Outreach Collaboration  

DNA – a collaboration between Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Susan Elkin discovers more.

It is very unusual for a regional theatre to collaborate with a drama school as Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch is doing with Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. The joint project is a production of Dennis Kelly’s DNA to be staged at Hornchurch in the new year and it blurs the boundaries between student graduate shows and professional theatre.

“I’ve directed at Central in a freelance capacity” says Douglas Rintoul who has been artistic director at Queen’s for two and a half years and who will direct DNA. “That’s where the contact has come from. “I love working with students because they are so used to working together after three years together in college that they have a real bond – almost a language of their own. You don’t need to do bonding exercises. The students are already there.”

He continues: “And that means that you can often go much further with them than is possible with a group of professionals convened for just three or four weeks rehearsal time who don’t initially know each other.”

Douglas is especially impressed by the students from Central’s Collaborative and Devised course led by Catherine Alexander. “They know exactly how to generate work and are very used to transitioning, framing and using a physical world” he says, explaining that he welcomes the Le Coq influence which comes from Catherine’s own background. Moreover, he and Catherine are both Complicité (an innovative, ground breaking theatre company) associate directors which has also helped to cement the connection. “I love collaborating and bringing organisations together,” he says happily.

“I think we teach one of the widest ranges of skills available in a single performing arts institution”

The entire DNA cast of eleven will consist of Central C&D third year students. “That’s not the whole year group, of course” says Douglas. “Catherine and I have decided that we will take them through a very light audition process so that we replicate a real experience of professional work for them.”

Douglas is also very keen to get local teenagers into the theatre to see young actors who are still in training. “In this area – the outer boroughs of Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and out into Essex – there is quite a sense that drama school is out of reach. I think this show will help to demonstrate that it isn’t – and there’s a lot of diversity in this C&D group which will reinforce the message.”

In their second year the Central students learn how to facilitate workshops and they will be applying their skills with school groups at Queen’s Theatre. That means the teenage audience members will be able to meet some of the cast face to face for informal chats too. The project evidently has the potential to drive home a pretty strong careers message.

So, what made Douglas choose DNA – a pretty dark play about a group of teenagers who may have killed one of their number? “Well, the vibrant urban environment and language are very exciting. It comes with the same animalistic resonances as, say I’m the King of the Castle or Lord of the Flies. It’s useful that the playwright is pretty fluid about things like gender so that we can cast it pretty freely too. DNA is also very funny!”

But the ultimate underlying reason for the choice was arguably more pragmatic. “We want to forge stronger relationships with the schools in our area and we’ve recently made a commitment to put on a play which is on the curriculum every year,” says Douglas, not adding that such a policy helps to fill a theatre – although of course it does.

“We’ve started a scheme called Learning Lounge which – with our Learning and Participation department – involves inviting teachers in for an evening. We give them tickets to a show, some wine and an opportunity to exchange ideas informally with each other and with us” Douglas explains.

The first Learning Lounge attracted 35 drama and English teachers which Douglas and his colleagues were delighted with. “We asked them what play they’d like us to put on and – slightly surprisingly – they almost all asked for DNA. So then it was down to us to find a way of doing it and collaboration seemed the perfect way forward.”

He stresses though that this is not just a show for school groups. “We see it as work for young audiences – under 26, really – of all sorts and I hope we shall get plenty of single bookings too.”

DNA runs at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch 2-14 February 2019



IMAGE ABOVE: Patrick Baldwin