Having appeared in both the film and stage versions of Les Miserables, through to a national tour in Legally Blonde, Iwan Lewis is no stranger to the stage. But for the first time, he’s now helping others into the limelight, as artistic director of Gloucestershire’s most exciting new theatre.
Opening the season at The Barn Theatre with a musical version of childhood favourite The Secret Garden, Iwan says he wants to take a production from Cirencester to the West End within five years.
We’ve had just last week, our almost official opening of the theatre. It was the first time we invited people into the theatre after what has been a three-year renovation project of an old nissen hut theatre, which was a glorified village hall for the last 50 or 60 years. We’re on the journey now of being very, very close to opening with our first professional show, which is going in the theatre in March.
I used to, as a budding performing artist of 15 or 16 years old, come to Cirencester in the Cotswolds, to do summer youth projects. So I came to Cirencester to do a youth production of Les Miserables at the Bingham Hall. The lady who ran these summer project was a friend of my singing teacher. Me and a couple of the guys from Wales used to travel down and do shows every summer, until I went off to drama school. So I have a history with this area and this place. I’d spend my summers here, doing the thing I loved the most.
Ian Carling, who owns the Barn Theatre, was one of the people, along with his wife Chrissie, who volunteered to help with these summer productions. I just thought they were just lovely people, I had no idea that Ian was an incredibly successful businessman! But Ian, even as a student used to put on The Who and Jimi Hendrix at Manchester student union, doing the sound for those guys. So he’s always had a history with theatrical concerts and sound. So this was how I got to know Ian and Chrissie, they’ve been huge supports of mine. I then went off to drama school, went to work in the West End, went on international tours but I’d still meet them every year for dinner.
I thought there was an opportunity to do something that combined community with theatre after seeing a similar project in inner-city London. So I picked up the phone and called Ian. I said: ‘I want to talk to you about a project’ and we stood in the middle of what is now the Barn Theatre and said ‘this really could be the next big, exciting theatre in the country!’ Looking around at the time, I don’t think Ian quite saw what I saw.
After me pitching like there was no tomorrow, he asked me the questions ‘Do you even have any clue how to run a theatre or how to create a theatre?’ and I said: ‘I have absolutely no idea!’ Then Ian said: ‘Let’s do it anyway.’ So I moved to Cirencester and have been here ever since.
We have a fundamental belief that everything has to be born out of a creative place. So, this isn’t just a place that’s here to be rented for other people who are being incredibly creative. As a producing house, we will create our own work. So, the work will be born out of our vision of what we want to put on, and what we think our audiences want to see. And as well to challenge our audiences, to educated them, and to be relevant. So, if there’s something that’s happening in current affairs, we can tailor our programme to reflect that.
We’ll always have our finger on the pulse and not just wait for somebody to come and rent the space. All the professional shows we’ll be putting on in the theatre will be in-house created. The concept decision on what we will be doing will always be here based in Cirencester. Then it’ll be Cirencester based shows that’ll hopefully move from our little 200-seat theatre and move to the Cheltenham Everyman, or go on tour around the UK or the world. We have grand ambitions! My five year plan is that I want to get a Cirencester show into the West End or even Broadway. The ambitions are so high.
The Barn Theatre opens its doors on 16 March 2018 with The Secret Garden.
Tuesday 20 February 2018
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