Pete Gee

Workers Take Control

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The Arcola Theatre has established a reputation for bold and imaginative productions. Open for just over a year it occupies a disused warehouse in one of London's poorest boroughs, Hackney. Peter Gee spoke to Mehmet Ergen, the theatre's director.

Q. What made you set up the Arcola theatre in a disused factory in Hackney?

A. I was teaching in this area and was fascinated by Hackney and became aware of the lack of theatre in this area. I stumbled across this factory and converted it into a theatre within weeks and started to do plays. There were no grants--just the free labour of hard working, theatre loving people. It appeals to me that theatre can be anywhere, and a factory is a good location. We are all working in it--we are all workers. Also we don't need things to be glossy--it's the show that counts.

Royal Results in Stratford

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Joan Littlewood's Theatre Royal in Stratford, east London, revolutionised British theatre with shows such as 'Oh What a Lovely War', 'The Hostage' and 'A Taste of Honey'. Peter Gee spoke to the theatre's director, Philip Headley, about continuing the battle to make theatre relevant and vital to working people's lives.

Q. In what way has Joan Littlewood's legacy affected your approach in attracting a working class audience to your theatre?

A. She was totally concerned with social inclusion, except the term hadn't been invented then. She always spoke of the continuous loop between theatre and the community. We draw on ideas, experiences and talents from the community, and create shows and present them back to the community. As the demography of the local community changes, so must the shows presented on stage.

Q. What barriers exist that stop people coming to theatre?

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