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Interview: Over The Bridge, Into The Shed

Luke Adamson on Bridge House Theatre and The Man In The Shed

We’ve not had the pleasure of visiting Penge’s Bridge House Theatre except for one fleeting visit back in 2014! Something we really need to change. But in the meantime, the second best thing to an actual visit would be a sit down with Luke Adamson, who is not only the Artistic Director of the venue, but also the director of The Man In The Shed, which will be playing at the venue from 10 May.

Let’s start with The Man In The Shed, what attracted you to bring the play to Bridge House, and even to direct it yourself?

Well, initially I was reading the play with a view to programming it as a visiting show as part of the spring season. As I was reading through the script in the bar of the Bridge House I found myself genuinely guffawing out loud. The humour hits you in the face in the first line and you’re off. Then what I loved was how the depth of the character and the show crept in amongst the humour.

I contacted the writers saying that I’d love to programme the show at which point they admitted that they didn’t have any idea how to actually produce the show but had the finances in place, so we came to the agreement that we would act as producers for the show with their finances and I would direct it.

The play is “told through the music of a classic album”; is there one album in play here, or is this a nice plot device just to draw us in?

There is one specific album that The Man In The Shed wants to tell us ‘facts’ about. It’s one that I’m sure everyone will have heard of, even if they haven’t listened to it. Though it’s safe to say that his knowledge of this album may not be quite accurate, and his ‘facts’ may not be facts, so much as confused ramblings and ridiculous assumptions.

And of course we do now have to ask, do you have a classic album of choice you would use to soundtrack your own life?

It may be cliche, but I was introduced to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours as a child. My dad was a big fan and it was always on in the car. I know all the words to every song and once one song ends I could tell you what the next song is before it has even started.

The play is about a man who finds himself out of touch with the modern world yet clearly feels he is in the right; can we assume our man is very anti-woke? Is the play mocking him or trying to sympathise with someone whose viewpoints are perhaps best left in the past?

This is what so appealed to me about the play, The Man In The Shed definitely isn’t woke, but I also wouldn’t say he was anti-woke, he’s not your classic, gammony Pie*s Mo**an type who seems to want to rage against, and actively oppose anything or anyone that isn’t him, he’s more left behind. A man who has found himself out of touch with society and with his children, who wants to be able to understand, wants to connect to them and be able to talk to them but the era that he grew up in has left him ill equipped to do so. He’s emotionally inept and, in a way, insecure. The play shows us his yearning to do these things, but also why he falls back on the old ‘blokey’ tropes.

With the show we’re neither mocking his outdated views, nor asking people to sympathise with them, we’re kind of lifting the curtain and taking a look at the man behind the views and seeing why people might behave in a certain way. We hope that the play will provoke discussion about the fact that ultimately we’re all shaped and formed into the people we are by the society and the world we grow up in.

And as well as directing this play, you are AD of Bridge House Theatre – what took you there in 2021 then?

Well I’ve lived in the area since 2013 and The Bridge House Theatre had always been on my radar. When trying to initiate some theatre in Crystal Palace Park back mid pandemic, I was in a Zoom meeting with Guy Retallack – the previous AD of The Bridge House Theatre – who revealed that he was no longer running the venue, so after a few conversations with Guy, he put me in touch with the management of the pub and, as I’d always wanted to run my own venue, I submitted a proposal to them of what I’d like to do and they liked it and the rest is history!

And what is your vision for what you’d like the theatre to say with its scheduling?

Our programme features shows from established small-scale companies as well as offering opportunities for emerging theatre-makers. We ensure that all the shows we present are entertaining as well as being what we term ‘socially conscious’ –  does the work say something about the world that we live in? It’s also important to us that all the shows offer opportunities to, and representation of, groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the theatre world. This includes but is not limited to: Working class artists, Artists from the Global Majority, Non binary or gender fluid artists, LGBTQ+ Artists.

You were previously Associate Direction at The Hope Theatre, how different are the two venues?

They’re very similar spaces in terms of the fact that they’re rooms above pubs, but that’s probably where the similarity ends. The Hope is a much more edgy space, the pub is more lively and, what with the musical history, has an almost raucous atmosphere. The Hope can also take a few more risks in their programming as they’re a much more established venue. The Bridge House is a very lovely, family friendly pub right on the edge of Crystal Palace Park with a much more chilled out atmosphere. As we’re not particularly well known as a venue yet and we’re still building a reputation we have to be quite canny in our programming in that we need to be able to balance out the edgier, less ‘commercial’ work with shows that have a slightly wider appeal.  We also have more scope for family friendly work and are able to supplement our theatre offerings with monthly comedy nights and spoken word events. Our space is also a little bit bigger than The Hope.

We’re guilty of only having been to Bridge House once, way back in 2014 – it’s clearly not in the usual theatre heartlands such as The Hope was (no offence to Penge), does this make it more of a challenge on what you programme and drawing in an audience?

How very dare you!? Penge is the centre of the theatrical universe! (Or at least it will be when I’m finished with it.) We’ve actually found that, unlike The Hope, we have quite a local audience around here. At The Hope we found that the audiences were primarily made up of friends and family of the companies, and people that were interested in the Off West End theatre scene and would travel to visit the venue specifically, but very few people that lived locally would visit the theatre regularly. We’re delighted that we’ve got a very supportive local community and we see the same faces returning to see shows again and again. We’re looking forward to the days that our local audiences are joined by those lovely fringe theatre supporters as they travel out to Penge. In the review of our last in-house production, Steve Coats-Denis said of us “If Under Electric Candlelight is the sublime level of drama we can expect under Artistic Director Luke Adamson, theatre lovers should be getting on that train to Penge!”

Finally, what else do you have lined up for the coming season? What should we be trying to convince some of our reviewers along to check out?

We have a rehearsed reading of new play Boys Will Be Boys and then a transfer of five star play A Final Act Of Friendship from The White Bear. Then in June we’re heading into a month of Edinburgh Festival previews and special events for the annual Penge Festival. Further details of our exciting Summer Season will be announced soon!

Our thanks to Luke for finding time away from running Bridge House and rehearsing for the upcoming show to chat to us.

The Man In The Shed plays between 10 and 14 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.

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