In the New Labour era of the 90s all that was fashionable belonged in urban life. The architecture of the city was infused into fashion, plays, art and pop music, and no where was cooler than the east end of London – think Nathan Barley and a time before beards and top knots were cool. In fact, top knots and overly-groomed beards may well be a contributing reason behind the number of artists who are fleeing London.
Haute coiffure aside, the countryside is no longer seen as the dull, grey depressing cousin to the city. The Guardian notes that “there has been a drift of big art stars out their old London stamping grounds: Sarah Lucas is in Suffolk, Damien Hirst has a pile in Gloucestershire. Perhaps, though, the most obvious sign of Britain’s renewed love affair with the rural is the rise of “the new nature writing” – which, in the words of its great exponent , is “distinguished by its mix of memoir and lyricism, and specialises in delicacy of thought and precision of observation”.
For Shropshire, one of its most interesting artistic additions to the country has been Pentabus theatre company. Pentabus challenges the view of the countryside as being nostalgically pastoral, and provides a platform for new rural talent to write and perform stories that affect them. The outgoing artistic director, Elizabeth Freestone, comments “people are realising that there are extraordinary stories to be found in the country.” Urbanism, she adds, “is a bit of a cultural dead end. It’s become a bit predictable as material.”
Pentabus HQ is on a farm just outside of Ludlow and has the space to offer residences and workshops. On a basic level, the countryside provides artists with affordable workshops. And, with rehearsal spaces being rented out at hundreds of pounds per hour in London, the freedom that the ‘writers’ shed (a former pigsty) and the workshop space (an old Victorian School) offers is no wonder that they are attracting creatives and producing award-winning theatre. Freestone comments on how the company tours work to village halls and small rural venues: “People used to think that rural audiences were unsophisticated and you couldn’t do plays with swearing in them,” she says. “In fact, our audiences are as hungry for contemporary playwriting as anyone.” One of the recent successes of Pentabus was ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ which wowed local audiences and went on to tour the country and the largest arts festival in the world, The Edinburgh Fringe.
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