Diamonds are Forever

Feature in Issue 17-2 | Summer 2005

Marigold Hughes meets Jonathan Salisbury, who wants to make Camden People’s Theatre the jewel of London town.

Camden People’s Theatre (CPT) – just gone ten – is growing up fast. And, as the impending rage of adolescence ensues, does not want to go unnoticed for much longer. Jonathan Salisbury, ex-venue manager at Hoxton Hall and recently appointed artistic director of CPT, succeeding Chris Goode, wants the ‘hidden jewel’ of CPT ‘to be an unhidden jewel. To let the world know that we are really here.’

Certainly it seems like he is in a strong position to do it. Bringing with him a clear managerial voice from his position at Hoxton, he enthuses about the opportunities at CPT and its great artistic and geographical position. Building upon the strong artistic base of his predecessor, Salisbury likens CPT to ‘a house on stilts in the sand. Foundations need to be built so that the house can stay. If it’s all art, the house starts to sway. In order to grow upwards – you have to put more in place at the bottom.’

Emerging experimental theatre and live art companies, the like of which CPT nurtures through the TONIC scheme (Training of New and Innovative Companies) and the SPRINT festival (May - June 2005) will surely benefit from Salisbury’s approach to artistic and strategic support, which is underscored by a key notion of sustainability. As Salisbury states, ‘this is what it’s about; being able to grow from a really strong position artistically, onto a level where the work can sustain itself – so that the organisation can go on doing this kind of work for a long time to come’.

SPRINT 2005 will be comprised of three strands: performances presented at different times of the day – including the work of Song Theatre and Rajni Shah Theatre with Mr. Quiver; opportunities for discussion and debate around form; and work-in-progress type weekends. At the moment it’s looking like possibly three different companies – Para-Active, Apocryphal and Forbidden Theatre – will be involved in these weekends, presenting a series of different ways to engage with their work – which won't necessarily be about ‘Here Is A Performance’.

That the organisation is able to produce this kind of work and sustain it is due, in no small part, to CPT having its own venue. An ability to support experimental theatre and live art with both development training and resources is what adds the shine to the not-for-much-longer hidden jewel of CPT. Salisbury recognises this and sees the fairly unique programming position he is in ‘to be a creative producer and to have that resource [a theatre] there. With my job at Hoxton Hall and at a certain point, here – to be able to talk to an artist who says, “I have had this mad idea” and just to say “Yes, let’s do it”.’

Salisbury aims to extend this ‘genuine commitment to something other’ throughout the year: ‘It means that we have got to get more funding... SPRINT and TONIC are the two possible points in a year where we can say “this is what CPT is about”. Otherwise, there is a financial imperative, which means we have to get hires in.’

Keen to provide the conditions in which ideas can flourish and companies can benefit from support as much as possible, CPT offers its assistance in a variety of ways according to the companies’ needs. In the often-vulnerable beginnings of artistic growth, Salisbury sees this backing as crucial: ‘The thing is that people – over time – do develop. Things change from your first piece to your third. If you commit to yourself as an artist you get to a point where it starts to work. That’s why it’s important to offer people support.’

Comparing itself to other venues embracing the work of emerging companies, BAC for example, Salisbury states that CPT is different. ‘There is an advantage to us being small, in that we can engage more directly with companies. I was going to say it’s possible to take more risks, maybe it is.’ And that, after all, is what experimental theatre is about.

CPT SPRINT festival runs May-June 2005. Camden People's Theatre 58-60 Hampstead Road London NWI. For full programme details see

Referenced Festivals
Referenced Venues

This article in the magazine

Issue 17-2
p. 15