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Wednesday 12th November 2008
Feature | THEATRE BELONGS TO US | Lift-Off @ The Curve Theatre, Leicester

Do you remember the Slinky? Well, that spiral toy made of metal that flowed down your stairs (if you were lucky) has snaked its way into Leicester but now it is 24m high and costs £61million. It is the brand new Curve Theatre and it is mind-boggling. Set in Leicester’s new cultural quarter – thus far more an ambition than a fact, since the debris of this city’s 19th century industrial heyday still dominates the area – it is the kind of building that you come upon as if it were your own invention from a crazy dream.

Curve, as it sparingly calls itself – even on the street signs, which thereby seem like more of a request than a direction – replaces the aging seventies Haymarket theatre. It is designed by Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Vinoly and is an example of ‘vision’ architecture, the bane of our cities when second-rate, but a thing of beauty when whole-hearted. It is four storeys of metal rings, sheathed with glass, enclosing connecting pods of purple and red and its vision – an expensive one, to be sure – is to take the buzz-word we all use when talking about modern theatre, ‘accessible’, and make it concrete (or glass and metal, to be precise).

Whether you visit a proscenium arch theatre in the West End, or a fringe theatre in a pub, there is always a front of house; a place that belongs to the theatregoers, from which they are ushered into the theatre, the place that belongs to the performer. The Curve concept is that the front of house, which is effectively the sweeping curved space between the glass shell and the inner pods, belongs to the performers and the technical staff as much as to the audience. Get-ins and get-outs aren’t hidden away at the back; instead a portion of the side of the building lifts up to allow the pantechnicon in. Spaces the audience would never see, such as a working area currently containing a giant paint-frame, with scenery attached, are built into the side of the pod. For curtains, read sliding walls – a whole section of auditorium wall can lift, meaning that passers-by in the street can see right into the inner sanctum of the theatre. The reasoning seems to be that if the front of house belongs to everyone, then so does the kernel of the building, the two linked auditoria; the theatre belongs to us.

Monday night saw this building get the lift -off it deserves, with a show that was not so much off-the-wall as underneath the wall, with sliding doors, descending gantries and a ballet of dancing lighting bars, a promenade performance that led us through a shifting theatre that seemed to expand and contract at will. This dream-like journey was martialled by the strange and magical Nofit State Circus, one of those modern circuses filled with sinister shaven-headed men and sinewy women in tattered underwear swinging from ropes to the surges of a moody saxophone. There were tumblers too and a sparkling troupe of Indian dancers – Desi Masti and Nupur Arts – plus poet Michael Brome, gospel singer Sharon D Clarke (one of the judges in Last Choir Standing), the Kaine Choir and a crowd of local school children. It was imaginative, it was multi-cultural and it was local. Artistic director Paul Kerryson had aimed for something extraordinary, something befitting his extraordinary new theatre, and he had succeeded.

Lift Off finishes this Saturday 15th November, sadly, but the Christmas show Simply Cinderella, directed and choreographed by Adam Cooper, the only performances outside London of Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan’s in-i, and As You Like It directed by Tim Supple, all augur well for the immediate future. I just hope not to come back and find it hosting the same touring musicals as every other large theatre in the country. It’s a difficult balance, being both populist and forward-thinking, but if Curve can manage not to deny the elite nature of theatre but, rather, to say that we are all the elite and we all deserve the best, then it will be well worth its millions.

© Claire Ingrams 2008

 
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