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Matthew Eames spills the beans: The Lowry’s secrets to theatre success

Witness the theatrical evolution firsthand as The Lowry takes small studio productions and propels them to the grand stages of the West End.

From scratch nights to sold-out shows, Matthew Eames, Head of Theatres, shares the thrill of supporting new productions like Operation Mincemeat and the highly anticipated 42 Balloons, showcasing The Lowry’s commitment to nurturing groundbreaking talent.

Matthew Eames – Head of Theatres (Contemporary & Commissioning) talks about how shows can sometimes start off in the small studio space and end up in the West End.

He also chats with us about the new show 42 Balloons and future projects.

Not everyone knows what commissioning is. Can you explain it?

The Lowry does not produce or make its own theatre work so commissioning is our way to support the creation of new theatre productions and ensure that the very best and most exciting artists and companies come to Salford and the North West (and then beyond!)

Commissioning can mean initiating, instigating or investing in new theatre projects – investing in a project at an early stage is often the difference between a project happening or not.

When The Lowry backs a project this can encourage others to support a new work too or it can mean a producer can proceed with a project.

As with our theatre programme, Lowry commissions bridge both the commercial and independent theatre sectors, embracing art forms from dance to new musicals to contemporary theatre and circus, at all scales.

How exciting is it to see a show in its early stages developed at the Lowry and then tweaked and changed into a fully-fledged piece of theatre?

All the shows we present on our stage arrive as a result of a strong relationship with a producer, promoter, artist or company. But we do not usually have a close relationship with the actual productions.

We curate the programme, tell our audiences, sell the tickets and host the performance but we are not actively involved in the making of the show.

With shows we commission or develop through our artist development programme, we are able to play a much bigger part in the journey of the show – from conception to workshop, to rehearsals and then to the first night – and that’s really exciting for everyone at The Lowry.

It’s a particular thrill to know that you’ve been a part – whether big or small – of a show being created and being seen by an audience.

This is especially true of Operation Mincemeat as we have been working with the theatre company for so long – from their very first show together in our Studio to having a show in the West End.

Operation Mincemeat was seen in its very early days at a Lowry scratch night, it must be a very different product in its current form, but did you know when it was first here that it would be such a hit?

Musicals are a tricky beast so there is never any guarantee of success. However, from first working with Kill the Beast in 2012 we knew they had a chance of making something extremely brilliant and finding a wider audience.

What marks them out as special is not just their creativity and talent it is their lack of ego and willingness to work in order to fine tune every moment in a production.

Their collaborative approach to devising as a company is exceptional.

You have had a great year. It must have been thrilling to see Operation Mincemeat go into the West End. How did that feel when the transfer was announced?

We were really delighted for Spitlip of course – ultimately, it’s down to their hard work and talent.

But we were also delighted that The Lowry team had played a role in laying the conditions for the company to develop over a long period of time.

Our artist development programme is a huge investment in artists and Operation Mincemeat is testament to its value and its values. 42 Balloons is the  next.

Can you tell us how this one came about?

The Lowry has increasingly played a big part in the development of new musicals, principally through our Rewrites musical theatre development platform, which has been going since 2016.

But we also try to support new musicals through the act of programming them. We had a brand new musical – Claus – in our Quays Theatre at Christmas and we were one of the first venues in the UK to present SIX.

At the time, unbelievably, it looked like a risk – but it turned out well!

Over the years, Andy and Wendy Barnes – the lead producers on 42 Balloons – have had projects in our artist development programme, in Rewrites and they are also co-producer of SIX, so we have a long and valued relationship.

42 Balloons was a show we’ve been aware of for a while and they invited us to watch the development run last year in London.

We thought it was an incredibly exciting show and wanted to play a part in whatever happened next.

42 Balloons sounds quite unique in terms of plot and premise.

Is that what attracts you when you are looking for a show?

I think 42 Balloons has a very clear premise that immediately intrigues people.

They get it, think it’s fun and are interested enough to want to know more.

That is extremely helpful when trying to attract audiences to a new show.

The Lowry audience get the chance to see these pieces first. Is that another reason why you enjoy doing this?

We think it’s really important that Lowry audiences – people across Greater Manchester and the entire North West – have the opportunity to see exciting new work, whether that is dance, drama, circus or musicals.

It shouldn’t just happen in London.

And the scale and scope of our building and programme, alongside the passion and expertise of the people that work here, means that we have the ability to take a risk on a new title.

It’s a brilliant responsibility to have and I think everyone in the building is proud of our commitment to supporting theatre-makers and companies.

Can you share any news with regards to any other shows that are going to begin life at the Lowry?

It’s been a busy week as we have just confirmed another co-production – Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book – with Little Angel Theatre, which will premiere in London in November before going on tour and arriving here next Summer.

We also found out this week that our commission The Good Enough Mum’s Club – a musical about being a new mum, made and performed entirely by mums – has received funding from Arts Council England and will go on sale soon for its run here at the end of November.

A busy week in a busy year!

42 Balloons runs at the Lowry from 18th April – 19th May next year and can be booked here

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