The award-winning Arden Theatre Company was set up in 2002 by a group of friends with the aim of producing exciting, high-quality theatre rather than encouraging involvement.
From the beginning, it was agreed that Arden would have no adult leaders or director, and the company would remain firmly in the hands of the young people involved. Its founders were inspired by seeing Michael Grandage’s productions of Richard III and The Tempest at the Sheffield Crucible: and these set the bar high.
With a small amount of funding from local organisations, this dangerously ambitious idea was made manifest in Arden’s first production, of Shakespeare’s tragedy of over-reaching ambition, Julius Caesar, playing in Arc’s theatre in 2003. ‘Amazing’, wrote the Northern Echo’s Chris Webber, ‘an entertaining, well-produced, dramatic production’.
Following Julius Caesar’s success, the company was invited back to Arc for another main-house Shakespeare the following year, and, with a two-production grant from the Tees Valley Community Foundation, produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2004 to an ecstatic reception from the press. Peter Lathan, editor-in-chief of the British Theatre Guide, described the production as ‘exceptional’ and, again expressed his surprise that a young company could work to such a high quality.
One more production, The Taming of the Shrew, in 2005 notable for its radical re-reading of what is usually considered a chauvinist play, garnered another set of rave reviews, as well as astonishing the academics at the British Shakespeare Conference with the way the company had re-examined Shakespeare’s play; post-show discussions with college groups after education matinees proved very lively!
Following The Taming of the Shrew, Arden have been awarded a significant grant from Arts Council England to fund two further seasons. For the first time in 2006, Arden presented two summer productions: beginning with a tense, no-interval staging of Priestley’s classic play An Inspector Calls, which sold out its entire run. This was followed by Twelfth Night, with several actors new to the company, musicians playing live, and a series of education workshops, which had an extremely successful run in September 2006 and was hailed as ‘first-class’ by the British Theatre Guide.
At the end of 2006, and in partnership with the Vivid Theatre Company, Arden presented its first studio production, a double-bill of American one-act plays, Hughie by Eugene O’Neill and The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, a very unChristmassy Christmas production which, by seating the audience on three sides, brought them uncomfortably close to the action.
Arden’s most recent season in 2007 was its most ambitious to date. Arden’s biggest Shakespeare success to date, Richard III, played to standing ovations in July, and made exciting and accessible a difficult play. And, after putting on extra performances to supply the demand for tickets, Arden’s staging of R.C. Sherriff’s World War I play Journey’s End played, on a dugout constructed from tonnes of real earth, to packed houses and rave reviews.
Arden’s members now come from far across the region: outside Teesside, members are travelling from as far afield as Bath, as well as Guisborough, Richmond and Hartlepool. Moreover, members are fast finding success on a national scale studying at institutions including the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Oxford School of Drama, the National Youth Theatre, and Cambridge University.
The Arden Theatre Company was founded
- to create exciting theatre of the highest possibly quality and integrity
- to develop, both as a company and as individuals
- to promote the appreciation and enjoyment of theatre within our audience, particularly the younger members, via targeted education work as well as staged productions