Liverpool-based Spike Theatre marks its 15th anniversary this year with its latest show Sink or Swim, a new comedy about three men shipwrecked and set adrift in a lifeboat.
The company, whose recent shows have included Top of the World, Danny the Champion of the World and The Games, will be touring the North West with their latest play, that ends its sell-out debut run at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio tonight (February 23).
Directed by Spike’s artistic director Mark Smith, Sink or Swim boasts some established and up-and-coming talent from Merseyside and beyond. The cast includes veteran of the local theatre scene and former Brookside baddie Paul Duckworth, Graham Hicks (one half of comedy act Random Acts of Wildness), and Shaun Mason.
Writer Robert Farquhar (Dead Heavy Fantastic, Big Wow theatre company) devised the script from workshops improvised by the cast, making the end result a real collaborative effort, and the piece is co-directed by Spymonkey’s Toby Park, a long-time friend and colleague of the team.
Taking inspiration from tales of the 18th century bedlam ships and in keeping with Spike’s trademark mix of clowning and storytelling, Sink or Swim is described as ‘an insanely comic tale of three men’s maddening struggles at sea’. En-route to America the hapless victims find themselves running for the lifeboats when they come under attack and their ship, the Sea Venture, is sunk. As the icy dawn breaks, and with only a single oar, they find themselves alone and going around in circles.
There is much to celebrate with this 15th anniversary show, least of all that the amiable company is still here. Spike’s commitment to touring their work has been arguably more prolific than other independent companies working out of Liverpool. Yet after losing the regular income of their Arts Council portfolio status in 2011, despite creating a more challenging climate, it hasn’t stopped them.
“We love touring and have been doing so since 1997, it is important to the company because we want to share our work to as many people as possible,” artistic director Mark Smith says. And, with two decades of experience behind them, it means the company has built up strong relationships with some of the region’s most equally established theatre spaces, including Salford’s Lowry and the Liverpool Playhouse, that have both supported the creation of Sink or Swim as well as hosting a run.
Mark says: “We love going to a venue and bringing something new to them. As we have been touring for so long, it often feels like a local gig, we have developed regular followers who care about the work we make and they have grown with us.”
Spike has tried a variety of fundraising efforts to keep on the road, including running a successful We Fund campaign to get their last show The Games, part of the Cultural Olympiad, to the Edinburgh Festival in 2012. They say it is important that theatre from the regions gets to showcase itself in different parts of the UK – Sink or Swim is also travelling to a number of venues in the South East.
Mark explains: “For example Merseyside has a style that is different from Manchester – it’s a case of the training establishments, the theatres and what they programme, what touring work people see. All of these factors influence a region and how it presents work.
“It is vital to the ecology of theatre that work is shared, because the impact and influence can be felt years later from the type of work that is created and an audience’s memory of it.”
The result is that touring theatre will be affected massively by cuts, indeed Spike cannot be alone in worrying as to how much longer their way of working will continue, But for now they are determined to keep it up and will be coming to a venue near you in the North West very soon.
“Spike will do everything we possibly can to ensure we are touring into the future,” Mark says. “These are very difficult times for theatre and touring, but some fabulous venues continue to support us and we are grateful for that. Ultimately, we want to continue to create new work for audiences that entertains, tell stories that are fun and ask questions of the world.”
Sink or Swim ends its run at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio tonight (February 23), and then goes on to tour throughout February and March in locations including The Lowry Studio, Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal, Ormskirk’s Rose Theatre, and the Citadel in St Helens. For more information, visit www.spiketheatre.com.