"We’re asking the audience to fill in the blanks" - Winchester director launches experimental theatre company

Director looks to the future with 'absurd' theatre

Joe Allan's Closing the Gap is dedicated to the Absurd theatre movement

Theatre director Joe Allan says wants the audience to "fill in the blanks"

First published in News Basingstoke Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

IT has often been argued that the theatre can be a platform for so much more than simple audience entertainment.

For one Winchester man this is certainly the case as he embarks on a new business venture in a bid to bring something more to the stage.

Not content with the hum-drum scripted lines and strict sequences, Joe Allan has started his own theatre company to bring back a form of theatre first seen in the late 1950s.

Mr Allan, of Harrow Down in Badger Farm, began Closing The Gap to try and resurrect a somewhat controversial form of theatre which largely relies of audience participation and is frequently associated with sociological study.

Theatre of the Absurd was originally coined by critic Martin Esslin in his 1960 essay of the same name. He described how Absurd plays take the form of man’s reaction to a life apparently without meaning. It looks at what happens when the meaning of human existence is removed and all communication breaks down leaving the audience to pursue some form of logic, only to find themselves incapable of doing so, giving way to irrational speech and actions.

The 26-year-old former Peter Symonds College student, who also lives part-time in Oxford Circus in London, hopes that by creating a whole new company dedicated to the Absurd movement he can give something completely different to the next generation of production runners, actors, and theatre designers.

“It’s quite inaccessible and different from a well-made play,” he said. “Characters can’t express themselves very clearly as they can with a soap opera for example. You know everything about them, their social background, family, sexual orientation – your basic human conditions – but with this type all of that is forgotten.

Basingstoke Gazette:

Actors rehearse a Closing the Gap production

“Choices, life, death and communication – none of that exists. Whereas in a well-made play you know about their wealth and sexual preferences here it’s left to the audience to decide for themselves.”

Mr Allan, who studied drama and psychology at the University of West England, said he decided to launch Closing The Gap because he was unable to find his type of theatre elsewhere.

“Basically it came about from a lack of the type if theatre which I’m interested in,” he said. “We’ve done three plays so far, including two at Camden Fringe. At the second one we did, there was a lot of post-show discussions and we asked them what they thought. The third one was completely immersive and the whole show meant the audience had to be involved with the scene.

“Because it was so immersive we have now got quite a loyal following and they’ve come to expect we’re going to ask them for their opinions. Their reviews said that, because there were only 12 of them, they felt quite supported.

“Essentially we’re asking the audience to fill in the blanks,” he added. “My job is to show them they can trust us to do that but I don’t know the real answer. I’ve only got my opinions. As well as getting new talent out there to a modern day audience and show them how this can affect their lives.”

Mr Allan admits it’s not always been accepted by everyone including one of their own actors.

“In the very first play we had an actor who didn’t get on with the divisive process,” he said. “He was taught in a particular way – there’s the stage, there are the actors – and acted as he was taught. He didn’t like the freedom. But generally people are really open-minded about it.”

Now Mr Allan hopes to draw in other like-minded people for future projects and forge the path for budding students.

He said: “I’m working with another group and we’re looking for collaborators to do our next show.”

Anyone interested in learning more can visit the theatre website closingthegaptheatre.co.uk.

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