As Leamington’s outdoor theatre company, Heartbreak Productions celebrated its 25th anniversary, Oliver Williams spoke to the company’s directors about its origins and plans for the future.
Established by artistic director Peter Mimmack in 1991, Heartbreak Productions has become a specialist in putting on UK summer tours of outdoor productions - putting its own special twist on some of the most popular plays and often focusing on the works of Shakespeare.
It is set to start its 2016 summer season at Jephson Gardens - its ‘opening night’ venue - next week and has added an extra production to its usual three to mark the milestone anniversary.
Peter’s partner and the company’s executive director Maddie Kerr, with whom he has two daughters , said: “It is going to be a challenge but this summer’s events are the culmination of what we have managed to do over the years.
“We have a lot of camaraderie and intimacy - we’re like a microcosm of a family really.
“A lot of the people who we tour with have become best friends and remained that way and we have even had a couple get married.
“We have been able to bring together people with talent, creativity and openness who work well with others - all the people who tour with us have these qualities in spades.”
To date, Heartbreak has now worked on 63 shows and has had a permanent office and rehearsal space at Spencer Yard in Leamington since 2006.
But Peter remembers its humble beginnings where his often-flooded basement served as an office and his loft was used for storing props and equipment.
The company’s first production was Charles Dyer’s play Rattle of a Simple Man staged at village halls and other small venues.
Its first outdoor production was Taming of the Shrew, with cast members rehearsed using scrolls with only their lines and a prompt to when they would speak rather than the entire script.
Scrolls were again used soon after - but this time in front of an audience - when Heartbreak staged an unrehearsed production of Hamlet at Kenilworth Castle.
Peter said that over the years putting on outdoor productions such as this has proven to be both a help and hindrance for Heartbreak.
He said: “We try to have it so that the audience not only experiences the story but contributes to it in that we are creating it together.
“Unlike with films where the work is framed and set out, no one performance will be the same and sometimes the audience helps with that and really keep the actor on their toes.
“But sometimes what we do can hang by a thread because we only get bits of funding here and there and proportionately it’s not very much.
“If you combine that with a business which is weather dependent, it can be highly risky.
“But I consider it to be more of a lifestyle choice than a job.
“You have to love it and I do.”
In regard to the company’s name, Peter said he wanted something to symbolise its ‘heart of England’ location and something which could provide a good symbol for a logo.
He added: “It’s also about the emotions expressed when you strip away the facade of human nature.” www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk