Ryan McBryde unveils his plans for new-look Mercury Theatre
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
When theatre director Ryan McBryde arrived at the Colchester Mercury in 2018 he made an immediate impact directing two dazzling shows the new musical Pieces of String and the period romp Moll Flanders back-to-back.
So, it is fitting that as the Mercury re-opens after an exhaustive £11.3 million rebuild – extended by Covid lockdown delays – that the former freelancer has been appointed the theatre’s new creative director.
It’s something he’s very excited about – and he has some exciting plans to develop the theatre’s presence in the community – but he’s also a little nervous which he thinks is healthy because it keeps you on your toes and makes sure you don’t take things for granted.
“Also, running a building and developing a year-round programme is very different from working from show-to-show as a freelance director who probably has only about three active projects on the go at any one time.”
Talking to Ryan, it’s clear that he already loves his new job and there’s a buzz about him as he talks about how he sees the role of the Mercury. He’s thoughtful when answering questions but as he warms to his subject, the pace picks up and his enthusiasm is unmistakable as he fires off adjectives as if they are going out of fashion.
“I have always said that when the Mercury reopens we want the theatre to be seen as an artistic powerhouse. We want it to be a vital, vibrant, welcoming centre for culture serving Colchester, Essex and beyond.
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“We want it to generate an atmosphere of celebration, adventure, of joy which people will respond to from the moment they enter the building to the moment they leave. We want to reanimate this amazing theatre, that’s our mission and we have to entice people away from their pandemic Netflix box sets with some exciting, live theatre.”
As demonstrated by his work on Pieces of String and Moll Flanders he likes injecting what could be viewed as traditional theatre works like musicals and period drama and investing them with fresh energy. He loves exploring new ways of doing things and he’s very keen that while theatre can mean many things to many people, entertainment is very important.
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It’s also important not to live in the past and he’s excited that the Mercury Studio will be a space devoted to encouraging new writing by local writers from across Essex and East Anglia. Developing talent is an important part of his plans for the new-look Mercury and he’s thrilled with the top floor education suite which the theatre’s community outreach team can use as well as a large rehearsal space and a dance studio which can be hired out to local groups.
He’s also excited about the expanded bar and dining facilities which will also be hosting after hours music, comedy and cabaret.
“The idea is that the building will be busy, buzzing with activity, throughout the day and night. It will be a real community resource – something that will be an important part of people’s lives.”
He said that it’s a huge relief that the theatre is now ready to open its doors to the public. “It’s been a long wait. I was appointed nearly two years ago and within a week the theatre was closed, so not the best start but it has allowed us to plan.
“What we have to offer is a different experience to being sat at home and that is reflected in the opening programme.”
He said that the line-up of shows has completely changed as lockdown kept being extended and the programme now is very much focused on theatricality, making the most of theatre’s ability to entertain and to invent amazing worlds from people’s imaginations.
“It’s about engaging people, getting them to use their imaginations, to transport them to new places and get them to us on a journey for the two-and-half-hours that show runs. It’s also about offering them a wide variety of quality shows because not everybody likes the same thing and making sure that we are offering something which you can’t get on computer or on television.
“This is live theatre at its best.”
The rebuilt Mercury theatre reopens on July 30 with Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville, a highly theatrical take on the classic Sherlock Holmes tale The Hound of the Baskerville’s. “I chose this as our opening show because it’s very much a statement of intent. It’s fun, fast, hugely entertaining but it’s also very theatrical. It’s the epitome of live theatre. We will have five actors on stage playing 40 characters. There’s going to be a lot of fast-changes and hat swapping.”
Baskerville will run until August 22. This will be followed on October 1 by the UK premiere of Merlynn Tong’s Antigone directed by Dawn Walton OBE. “This is a modern re-telling of a classic tale. The play is over 2,000 years old but it feels really up-to-date and its really powerful, really raw and visceral and it’s by an Australian actor-playwright Merlynn Tong and we are very pleased to be staging the first UK performance of this wonderful play.”
Also launching this season is Mercury Originals, a programme of ground-breaking new plays, showcasing the voices of local writers. The first production is a world première of Sirens by award-winning Essex playwright, Kenny Emson.
This haunting new play, set on a Mersea Island RNLI station at Halloween in 1987, explores themes of belonging, family ties and forgiveness. This runs in the Studio from October 28 to November 6.
The year ends with Ryan’s panto debut on the main stage of the Mercury with a production of Aladdin which will feature Colchester’s panto regulars Antony Stuart-Hicks and Dale Superville. Aladdin will run from November 27, 2021 to January 16, 2022.