We're thrilled to have received two OnComm Awards at the 2021 Off West End Awards. Our reading of Roald Dahl's The Twits won Best Theatre for Children, and our online version of I, Cinna (the poet) won Best Theatre for Young People aged 12+.
The OnComm Awards celebrate achievement in digital theatre throughout the pandemic.
I, Cinna (the poet) originally played in our theatre in February 2020, before being redeveloped for online audiences using Zoom in July 2020. The live interactive show encouraged audiences to write whilst watching, and to send their finished poems to the Unicorn after the show. The poems were collated into an online book of audience poetry, which can be seen here. I, Cinna (the poet) was written and performed by Tim Crouch, and directed by Naomi Wirthner.
Our ★★★★ theatrical reading of Roald Dahl's The Twits was directed by Ned Bennett, and stars Martina Laird and Zubin Varla. It is suitable for ages 6+ and is available to watch on our YouTube channel until 4 March 2021.
Both shows were free to watch, you can find out more about The Twits and watch it here.
The Unicorn Theatre is delighted to announce that The Duchess of Cornwall has accepted its invitation for her Patronage to be extended for a further term.
Justin Audibert, Artistic Director with HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, Patron and Joanna David, Founding Patron and an Ambassador. Photo by Craig Sugden.
Her Royal Highness has been the theatre’s patron since 2005 and is a keen supporter of the arts and a regular visitor to the Unicorn. The Duchess most recently guest edited the Emma Barnett show on BBC Radio Five Live, which featured the theatre’s acclaimed Unicorn Online, devised as a response to the building’s closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Artistic Director Justin Audibert said ‘I’m so delighted that The Duchess of Cornwall has kindly renewed her patronage. It is wonderful to have her ongoing support for our theatre and for our work with schools and community groups – and it feels especially important at such a difficult time for our industry and for children.’
The Unicorn theatre is delighted to announce that Dr Vanessa Ogden will succeed John Langley as Chair of the Board of Trustees with effect from 18 March 2021 Vanessa Ogden will bring a wealth of experience from an extensive and highly regarded career dedicated to education, the well-being of children and young people and the arts. Vanessa also has wide experience in successfully leading and developing Boards, both in the charity sector and in the governance of education.
Vanessa said ‘I am delighted to be the new Chair of the Unicorn Theatre. The inspired programming of new work is led by a brilliant team in Justin Audibert and Bailey Lock and It’s a privilege to join them, together with their team, the trustees, ambassadors and our patrons - in leadership of the Unicorn. The importance of this theatre for children and young people, as a safe space in which to explore identity, stretch creative potential and deepen imagination, is as vital now as it has ever been. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected children more than others in many ways and the Unicorn has a key role to play in rebuilding, healing and enriching their future - and ours. I am looking forward to this exciting journey over the next few years.'
Justin Audibert Artistic Director said ‘I am absolutely delighted that Vanessa is joining the Unicorn at this pivotal moment in our history. We are greatly looking forward to working with her to reopen our building and welcome children and families back into our beautiful Tooley Street home once again. I am certain that Vanessa’s passion for the arts, and her deep commitment to making lasting change in the lives of children and young people from all backgrounds, make her the perfect Chair for the Unicorn.’
Dr Vanessa Ogden is the founding CEO of the Mulberry Schools Trust, a multi-academy trust (MAT) in London, UK. The Trust is committed to raising standards in challenging contexts and includes Mulberry School for Girls, Mulberry Academy Shoreditch, Mulberry University Technical College and Mulberry Academy London Dock. The MAT has a Teaching School, a parent and community centre with a professional theatre and a new STEM Academy, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix. Vanessa led the construction of Mulberry UTC, a college for students aged 15 – 19 with a focus on high quality technical learning in the arts. It houses a teaching theatre modelled on the Dorfman: the National Theatre’s technologically innovative 2020 production ‘Anna’ was developed there before transfer for performance.
Vanessa has been the serving headteacher of Mulberry School for Girls for 15 years. Mulberry has a reputation for outstanding work in the arts in education, led by a dedicated, specialist team of arts practitioners and educators. Their work with young people is devised, original arts work which has won national acclaim including an Edinburgh Fringe award. This team has also led the development of community theatre in Wapping, Shadwell and Whitechapel, bringing outstanding productions from the Donmar Warehouse and the National Theatre to local people as well as providing a platform for the voice, visibility and exceptional talent of those within the school’s community.
Vanessa is a designated National Leader in Education and has undertaken a range of trouble-shooting school-toschool support over the past decade. She is a Visiting Academic Fellow at the UCL Institute of Education and she has a doctorate specialising in education policy and school improvement. Vanessa has published both academic and professional writing on education.
Vanessa is the Chair of the Fair Education Alliance. She features in the ‘Female Lead’ book by Edwina Dunn, highlighting the work of 50 female leaders in the UK and the USA. She has won the ‘Mentor of the Year’ award for the Women of the Future programme and she was listed in the 2020 Kindness in Leadership awards. She is a trustee of the Women of the World (WOW) Foundation. Vanessa is proud of her long-standing commitment to inner city education and the voice of women. In 2015, she led the visit to Mulberry of the former First Lady, Michelle Obama, to launch her Let Girls Learn campaign. She was invited to take a group of 20 students to the White House to visit the First Lady in the following autumn – and from there, commenced the Girl Leading and Global Girl Leading projects which build a global sisterhood of girls advocating for girls.
The Origin of Carmen Power, a project by Beyond Arts made in association with the Unicorn through our community REACH programme, is now available to watch online, for free, at Southbank Centre's Unlimited Festival, until 17 Jan 2021.
This self-guided, digital quest playfully and sensitvely explores the real-life cancer experience of a young girl called Carmen. Innovative theatre-maker Toby Peach, who also experienced cancer as a teenager has developed this imaginative and often joyful story with Carmen in order to tell her story in her own words.
Unicorn REACH coordinator Shanti said 'The Origin of Carmen Power is an exciting collaboration with Beyond Arts, as it is a digital, interactive project that seeks to amplify the story of a girl who experiences cancer, directly with children currently in hospital care who have similar experiences.
This collaboration is a wonderful opportunity to engage children and families who would not normally be able to access such a theatrical, interactive experience, so we're excited to support it as part of our Community REACH programme.'
The Southbank Centre's Unlimited Festival seeks to shift perceptions of disabled people with audiences from across the world which is why it's a brilliant platform to share this project. I'm excited for Carmen's story to be included in the Unlimited programme as it will engage many more children and families in her journey.'
The Origin of Carmen Power is for ages 7 - 13. It can be watched online for free here until 17 Jan 2021.
The Unicorn's Community REACH Programme aims to engage with children and young people who do not typically experience theatre and the creative arts. Working with communities from many different backgrounds, including young Refugees, young Carers, children with experience of foster care, children and families who access foodbanks, and others who have had adverse childhood experiences, REACH aims to champion the stories and experiences of children and young people from disadvantaged & marginalised backgrounds, through bespoke theatre and creative arts projects and opportunities to see Unicorn productions.
You can find out more about REACH here.
The Green Team has been around since before my time, with Amy (General Manager) and Adam (Building Maintenance Manager) doing a lot of work bringing the energy footprint of the building dand others realised our reason for existing, the stage work, wasn't a part of it in the same way. It doesn't make sense to me that we could have what could sometimes be a "wasteful stage" within an enviromentally-friendly building. That's why we decided on our Greening Our Productions process. In my new role (Production and Technical Director), and I can see how the building and artistic side of things intersect. As my work is making sure that the artistic plan actually ends up onstage, to safely, sustainably facilitate that artistic vision, I think it's fed into this.
Jennifer Taillefer, Production and Technical Director
Do you think there's a particular responsibility for theatres like the Unicorn, and organisations which make art more widely, to be sustainable?
I think that theatres absolutely have a responsibility, because I see theatres as mirrors for what's happening in the world. They're places where people go to make sense of our stories and our past, and I don't think there's any bigger, more important story right now than the climate emergency. The two naturally have to go together. And as we're a theatre for young people, we have to make an investment in their future.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the Unicorn's green efforts so far? Could it have long term implications for theatres' green efforts?
We powered down in a much fuller way over lockdown, and discovered that that's okay! Sometimes there's a cultural storytelling in a building, an assumed "Oh, you can't turn that off! We never turn that off." But in lockdown, we did - and it was fine. My worry is that the strain of what's happened this year will make us separate the pandemic from being an environmental issue; theatres will want to prioritise getting back on our feet. But the desire to get back to "normal" and rebuild our lives is a desire to return, rather than to figure out what's next, and go about it in a different way. My hope is that we've learned some lessons from this, and recognise that the pandemic is a climate change issue, and our risk register will take this more fully into account in the future. I hope the slowing down has appealed to people, and doing less has triggered some thinking. I hope that continues.
The pandemic's pause has given us room to back our processes up and think; as we're not putting on a conventional Christmas show this year, we've got time to figure out the Christmas show next year. It's difficult right now, as theatres are on constantly shifting sands in terms of what can and can't do, but we have to be as forward-planning as we can. If we're constantly in a reactive mode, we can't move this forward.
How has working with creative teams and companies in the green-conscious way outlined in our Greening Our Productions guide been so far?
Though we published that guide in January, we'd implemented it for the whole season; so for instance on Anansi the Spider, the easy, standard scenic workshop way to have made its giant tree would've been to carve the whole thing out of polystyrene. The designer (Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey) brought the design to us to discuss how we could do it together. That tree ended up being a welded metal armature, which we reused, that was then covered in cardboard tubes that we got for free from a carpet supplier, and then wrapped in natural willow branches - and then we had to make it fireproof! And the fire-retardant is not very environmentally-friendly, but we need it to be safe around small children. Everything's a jigsaw like that, and whenever anybody says, "Is it environmentally friendly or sustainable?" I ask: compared to what? Compared to a giant polystyrene tree?
It's the corridor conversations, too. Catching a wardrobe supervisor to say "Please don't have five different options at a fitting," and explaining that eighty percent of what we buy online, we have to throw out - that's how we change mindsets. I think the biggest thing we've done to help our process is stand by our timeline, so sustainability is part of the conversation from the very beginning, permeating the whole process. So far, the response from those we work with has been amazing.
The tree from Anansi the Spider, which was made from recycled materials
How do you think the Unicorn's green work impacts our audience?
I think in being honest about what we're trying to do, you invite people to go "Well, yes, but what about these fourteen things you're not doing yet?" But I think it's important to be transparent about the struggles as well as the wins. Similar to dealing with Covid-19, there's a Venn diagram in my head of things that actually work, and things the public want to see, and every now and then they cross over. We had massive feedback from our audiences asking why we had disposable coffee cups at our Unicornershop. So we switched over to disposable vegware, made from corn, and while our audience was pleased, the recycling company we use said "We can't compost these - the worms won't eat them, they clog up the system and have to go into landfill." It's about taking audience feedback and ideas (especially those of the kids, which are often brilliant), yet also being up-front about what does and doesn't work. Something we're talking about is adding green notes to every show, available on the website and on any freesheet, and using that to openly evaluate the sustainability of each show.
How do you personally find hope when faced with news and statistics about the climate emergency?
Getting outside, even in an urban environment. When we locked down, it took two weeks until there were trees growing out of the concrete at London Bridge - I find hope in that. There's a resilience in this planet which is beyond us, but we really have to get out of its way. And seeing how wild animals adapt to being in an urban environment - I love foxes and raccoons, how they're just getting on with it.
I appreciate that our executives and board are behind us; it would be so much more difficult if we were having to fight this way. This has to be a cultural shift, not just another duty we load onto what certain people at the theatre already do. Like embracing health and safety twenty years ago, it needs to be something we do without even thinking about it - like putting locks on a ladder before we climb up it.
The cast of story-tellers include Nadia Albina, Le Gateau Chocolat, Colin Morgan, Cecilia Noble, Andy Umerah and Susan Wokoma who will each tell one story, creating a rich and potent world alive with the strange and the familiar.
They will be reading the following Grimm Tales:
Justin Audibert directs Nadia Albina reading Hansel and Gretel
Rachel Bagshaw with Le Gateau Chocolat reading Rumpelstiltskin
Polly Findlay directs Colin Morgan reading The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs
Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu directs Andy Umerah reading The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers
Ola Ince directs Susan Wokoma reading The Brave Little Tailor
Bijan Sheibani directs Cecilia Noble reading Cinderella
Unicorn Online has been made possible with the generous support of the Backstage Trust and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
We're pleased to be part of Helen Murray's (@helenmurraypix) extraordinary #OurEmptyTheatres project documenting 22 empty theatres across the country at this moment in time.
During these extraordinary times, the Unicorn is responding with a new digital theatre project Unicorn Online - a fresh, innovative approach to making online theatre for young audiences during the building’s closure. Launching with Anansi the Spider Re-spun and streamed in partnership with The Guardian, this unique project brings theatre direct from the homes of the artist to the homes of the audience.
Each week from Sat 30 May, an online story of Anansi – the ultimate mischief-maker and master spinner of yarns – will be streamed for free on the Unicorn’s YouTube channel and The Guardian’s website. The show is aimed at ages 3 to 8 years. Alongside the Anansi episodes, there will be free downloadable activities for teachers and parents and a free online workshop where viewers can learn a song from Anansi, send in a recording and feature in an online Anansi community choir video.
Justin Audibert has shaped three of the most popular stories from his 2019 production – Brother Anansi and Brother Snake, Anansi and The Two Dinners, Anansi and the Pot of Wisdom – specifically for an online audience. Working alongside film company Illuminations and featuring the original cast of Afia Abusham, Sapphire Joy and Juliet Okotie, each scene will be captured by them within their own homes and edited within the current pandemic restrictions, bringing each scene together with a live, spontaneous sense of performance.
Using the technology available and celebrating the ‘at home’ nature of the filming and editing, the Unicorn aims to deliver a bold, fun and new way to tell stories that spark the imagination. The Unicorn is currently closed to the public but its mission to engage, inspire and entertain young people remains vital.
The theatre hopes to continue to serve audiences through Unicorn Online – its new hub for digital theatre experiences for children. Premiering with this innovative, digital-specific production, the Unicorn aims to support young people through this time of crisis when they are living with more physical rules, social limitations and personal frustrations than many will have ever experienced. The theatre will continue producing more digital projects over this time as a way to reach more young people across the city, as well as across the UK and beyond.
Unicorn Online has been made possible with the generous support of the Backstage Trust and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Anansi the Spider Re-Spun is streamed in partnership with The Guardian.
You can view the poems here.