It’s exciting times for the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. The main theatre has just closed for a £9.6 million redevelopment, which will bring rehearsal space, wardrobe and the workshop under one roof, and extend the public spaces. Due to reopen in autumn 2020, the theatre is relocating to Abbey Fields under a big top! Paul T. Davies chatted to new Creative Director Ryan McBryde about the season under canvas, his vision for the theatre and Colchester’s cultural scene.
PTD: I think the best place to start is to ask you, why Colchester? You have a successful track record as a freelance director, what attracted you to the theatre here?
RM: I had such a brilliant experience here directing Pieces of String and then Moll Flanders. I fell in love with the town and the staff here at the venue are incredible. They made me feel so welcome and supported, and those two shows I count among my happiest creative experiences. Then I knew that Daniel (Buckroyd) was leaving and the capital project seemed like a perfect time to re-set the theatre and be part of an exciting development. Also, I’m at the age when, although I love freelancing, putting down some roots feels like a good thing!
PTD: Local audiences will remember your productions here with great fondness, Pieces of String, in particular, was a huge hit with people who saw it. Where have you worked before?
RM: Short answer, all over the place, but in particular Germany, West Yorkshire Playhouse and most recently Salisbury Playhouse. This is my first artistic director role, and I can’t wait to get going!
PTD: So what’s your vision for the Mercury? What can we look forward to?
RM: Well the evolution of the building gives us so many opportunities. Firstly, I want to connect with the community, to find out what audiences want to see and be a part of. The theatre will very much be a creative hub. Perhaps the Studio space has not been utilised to its best potential recently, so that will very much become a breeding ground for creatives – for those who are just starting out to established artists, with local groups very much being a part of that. I want to use my contacts to tempt companies to view the East of England as their temporary home, the RSC for example, we’re going to build networks. We will also have this wonderful new building that will be much more accessible, which will have a cafe and foyer in which people can meet and chat. I have three tiers to explore and develop, Education, Audience Development and Creative Talent. Part of that job is listening to the local community.
PTD: Well, you’re off to a terrific start with the production of Oliver! Can you tell us more about the “Big Top” season?
RM: Not so much a tent but a place of exciting opportunities. We are doing a co-production with Colchester Operatic of Oliver, with the creative team being us here at the Mercury. The level of talent auditioning was outstanding, auditions were really tough because we have to have a limit on how many chidden and adults we can have on that stage! But it’s wonderful getting to know the local talent here. I’m also directing the pantomime, Cinderella, which will be exciting in that space, and we have some great touring shows- I can’t wait to see Madagascar the Musical and for adults, we have Avenue Q! It gives us the chance to host comedy nights with the likes of Ross Noble and Josh Widdicombe. But more than that, I want it to be a Wonderland. The plans we have to light the space to welcome the audience in, it’s going to be magical!
PTD: It sounds incredible, and being under canvas will give us all a new experience! So beyond that, what is the kind of work you want to schedule in the new building?
RM: I hope the tent will feel like Kneehigh’s Asylum theatre in the West Country, and they are certainly a company I admire, along with the likes of Headlong and Complicitie, these are companies I would love to bring to Colchester. Then there’s the list of musicals and plays I’d like to direct! Then there’s making a platform for local, new, emerging and emerged talent. I love playwrights from Priestly to Prebble, and it’s going to be an exciting time for us all!
The Mercury Autumn Season is now on sale. Visit the Mercury Theatre Colchester Website.
Te Mercury Rising Project, to complete the new build, still has £460,000 to raise. To see the many ways to donate, please go to https://www.mercurytheatre.co.uk/support/