PAINE’S Plough, the company behind the pioneering Roundabout season at the Crucible Studio, is being run by two friends who met at university in Sheffield.
James Grieve and George Perrin are joint artistic directors of the award-winning nationally and internationally renowned touring theatre company which since 1974 has specialised in commissioning and producing new plays and helping playwrights develop their craft.
“We joined in February last year after 10 years running Nakabov, the company we started in Sheffield,” explains Perrin. “Paine’s Plough was set up to do new work because there were a lot of people doing revivals of Shakespeare and the classics but few new plays. There have been seven or eight artistic directors over the years because they liked the idea of breathing new life into it from time to time. It’s a bit like Dr Who regenerating each time.”
Perrin and Grieve plan to bump up the theatre’s output from the couple of plays produced each year for the past five or 10 years.
A key part of that is the Roundabout partnership with Sheffield Theatres, the company’s most ambitious project to date.
For the first time in their 37 year history Paines Plough is building its own theatre, a portable 150-seat in-the-round amphitheatre that will tour all over the UK to non-theatrical venues offering them a repertory of three new plays
The wooden amphitheatre in the Crucible Studio is the prototype. “At the moment it’s an Ikea version, not quite strong enough to sustain extensive touring. We want the John Lewis version, still a flat-pack model easy to dismantle and assemble but stronger. It will require funding and we have a target of £90,000.
“We needed to build this one to test that it works and make theatre to explore the mechanics of it. By Christmas we will know a lot more about how the space behaves and the context in which it works. We plan a 2012/13 tour, it’s a long-term plan.”
It will be cheaper and allow for more flexible programming. “We can commission more and more plays for this space than we can accommodate at the moment when we receive about a thousand plays a year.” Already Grieve and Perrin have expanded the repertoire. In addition to the three Roundabout plays in Sheffield they are taking three other productions on tour including a Play, Pie and a Pint lunch-time initiative.
As to how the partnership works, “We still operate in the same way as we did from the beginning in Sheffield,” explains Perrin. “One of us directs a show while the other has all the other responsibilities. It’s difficult to keep all the balls in the air but at Nabakov there were just the two of us and now we have bigger staff to share the burden.”
Their time at university in Sheffield was something of a golden era for the drama department with contemporaries including playwright Lucy Prebble of Enron fame and Alan Lane who runs Slung Low, the Yorkshire-based performance company who specialise in unusual locations.
They continue to exploit that experience. Perrin, who has been involved with the National Student Drama Festival at Scarborough for several years, also wants to take drama on to student campuses. “You only really get stand-up, bands and clubbing in student unions, why not theatre?” he asks.
The Sound Of Heavy Rain, the final part of the Roundabout season, opens this week. Written by Penelope Skinner for the four actors appearing respectively in the other plays, One Day When We Were Young and Lungs, it is a noirish thriller pastiche. It runs in the Crucible Studio until November 26 and all three plays are being performed on Thursday and Saturday of next week.