The Fringe Incubator: Why Greenwich Theatre Supports EdFest.
  • By Pete Shaw
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  • 10th Jul 2015
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  • London Fringe

Greenwich Theatre has a long and successful association with the Edinburgh Fringe, but why does a London Theatre have such a keen interest in a festival hundreds of miles away from its home turf? Pete Shaw asks GT boss, James Haddrell what's the appeal and which shows are on his "must-see" list this year.

The chances of making your money back as a young company early in your career are limited, but if you are serious about carving out a life in the industry for your company it can prove to be one of the best launch pads there is.

Greenwich Theatre has been supporting young companies in coming to the Fringe for several years now. What’s the appeal of the festival?

The hardest thing for any emerging theatre company to achieve is a booking - a run at a venue or a set of tour dates for their show. When you have little or no production history and nothing to testify to the quality of your work, it’s becoming almost impossible to secure a booking from a venue programmer, especially when they themselves are under ever more pressure to discover the sure thing that will make up for cuts in funding. Edinburgh offers a chance to get your work seen, to generate a set of reviews and a batch of social media coverage, and to invite programmers and venue representatives to see your work. It’s expensive, the chances of making your money back as a young company early in your career are limited, but if you are serious about carving out a life in the industry for your company it can prove to be one of the best launch pads there is.

What have you chosen to support this year?

We have seven shows lined up this year, from six companies, at three venues. The all-female Shakespeare company Smooth Faced Gentlemen are our newest supported company in Greenwich and they’re taking two shows up – a revival of their award-winning Titus Andronicus alongside their first new show in two years, their take on Othello. Lost Watch Theatre Company (who we first came across at the Fringe last year when they won the NSDF Edinburgh Award for the second time) has a new piece called Goodstock about BRCA1, the genetic mutation made famous recently by Angelina Jolie. CultureClash are a brand new company formed at Guildford School of Acting and they’re reviving Hannah and Hanna, John Retallack’s two-hander about asylum seekers in Margate. We’re teaming up with PIT Theatre and the New Diorama Theatre again, following Kubrick 3 in 2013, for a new adaptation of George Orwell’s Down & Out In Paris And London, and we’re supporting Theatre Re, an astonishing company fusing mime, physical theatre and music in Blind Man’s Song. Finally we’re renewing our partnership with Los Angeles based Theatre Movement Bazaar for the riotous, Godfather-inspired Big Shot.

How do you choose the companies you support?

In every case we’re looking for companies with a strong creative vision, usually with a couple of shows under their belt, who have a clear idea of what they want to produce, a desire to raise their work to the next level in terms of scale or ambition, and a specific gap in their resources which is challenging their ability to make that happen. We also often look for companies with a bold visual aesthetic and a desire to challenge, artistically, politically or operationally. We run one of the most over-subscribed artist support programmes in the country, and I think the appeal of the scheme is that each company receives a bespoke support package. Some need rehearsal space and time, some need support with budgeting and finance, some with dramaturgy, with marketing or production, some with equipment, technical advice or preview opportunities. By receiving the specific support that they need, companies are empowered to make the work they want to make, rather than having to fit in with any particular agendas, and we’re not limited to supporting those in need of three weeks in a studio and a prop typewriter. We have such a broad skill-set at Greenwich and a building equipped to a high standard, so we can turn our hand to serving most companies’ needs.

You’re directing one of the shows this year – Hannah and Hanna. Why this one?

During this year’s general election I was horrified by the traction that UKIP achieved with the electorate – it’s easy to forget as they only won one seat, but they beat both the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party to secure the third largest share of the vote behind the Conservatives and Labour. What’s more, the amount of media time the party was granted on television, in print and online legitimised their rhetoric of xenophobia and exclusion, and certain national newspapers seemed to pick up and run with that rhetoric. I’ve been looking for a project to work on which responds to that, and when CultureClash talked to me about supporting and directing Hannah and Hanna it seemed an ideal answer. The play, written in 2001, is about two teenage girls, one born and raised in Margate and one who has arrived from Kosovo as an asylum seeker and who has been put up, as so many were, in empty hotels along the seafront. Some of the newspaper headlines around asylum and migration that we saw this year could have come straight out of that play.

It’s over a decade since it was written, and has been produced at the Fringe several times. Have you made any changes to the play?

We’ve made one significant change, without altering any of the words or the spirit of John’s play. For us, and for the first time, Margate Hannah is black. Something very interesting happened during UKIP’s election campaign this year – they tried to secure a multi-ethnic voter base by articulating their policies in terms of ‘foreign’ issues rather than ‘racial’ issues. For our production, the social tensions in Margate are those generated by this kind of vocabulary, one in which a second generation African-Caribbean girl can be accepted by the local right wing supporters and share their views on foreign migrants.

Any tips for emerging companies at the Fringe? What should they be getting out of their time in Edinburgh?

The one thing that I think companies can miss out on, which sounds ridiculous, is seeing shows. You spend so much time leafleting, networking, socialising, performing, worrying about audiences and worrying about press that you can lose sight of the theatre all around you. The best way to develop as a company is to see what other companies are doing. I still learn from seeing other companies at work, from the most established to the very youngest, and there isn’t a better learning environment than the Edinburgh Fringe.

Other than your supported companies, are there any other shows you’re excited about this year?

I always keep an eye on any companies short-listed for the Les Enfants Terribles Edinburgh Award. This year we hosted the final at Greenwich Theatre and judging was tough but the winner, Divas by Fine Mess, looks very promising. If I Were Me by Antler Theatre at Underbelly looks great, and both Current Location by Fellswoop Theatre and Fable by the Flanagan Collective at Summerhall are exciting. I always look to the programme at Bedlam for exciting new companies as well – this year Master Of None’s Foxfinder, winner of the 2011 Papatango Prize, and Babolin Theatre’s The Frantic Canticles of Little Brother Fish are both on my list. I’m also working as an assessor for the Musical Theatre Network Development Award this year, so I’ve got a long list of musicals to see…

For the full list of Greenwich Theatre supported shows, visit

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