A 'surreal, challenging and yet strangely uplifting year' for OVO and Maltings Theatre

OVO and Maltings Theatre's production of Peter Pan at The Alban Arena in St Albans. Picture: Elliott Franks

OVO and Maltings Theatre's production of Peter Pan at The Alban Arena in St Albans. - Credit: Elliott Franks

After having to close productions three times due to various lockdown restrictions, it's fair to say 2020 was an extraordinary year for the Maltings Theatre.

Artistic director Adam Nichols has described it as "one of the most surreal, challenging and yet strangely uplifting years" he can remember. 

Maltings Theatre artistic director Adam Nichols

Maltings Theatre artistic director Adam Nichols - Credit: Maltings Theatre

The Maltings shuttered its doors for the first time on Tuesday, March 17, "a night that none of us will forget in a hurry," explained Adam in a Maltings newsletter reflecting on last year.

"Little did we know then that it would be 200 days before we presented another public performance there, or that it would be the first of three occasions during the year when we would have to close a show.

"Sadly, for our great friends at Dyad Productions, the two previews of their production of The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe would be the only performances of what should have been a national tour lasting several months. An early casualty of a brutal year."

The innovative OVO company reacted to lockdown 1 by producing a live, interactive, musical version of Twelfth Night live on Zoom.

Flora Squires and David Widdowson in OVO's Zoom production of Twelfth Night. Picture: Supplied.

Flora Squires and David Widdowson in OVO's Zoom production of Twelfth Night. - Credit: Supplied by Debbie Heath

While streaming has since become ubiquitous, this show was in the vanguard of pioneering a new form of theatre, inspiring hundreds of subsequent productions across the country.

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When live performances were finally allowed to take place again outdoors in the summer, OVO performed The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V at its successful open-air festival at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium.

Henry V directed by Matthew Parker at Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans...

Henry V directed by Matthew Parker at the Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans in August. The production was later performed indoors at the Maltings Theatre. Picture: Laura Harling - Credit: Archant

This was followed by a series of autumn performances at the Maltings itself, including The 39 Steps, returning after earlier having its run halted in March, and the summer Shakespeare plays Merry Wives and Henry V both reimagined indoors.

Merry Wives of Windsor. Picture: Laura Harling.

The Merry Wives of Windsor. Picture: Laura Harling. - Credit: Archant

New political satirical opera On Behalf of a Madman opened the night of the US Presidential election, before the Maltings was forced to close its doors again. 

Camilla Kerslake and Rodney Earl Clarke star in opera On Behalf of a Madman at the Maltings Theatre in St Albans. Picture:...

Camilla Kerslake and Rodney Earl Clarke starred in opera On Behalf of a Madman at the Maltings Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: supplied

When restrictions were eased once more, OVO creatives put on Christmas show Peter Pan at The Alban Arena in place of the entertainment venue's traditional panto. Evolution's scheduled panto, Mother Goose, has been postponed until winter 2021.

However, the curtain fell prematurely on that run on December 18 after just eight of Peter Pan's scheduled 38 performances.

Adam Nichols said: "It has obviously been an incredibly difficult year for our local community, our country and our world. 

"The public health crisis has rightly been everyone’s main focus, but the economic impact of coronavirus has been felt just as strongly, and is likely to affect us all for many years to come. 

"In this regard the theatre industry, along with the wider leisure and hospitality sector, has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and will probably never be the same again.

"OVO and The Maltings Theatre have not been immune to the challenges faced by live performance venues and production companies throughout the UK, and we’ve taken some heavy blows throughout the year.

"However, it isn’t just my eternal optimism that allows me to recognise that the seismic shifts of recent months have created opportunities for us – opportunities that we’ve hopefully been able to seize and which have enabled us to play a prominent role in the beginning of the arts sector’s recovery from COVID-19.

Peter Pan
at The Alban Arena, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, Great Britain
11th December 2020
Produce

Peter Pan at The Alban Arena, produced by OVO/Maltings Theatre. - Credit: Elliott Franks

"I’m immensely proud that we’ve been able to give paid employment to tens of actors and creatives who would otherwise have been claiming government support (or perhaps delivering parcels for Amazon) rather than practising their craft. 

"I’m equally pleased that we’ve provided entertainment and escapism to thousands of audience members starved of live performance – as well as shared experience and laughter – during the months of lockdown we have endured."

Henry V directed by Matthew Parker at Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival/Roman Theatre, St Albans A

Henry V directed by Matthew Parker at the Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival at the Roman Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Laura Harling - Credit: Archant

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and challenges it has presented, theatre company OVO has put St Albans on the arts map.

"An unintended and unexpected benefit of our work this year has been to raise our profile and reputation to the point where we are now recognised as a regional producing theatre of national significance," said Adam Nichols. 

"And we’ve achieved all this without taking a penny from the government’s surprisingly substantial financial rescue package for the arts."

The remaining performances of Peter Pan have been rescheduled for February.


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