The writer and director chatted to Emma Clarendon about what audiences can expect from AAAAA at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre (without giving too much away…).

Hi David, so what can you tell me about AAAAA? AAAAA [FiveA] is our first in house production at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre since lockdown, and obviously 2020 has been the most challenging years for all of us in the theatre industry. We wanted to lead as the theatre reopens by hopefully doing what we do best, by getting right in there early with a brand-new piece of fringe theatre storytelling to hopefully encourage people to come back to the theatre (and pub theatre in particular) with a show that embraces the best of what we do. The turn round time for the show has been super-fast, but I think it takes some of that stored up “Lockdown energy” and focuses our creativity for this new piece of work in a way that will hopefully be really satisfying for the audience.

How does the concept of not unveiling the story to audiences and still making the show different every performance work for those who are working on the show? It’s been our job as we’ve gone through this process to make sure that we really hold the cast and production team’s hands and give them all the information they need to pull off the storytelling element of the show. Whilst we’re stuck with some unique challenges in terms of the way that the performers can interact with each other, the brilliant thing about those restrictions is that it gives you a brand new set of rules to work within, and that in itself has meant we’ve creatively looked at creating work in a way that we never have before.

With audiences not really knowing what to expect – does that mean there will be plenty of surprises along the way? Definitely! Key to the success of AAAAA will be pulling off that element of surprise for audiences – it’s threaded into the heart of the show. For me as Artistic Director of the theatre, I know that people are going to want to see things which are artistically “safe” – so big musicals, Shakespeare, all the old favourites – but this is exactly the time to prove the opposite actually, we want people to come back to support the fringe and watch brilliant actors at the start of their careers doing amazing things. I want to make sure that the spirit of discovery people felt at the beginning of Lockdown, where people were experiencing digital theatre and taking chances on some things they hadn’t experienced before continues in person now that we’re open to reopen venues safely. I hope we can encourage some people to get off the sofa and experience something new and challenging for real and not just on a TV screen or mobile phone for the first time in months.

It must be wonderful to be welcoming audiences back – how have you been finding the experience of putting theatre on with the current restrictions? Without doubt, locking a theatre down is easier than reopening one, but we’ve managed to find a way to do it successfully with a run of great shows since we reopened. We’re still so new in our journey that I don’t think we ever got out of the mode of adapting to new circumstances, so every day is an adventure. I think that’s always been the best bit about fringe theatre – we always adapt to changing circumstances, performing in unusual places with no resources and no budget, you always find a way to survive and we’ll continue to do just that. There’s actually a real resilience in theatre people which I think is something to properly admire.

The shows we’ve had in since we have reopened have been an absolute joy, and I think the experience of being closed makes you appreciate the interaction with an audience so much more. The first night back was a real emotional rollercoaster, but we’ve really got the hang of social distancing now – even though I can’t wait to see the back of it. (If you ever need a metre stick or run out of hand sanitiser though, come see us and we’ll sort you out!)

Without giving too much away – how would you describe AAAAA? The marketing for the show describes AAAAA as a “brand new piece of fringe theatre storytelling where no two shows are the same” but beyond that you’ve got chance to catch a COVID-Safe, emotionally charged piece of theatre from some critically acclaimed Associate Artists at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre working together for the first time, (which includes Jess Barton, Jack Albert Cook, Gabrielle Nellis-Pain & Kim Scopes), what I feel is going to be an astonishing acting performance from our amazing cast lead by Daniel Rainford as well as increasing accessibility for all tickets for every performance being offered on a “Pay What You Feel” basis which for us a massive risk, but one that’s well worth taking. (Oh, and bring a tissue, I think you might need one).

By Emma Clarendon

AAAAA (FiveA) will run at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre from the 10th the 22nd November.