director Emily Lim. Drawing together participants of all ages from Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove’s many local and diverse communities, the show will create a chance for people's voices to be heard and a chance for us to learn from one another. It is the ideal chance for the local community to take over their local theatre.
Finally we have two visiting companies who will make their own unique contribution to the season. Firstly, Tangle Theatre will bring their new production of Cont Mhlanga’s Workshop Negative – the first production of this play in the UK in over 20 years. This seminal example of Zimbabwean theatre looks at a nation in flux as the British colonial era comes to an end and asks: how do you cope when your homeland goes through an existential change?
Finally, our old friends at Paines Plough, in partnership with Tamasha, will be visiting with their ongoing project Come To Where I’m From: London – where playwrights write and perform shows about the place they call home. It will be great to welcome writers Satinder Chohan, Divya Sachdeva and Sally Woodcock to the Gate for the first time to hear their stories about West London.
Happily, I won’t be leaving the Gate for a little while – not until early next year, and this is not my final season. But as I sit in the auditorium of this magnificent little space – an awkwardly shaped shoebox that has housed so many brilliant artists over the last three and a half decades – I like to hope that the deep sense of belonging that I get here, will never go away. That when I return in the months, years and decades to come, that it will always feel like home. More than that, I know for sure that this room, and all of the people I have collaborated with in it, will always be with me. If home is where the heart is, then this particular home will always have a place in my heart.