About Us Where we came from – and where we’re going…
Show Of Strength has produced new work in non theatre spaces for over twenty years, and created three informal, intimate and accessible new venues in Bristol – most recently the Tobacco Factory (1998).
Creative Producer Sheila Hannon co-founded the company in Bristol in 1986, and it began life as a small scale touring company. In 1988 a pub theatre production of Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy (Showboat, Gloucester Road) was so successful we looked for a more suitable venue for an innovative season of new and little known work. The Hen & Chicken in Bedminster was large and available – and our first season opened in 1989. This was our home for nearly six years, where we developed a national reputation for accessible, innovative, high quality work. Previously there had been very little artistic activity in South Bristol and no theatre. Within a few years we’d developed huge and loyal audiences, averaging 90% capacity, with a significant proportion locally based. Highlights included a new play directed by Mark Ravenhill, and a London Weekend Television Plays On Stage award for the world premiere of Fanny Burney’s lost comedy A Busy Day.
In 1994 we moved to Quakers Friars, in the city centre, and in 1995 produced the world premiere of Peter Nichols’s Blue Murder, which later had a major national tour. 1996 saw our first co-production, with Theatre Royal Plymouth, and another major award came in 1997 from Guiness/Royal National Theatre for the Eurpean premiere of Nick Enright’s Good Works, a contemporary Australian play.
Access problems at Quakers Friars meant we would have to move –and then we heard about an old Tobacco Factory in Bedminster– 300 yards from the Hen & Chicken. Unused for years, with no water or electricity, it was still a breathtaking space and owner George Ferguson wanted to develop part of it as a theatre. Show Of Strength opened the Tobacco Factory in autumn 1998 with A Journey to Bristol – a short, lost 18th century comedy set in the city. It was a promenade performance, with people following the action around the building – mainly because we didn’t have any seats. There was no heating either for the first few years, and treasured memories include Michael Billington in a cream linen suit sitting next to a regular huddled under her duvet. He never said a word about it in the review, either. What a gentleman.
In our five years at the Tobacco Factory we created and developed a much needed venue for South Bristol that has since hosted the National Theatre and many more local companies. Our commitment to new work increased, and we produced new plays by writers including Graham Aldborough, Mark Breckon, Moira Buffini, Michele Celeste, Ron Hutchinson, Bristols’ own Peter Nichols (Solong Life starring Stephanie Cole – later a major tour with Bath Theatre Royal) and Amanda Whittington.
We also develop new work through workshops and readings. Our seasons at Quakers Friars and the Tobacco Factory, as well as two visits to Bristol Old Vic, included rehearsed readings of new work. In 2006 we ran a series of workshops at the Southville Centre and Bedminster Library, developing new work with local writers. A number of pieces had rehearsed readings at the Paintworks, a new Bristol venue, and some were selected for full production as part of our Waiting project at the Southville Centre (2006).
In 2002 we produced Amanda Whittington’s The Wills’s Girls: the story of a group of women working in a Bedminster tobacco factory, performed in a Bedminster tobacco factory. Directed by Alan Dossor, this was our most popular show ever, with the month long run completely sold out within three days of opening. It was so successful we revived it in 2003 – another sell out.
The Arts Council and Bristol City Council have both funded SOS since 1987, but it’s always been extremely difficult to make ends meet. In 2004 we went through a major Arts Council review when that organisation restructured and reviewed all poorly funded organisatons nationally. The outcome was significant change and a period of organisational development focusing on our role as a strategic producer in the region. In October 2005 Gill Loats joined as Associate Producer, and we started working across the South West with range of partners that now include Theatre Royal Plymouth, The Everyman Theatre Cheltenham, The Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton, The Northcott Theatre Exeter, Bristol Old Vic, Asian Arts Agency, Travelling Light Young Peoples Theatre Company – and many more.
This new website is part of the new Show Of Strength – no longer building based but retaining our commitment to new work and innovative, accessible spaces, exemplified by our performances on 6 railway stations across the region in 2006. In 2007/8 we presented a major project in unusual spaces in the city centre as part of Abolition 200, and are developing a range of other projects and partnerships.
In 2009 and and 2010 after securing three year core funding from Bristol City Council, (£20k per annum for three years) we have developed ‘Trading Local’ (monologues in shops) for Bedminster, Westbury-on-Trym, Brislington and Staple Hill. We have also developed ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’ – a performance tour around the streets of Bedminster. In 2010 we co-wrote and produced with Travelling Light Theatre ‘Celebration’ at the Create Centre in Bristol (funded by Arts Council England). This has also been performed in Exeter in November 2010.
2011 is our 25th year- a year of excitement and more work. We have ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’ performing in Bedminster during the summer months
We will present ‘Recyled Stockings’ Christmas show at the Southville Centre Christmas 2011 and have applied to ACE for project funding for a Theatrical Walk around harbourside in 2012.
So we know where we came from, and we’ve got some big ideas about where we’re going. Do use this website to journey with us, we’ve barely started.
Board: Cara MacMahon (Chair), Sue Lion ,Andrew May, Anni Margoram, Bob Whyatt, Tom Phillips, Hannah Fenton, Anne Malindine, Ruth Sedgwick
Treasurer: Sue Lion
Company Secretary: Sheila Hannon
Patrons: Norman Bowler, Stephanie Cole, The Right Hon The Lord Mayor of Bristol, Peter Nichols, Dawn Primarolo MP, Tony Robinson, Mark Rylance
Registered Office: Show Of Strength Theatre Company Limited, 74 Chessel Street, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 3DN
Registered Company Number: 2889027
Registered Charity Number: 1067886