2016: our year in review

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A local samba band kick off our Marlowe 5 celebrations

As the end of 2016 approaches, we take a look back over the last year.


The main event of the last year was, of course, our fifth anniversary celebrations which took place in early October. We celebrated our birthday with a weekend of community events that included live music, street theatre, theatre tours and workshops that covered everything from drumming to puppetry.

Our Marlowe 5 weekend also featured performances of work created by The Marlowe Theatre. These included Warrior Poets, an immersive installation that the explored the experiences of children in care in Kent – created in association with the Wise Words Festival, and renowned poet Lemn Sissay.

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The Warrior Poets installation in The Marlowe Studio

The weekend culminated in a special Marlowe 5 gala performance, all in aid of our new Creative Opportunities fund. This featured artists representing the wide range of work we’ve put on over the last five years, from Glyndebourne Opera, Northern Ballet and the Philharmonia Orchestra to past pantomime stars, and performers from musicals such as The Bodyguard and Chicago. The evening also looked to the future with excerpts from Mamma Mia! and the National Theatre’s War Horse, both highlights of our programme for 2017.  We also held a raffle, with the prize of a holiday, generously donated by Kuoni, to help us raise funds for future creative work.

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War Horse at the Marlowe 5 Gala Performance

Also featured in the gala performance was an extract from this year’s community production, Stacked! inspired by both Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the events of Operation Stack, it told the story of a disparate group of people who are stranded in The Canterbury Tales pub, each with a tale to tell, stories which span the globe.

Stacked! – our first community production to be performed in the main auditorium – featured writing from members of our writers’ workshop and filled the stage with refugees, nuns and GI’s, in settings as diverse as a desert refugee camp, a Second World war dance hall and the pub across the road. There were also special appearances by a dragon, a camel and some very lost aliens, alongside specially composed music and songs.

Also in the main house this year, we had a sell-out production of Madama Butterfly from Glyndebourne opera and a visit from the National Theatre of Scotland with The James Plays (a thrilling trilogy of plays performed over one day). We’ve also had hugely popular musicals such as Hairspray, and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the latter of which which featured both a flying car and a robotic dog.

April saw the return of the Royal Shakespeare Company, with a unique production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Staged to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it featured local non-professional actors from the Canterbury Players and children from St Ethelbert’s School in Birchington, performing alongside RSC professionals. One of the members of the Canterbury Players, Lisa Nightingale, became the RSC’s first-ever female Bottom.

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Lisa Nightingale as Bottom

This wasn’t the only Dream of the year. To tie in with the RSC production, schools from our Learning And Performance Network (an initiative run in conjunction with the RSC) also worked on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, culminating in two performances, one in our auditorium and the other in various locations in Margate, including Dreamland.

We’ve also continued to bring you the best in comedy and music over the last year. We’ve introduced a new main house comedy night, Live At The Marlowe, which will continue next year. In music, we’ve brought you everything from CeeLo Green to our regular season of concerts from the Philharmonia Orchestra. February’s Masterful Melodies was notable for featuring the brilliant conductor Lahav Shani as both soloist and conductor of Mozart’s piano concerto No 20, K466. The other piece he conducted that night, Mahler’s First Symphony, was a particular favourite for many staff here.

It’s also been an exciting year in The Marlowe Studio. Shows performed there this year included Backstage In Biscuit Land – a show like no other, performed by Tourettes’ sufferer Jess Thom. Her condition means Jess is neurologically incapable of staying on script – which makes for a very funny and thought-provoking evening.

The Marlowe Studio also hosted the return of Vamos Theatre with their highly popular play The Best Thing. There were also performances of Fabric, a Marlowe-supported play which then went on to have an award-running run at the Edinburgh fringe.

The Marlowe Studio has also been the setting for much of the work of Roar!, our new writing development programme, that helps emerging writers develop their work through a series of workshops and rehearsed readings.

Staying with drama, but moving outside of our building, we co-commissioned (along with Live Theatre Newcastle) a work called Mobile, from theatre company The Paper Birds. Dealing with issues of social mobility, Mobile was performed in a caravan, albeit a caravan like no other. As well as a residency on our forecourt, the caravan also visited Canterbury high street, Margate, the University of Kent campus and local schools.

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A scene from Mobile (Yes, this really is the inside of a caravan)

Behind the scenes, we had a vote of confidence in our work from Arts Council England, who awarded a substantial grant from their Catalyst:Evolve fund to The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust. The purpose of this fund is to help arts organisations find a way to develop their fundraising capabilities and raise money to undertake more activity.

Of course, our end year ended in traditional fashion with our pantomime Dick Whittington.  Wowing audiences and critics alike, this spectacular show starred Stephen Mulhern with Ben Roddy and Lloyd Hollett.

So it’s goodbye to 2016 and we look forward to welcoming you back to our theatre next year!

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