RABBLE Theatre. Rousing the crowd.
RABBLE was formed as Reading Between the Lines in 2012 by actors.
Off the Block, the now annual new writing event, was the company’s first production and the high-pressure, exhilarating night was received exceptionally well by press and public alike.
Following an ambitious crowd-funding campaign and many days of searching for business sponsorship, the company raised the funds to stage their first full-scale production, Twelfth Night. It took place not in a theatre, but inside Reading Minster, a decision which made clear the company’s aim to celebrate the history and beauty of Reading. Directed by Hal Chambers and with a stunningly beautiful score by composer Rosalind Steele, the production received nothing but 5 Star reviews.
RBL’s 2013 Romeo and Juliet, again inside Reading Minster, imagined that the 2011 London riots hadn’t stopped and that two sides had taken control…. DJ and Composer Benjamin Hudson, more accustomed to studios and festivals (Maida Vale, Radio 1, 6 Music), made his theatrical debut with this exceptional, riotous rave soundtrack that complemented the show so magnificently. 5 Star reviews were greatly appreciated by the hard working company, as was the transfer to Greenwich Theatre.
Reading’s St James’ Church, Basingstoke Anvil and Greenwich Theatre were the venues for Much Ado About Nothing in 2015, which opened with the sound of Chinook helicopters circling RBL’s now substantial audience, followed by fully-armed British Army soldiers storming the venue. Exploring life for the British in Afghanistan, this production received 8 five star reviews, including this from The Stage, “Revolutionary and ambitious production shows regional professional theatre at its very best” and this from The Independent, “Totally brilliant… genuinely funny.”
In 2016, RBL’s desire to have Reading recognised culturally and historically was transformed by the decision to create new writing about the most notable people who inhabited the town’s extraordinary buildings. Oscar Wilde on Trial by Beth Flintoff staged inside Reading Gaol, with Oscar Wilde’s actual cell door on the stage inside the Old Chapel (produced in association with the Ministry of Justice and Artangel), was seen by over 3000 people in just four days, with the show proving so successful that it was done twice a night. Jonathan Humphreys directed the largely verbatim piece.
In the same year, Conquerors, Part I: Henry I was staged above Henry’s burial site, inside St James’ Church and this really did elevate the company’s status, both locally and nationally, thanks to this feature in The Guardian and a radio drama in partnership with BBC Berkshire. The largely forgotten king had one of history’s most incredible lives and his legacy, Reading Abbey, became one of the world’s most revered buildings. The production was met with five star reviews, sell out crowds and standing ovations.
Henry’s daughter, Matilda the Empress, was the focus of the sequel and it was she who gifted Reading the hand of St James, after which the venue was named. Her life story is tragically still relevant today and in terms of inspiring women, there really are few who contend with her. The highly-praised production was voted one of the top 20 UK Shows of 2017 by readers of The Guardian.
The final part of the trilogy, Henry II, took place in 2018 inside Reading Minster, which was developed from the stone and timber of the Abbey. RBL”s final chapter of the Conquerors Trilogy (which sold over 10,000 seats overall), celebrated the grand opening of Reading Abbey, conducted by Thomas Beckett.
In 2018 we founded the Get Up On Stage Adult Acting Class and RABBLE Foundations Saturday Acting School. Masterclasses, business workshops and education programmes are constantly being developed and our outreach programme is ever-expanding.
Our first Christmas production opened at South Street Arts Centre; A Christmas Carol, adapted by the hilarious Anna Wheatley. It was also the venue’s first festive production, so we were both delighted to welcome 3500 people and to get a full set of 5 star reviews.
Whilst developing future productions in 2019, RBL revisited Shakespeare. In Macbeth, Duncan, Macduff and Macbeth were each played by women. Forensic sheeting stretched up to the ceilings of the Minster and the hideous witches were focused into one clinical nurse. This haunting production was praised for its innovation.
Hansel & Gretel by Anna Wheatley at South Street Arts Centre was our 2019 Christmas show. We were inundated with praise and messages of thanks from schools and the public, for promoting diversity and acceptance, conveyed by our rapping Gretel and autistic Hansel.
In between these full-scale productions, we’ve performed at The Oracle Riverside, in cafe’s, at The Madejski Stadium, Hilton Hotel and plenty of other unconventional places, working hard to reach different communities.
Well, no need to go on about it, but not quite the year we all hoped for. Indeed, it was devastating.
However, the best we could do was keep working and we will be forever grateful to Arts Council England, Garfield Weston, The Head Partnership Solicitors, Macbeth Insurance Brokers and our many RABBLE Rousers who supported us through the dark times.
Fortunately, we were able to transfer all of our our education programmes and Masterclasses onto Zoom and the like, meaning that we were able to not only continue teaching, but also maintain the community that we’ve built up over the years. This really did keep the morale going.
Whilst we couldn’t perform in theatres, there were a few weeks where we could work in the same room together, so we grabbed this time and partnered with BBC Radio Berkshire to produce Who Killed Alfred Oliver, the radio play based on a fascinating unsolved Reading murder, which we had Beth Flintoff write for us. It was such an uplifting experience, really well received and we even managed to get our wonderful diverse community ensemble involved, recording the outdoor (socially-distanced) crowd scenes.
In August, we were able to do some work in the rehearsal room on the new Anna Wheatley Christmas play, which we’ll produce whenever it’s safe to do so. To ensure everyone was safe and that everywhere was well ventilated and sterile was a challenge, but we managed it.
Then in December, we were getting tetchy again, so we asked Anna if she could write a short, comedic, Christmas Play in just 2 weeks, set in an office and suitable for live-streaming (which we’d never done before). It was unfunded, so the budget was… well, Dani didn’t get much sleep. We had one week to rehearse, but then half way through, the UK went into the Tier system, meaning that our director became a laptop in the corner. But we did it and the feedback was as warming as a childhood Christmas morning.
It was a difficult year in which many of our colleagues and friends lost all income. This made us all the more determined to survive. Usually we employ over 100 freelancers per year. We didn’t quite reach that in 2020.