BlackBox Theatre Company was set up in 2016 by award winning writer and director, Chris Hawley, and is fast gaining the reputation of being one of the south’s leading professional touring companies. Our aim is to bring exciting, innovative and, most importantly, entertaining and accessible theatre to smaller venues and rural communities throughout Hampshire and surrounding counties and to tap into the abundance of local talent, both for our casts and crew.
The company’s first project was a collaboration with SUP Theatre Company and Son Orchestra at The Turner Simms in Southampton with Chris’ adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, entitled Bottom’s Dream, the play was performed outside the venue to introduce Son’s concert of Mendelssohn’s Dream. Since then we’ve toured with John Godber’s Bouncers and in 2018 we visited over 20 venues with the award winning Bully Beef & Whizzbangs as part of the 100th Anniversary Commemorations of the Armistice. In 2019, Chris and the company, with the help of The Arts Council and Hanger Farm Arts Centre, developed a new script – a live radio version of the classic The 39 Steps for the stage which went on to tour to over twenty venues to huge critical acclaim.
2020 saw us all in Lockdown and with theatres closed BlackBox raised funds to record two of it’s productions as radio plays: The 39 Steps: A Radio Drama and Bully Beef & Whizzbangs Radio Play. A new departure for us but one that was warmly received by critics when they were put into the inaugural Living Record Festival at the beginning of 2021, both receiving critical acclaim.
As we start a new year, still full of uncertainty, we are forging ahead with plans to stage Noel Coward’s masterpiece, Blithe Spirit, as an outdoor production, which will allow us to adhere to any continuing Covid regulations, and we will be touring with Mike Leigh’s iconic 70s comedy, Abigail’s Party in the Autumn.
We perform primarily in village halls, churches, schools and colleges, arts centres and museums but perhaps the strangest place we’ve played, so far, is on the old Cross Channel Hovercraft at The Hovercraft Museum in Lee on the Solent. (There can’t be many actors who can boast that they’ve performed on a hovercraft!) That and many of our other venues have become a regular fixture on our tour schedule and we’re thrilled that audiences are growing and keep coming back to see us.
Another part of our work includes going into schools, colleges and universities where we not only perform our shows but also run workshops and Q&A sessions with pupils, encouraging students to take more of an interest in the performing arts and hopefully igniting a love of the theatre in one or two. In 2018, Winchester University were kind enough to host our rehearsals and a show and in 2019, as a continuation of our connection with them, we employed one of their recent alumni in her first professional acting job and hope to employ more newly graduated performing arts students in the future.
Accessibility is at the heart of what we do and last year we were thrilled to be made the first Associate Artists at Hanger Farm Arts Centre and their parent charity, the Minstead Trust – a local organisation supporting people with learning disabilities. We have already raised over £750 for the charity through our fundraising activities and this year plan, in association with Hanger Farm, to stage a relaxed performance specifically aimed at people on the autistic spectrum, with learning disabilities, who identify as being neurodiverse or simply would benefit from a less demanding atmosphere to enjoy live theatre. As we come out of lockdown we also plan to engage with their Community Theatre and offer workshops for its members.
Once again we’ll be rehearsing and performing at Hanger Farm Arts Centre so a huge thank you to them for hosting us. If you haven’t been to Hanger Farm, go. It’s an amazing place full of lovely people and great shows.
CHRIS HAWLEY is the Artistic Director of BlackBox Theatre Company.
He trained at The Arts Educational Schools and was an actor for more than twenty years, working for companies including The BBC, Birmingham Rep and Channel 4, but most recently has turned his hand to writing and directing.
Recent credits include directing Your Life is a Feature Film, Touch The Roses, adapting and directing Chekov’s The Seagull (re-titled Chayka), adapting and directing Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Making Money, directing Macbeth as part of the RSC’s Open Stages project, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Nuffield Theatre, Bottom’s Dream at The Turner Simms and John Godber’s Bouncers for BlackBox.
In 2018 he won an award for Best Original Script at The Totton Festival of Drama for Bully Beef & Whizzbangs which subsequently reached the AETF Semi Final before going out on tour and in 2019 he adapted and directed BlackBox‘s last live show, a retelling of John Buchan’s classic ripping yarn, The 39 Steps.
Chris is a member of JMK Trust’s Director’s Scheme at Salisbury Playhouse and on the committee for SUP Theatre Company in Southampton. He is also lined up to direct Ay Up, Hitler!, an original satirical comedy, for Gamma Ray Theatre.