Overcoming challenges and celebrating 20 years of theatre on #LoveMK Day

20th April 2023

Milton Keynes based theatre company, The Play’s The Thing and sister company Pepper’s Ghost has persevered through local and national challenges to bring theatre and arts to the city and have even received an invitation to The Queen’s Garden Party for services to theatre.

On #LoveMK Day on 27th April 2023, The Play’s The Thing and its Artistic Director, Rosemary Hill, will be celebrating their achievements over the last 20 years, which includes producing over 40 professional shows to over 15,000 audience members and over 30 community performances in Milton Keynes to more than 20,000 audience members, plus co-producing and directing the play ‘All Change’ that opened MK Theatre in October 1999 and directing ‘Milton Keynes, The Musical’ by Louise Roche in 2001 also at MK Theatre. They have also produced two major ‘Taking The Stage’ festivals at MK Gallery.

Rosemary Hill says: “We have faced numerous challenges, but we have never ceased to bring high quality theatre the Milton Keynes stages to highlight the best of local theatre, but also the best of emerging artists from all over the country. Lack of investment and support have left us and many theatre companies in Milton Keynes somewhat neglected. 

“Theatre and the arts do not get the support and investment that we deserve. We have to work extremely hard to get any funding for our projects. There are very few, if any, small spaces with all the equipment we need to produce our work and we although we promote our work through all the usual traditional and social media channels we do not have  marketing teams and budgets to afford  stand put posters in places like MK Station promoting our performances. Sadly, this isn’t only our experience, but other local theatre companies who don’t have big budgets or big names in shows have found the same.”

For 20 years, Rosemary Hill, The Play’s The Thing and Pepper’s Ghost have brought theatre performances and the arts to the city’s stages, schools, colleges and businesses, to not only support and showcase the wealth of talent in the local community, but also bring culture to those who may not have the opportunity to experience it.

Other highlights from the past 20 years include:

  • An invitation to The Queen’s Garden Party in 2018 for her services to theatre.

  • Working with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011/12 on its project ‘Open Stages’ where we took our ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to Stratford.

  • Producing eight new plays in the most recent “Taking The Stage” festival

  • Nurturing and developing a further five plays two of which are  now on a nationwide tour  ‘Now You See Me’ and ‘Darlint Peidi’.

  • Helping over 100 people with their first steps into a professional career.

  • Giving over 5,000 people the chance to be involved in our community theatre.

  • Organising two four-day ‘Taking the Stage’ Festivals at MK Gallery which celebrate women in theatre. For one festival alone, we were able to give 55 professional practitioners paid work.

  • Hosting 60 workshops to over 2000 students since 2021.

The Play’s The Thing has been awarded funding from The Arts Council, Milton Keynes Community Foundation, Ragdoll Foundation, Awards For All for a number of projects, including ‘Taking The Stage’. However as a Community Interest Company (CIC) and social enterprise company some funding routes are now not open to them. There seems to be a lack of understanding generally about what a social enterprise company does.

During the lockdowns The Play’s The Thing received emergency funding from The Arts Council, which enabled the team to produce a project called ‘Invisible-Visible’, which focussed on those who felt invisible in society. They produced six short films, several podcasts, a film trailer and a multimedia Twine. They developed another play with the aid of a dramaturg which is now ready to tour should the playwright wish to take it on that journey. They also produced a book with local artist Jess Bolam and we were featured on BBC Radio Oxford for this one! They regularly featured on local radio stations, in local newspapers and the wonderful Sammy Jones has also supported them. They have also received National attention in industry publication, The Stage, for their important work on gender parity.

Rosemary says: “We are extremely proud of how far we have come as a small, independent theatre company to bring theatre to the city, support a wealth of talent, showcase new work, give a platform to local voices, and open the industry to the next generation.

“We have worked with The Fawcett Society, Milton Keynes Libraries, The Alzheimer's Society, The Living Archive, Stantonbury Theatre, Royal and Derngate Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, MK Theatre, MK Gallery  to produce new and thought-provoking work which has covered subjects such as dementia, mental health, transgender, austerity, care work, Windrush, miscarriages of justice and much more as well as producing works from the classical canon.  We are diverse and inclusive.

“We want to build a cultural infrastructure that will inspire more theatre and culture to our city. We’ll be using our social media platforms on #LoveMK Day on 27th April to shout about the importance of theatre and the arts within a local community, and we encourage others to do the same. We need to start getting the investment we deserve.”