Pros: One of very few public forums in London suitable for work in early stages of development, cheap prices, friendly staff.
Cons: Some pieces were a lot less ‘finished’ than others, and the audience had to ‘work’ quite hard.
Theatre in the Pound is an acclaimed monthly showcase night of ‘snippets of new writing and all things theatrical’ at The Cockpit Theatre. It’s a not-for-profit night which costs audience members a token £1. The programming policy is resolutely inclusive, more like an open-mic night than a traditional theatre showcase. If the piece is under 15 minutes long, actually theatre (‘no stand-up, bands or jugglers’) and not illegal, they’ll put it on if there is a spare slot. A wonderful sentiment, if a bit of a gamble for the audience who (unlike in a pub) can’t get up for another drink until the interval.
The theatre itself is nestled in the back alleys between Edgware Road and Marylebone, and feels like a real ‘community’ space: first impressions of the bar were more ‘leisure centre’ than theatre, and the playing space which reminded me faintly of a school sports hall. But it is clearly capable of transformation: dressed up and lit in different ways, the Cockpit houses a staggering range of different work. This week, there’s a Greek play, an evening of Indian Kathak dance theatre, Beckett and a Jazz gig. That they find space and time among all this to help develop new work through Theatre in the Pound, is really admirable. Cleverly, Theatre in the Pound programmers scheduled the most ‘finished’ piece first: Marta Pequeno’s Lola in London, a one-woman show which has been making the rounds of festivals and showcases in London since 2015. Entrancing in a brightly coloured Spanish dance costume, Pequeno once again ‘led the audience into a world of passion and violence’ (ET, 2015) with her brand of dark comedy. Later pieces benefited far more from the ‘editorial’ forum that the Cockpit had set up – at least a third of each group’s onstage time was taken up with (on this occasion, clever and sensitive) audience comments, and development suggestions facilitated by members of Cockpit staff.
Where scenes had been extracted from much longer pieces, however, it was often difficult to judge how helpful the audience comments actually were. This was particularly apparent with a rather woolly scene exploring bullying, and another surreal piece about female assassins: both received several suggestions that the companies seemed disappointed with. More easily relevant were comments on another piece about nationality, where vivid ideas which were clearly still deep in the devising/writing process and where participation was actually part of the piece. The Theatre in the Pound experience is different every month. This week’s pieces were a real ‘mixed bag’ in every way, and that is typical of the night. The Cockpit team’s admirable efforts were constant though: well-paced programming, welcoming front of house staff, and calm facilitators who fostered a sense of community and safety within in the space. I would recommend it to any company whose work needs a sympathetic ‘first look’, and any audience member who enjoys helping that work develop.
Producer: The Cockpit
Booking Link: http://www.thecockpit.org.uk/show/theatre_in_the_pound
Booking Until: On a monthly basis: 21st March, 18th April, 16th May 2016