Brave New World is significant for us.
For Creation as a whole, the show is important quite simply because it is very, very good; in tech-terms, it’s pushed our boundaries whilst boldly showing that we’re not just a company which produces summer Shakespeare. The use of wireless headphones is brilliant, our cast and crew are very talented and the design is one of Ryan Dawson Laight’s best. As a production, it reaffirms how Creation can take any empty space and turn it into a stage.
However, the production also stands for something bigger than just our achievements as a producing company. Brave New World is a piece of theatre with an extraordinary potential for outreach; we’re performing six nights a week in completely public space. Although passers-by are unable to fully experience the show without wireless headphones, they can stand and watch a couple of scenes of a five-star show. Unlike many open-air shows (including our own), it’s not staged in a secluded college garden, or in a public space which you can reach with a ticket in your hand. It is visible to everyone, regardless of their knowledge of theatre; the members of the public walking through Wesgate come from all backgrounds.
Many outreach-driven shows stereotype their audience through their subject matter; to reach more audiences who live in social housing, for example, a company would make a show about housing. Although there are many merits here and these stories deserve to be told, frequently it can seem that there is no sense of storytelling, or of challenging an audience in their ideas about theatre as an art form. Instead, it seems that (predominately funded) outreach-driven productions patronize their audience, saying “you will like this because it’s about you”.
That’s where Brave New World differs. It doesn’t reach out to the audience with a patronising handhold; in fact, it doesn’t reach out at all, it unabashedly entices people in. Boldly, it states that theatre isn’t about sitting silently in a dark room and that anyone can engage with any story.
Creation is not an inherently political theatre company. With the exception of 1984, our productions aren’t directly about politics (for more, read Arts Marketing and Political Change). Yet Brave New World is undoubtedly a socio-political piece.
For the past 22 years, we’ve made shows in Oxford – the city is a part of us, and for many of our audience, we are part of the city’s identity. Oxford is a city world-famous for education; for a pursuit of knowledge worthy of John the Savage. It is also the second-most expensive city in the UK to live in; a city with boarded up shops in the centre; a city where the numbers of rough sleepers rise year upon year. Westgate Oxford is both a new facility with the potential for employment and engagement, and a temple to consumerism and distraction; where Viv Nicholson’s “Spend, spend, spend” echoes across the walkways; where you can check in with a Instagram photo and wait for that dopamine-fuelled rush each Like gives you.
Surrounded by screens, it represents all the physical embodiments of soma in our modern life; there is no better setting for this show. The story screams for our audience to engage with the real world; to see the ugly as well as the beautiful, the problems we face and to see how easy it is to ignore them.
Brave New World is a rallying cry against apathy and against the mundane; it is a cry for art, for beauty and for morality. I have written before about our lack of national coverage as a company and with Brave New World I feel more strongly than ever about it. Whether it’s because of society and politics, or the possibilities of theatre as an art form or simply because it’s a brilliant show, attention must be paid.