The Wardrobe has filled a gap over the past four and a half years as the third theatre that Bristol was desperately in need of; a place where young companies and artists could experiment with style and form and develop their own voice. Situated at the top of St. Michael’s Hill above The White Bear pub, its auditorium, let’s not beat about the bush, was always its weakest selling point, an endurance test for audiences; cramped, boiling hot in the summer and with iffy sightlines for anyone not in the first few rows. Its announcement that it was moving to a new site in Old Market came as welcome relief. Raising funds towards its move, the Wardrobe Theatre here gave us a greatest hits night that encapsulated what the theatre has provided since 2011.
At three hours forty this was an epic night; the National Theatre managed to encapsulate 50 years in two-and-a-half hours a few years ago, providing a template for how these compilation nights should be done. Still it’s hard to be too sniffy at this plucky little theatre and the love felt from audiences and performers alike was clear to see. What is immediately obvious is just how many young local companies have started off at the Wardrobe and developed national reputations in the following years.
The Wardrobe Ensemble, FellSwoop Theatre and Verity Standen were all present and each of their acts provided some of the night’s highlights: The Ensemble with a short scene from 1972: The Future Of Sex –which won them a Stage Acting award at Edinburgh last month and was announced to play the Wardrobe in its new space next year – was a witty and honest look at young adolescent sexuality, as one girl falls in love with another across the aisles of a record store. Further romantic entanglements came up in one of the 24-hour plays that they created earlier this year and which will presumably become an annual event. Musical highlights included bar-room crooning from FellSwoop’s Ablutions and Standen’s trademark sharp, hauntinga cappella harmony.
Time constraints meant that we only caught snippets of the early alternative Christmas show that has become a staple, which was a shame as the latter ones, especially the brilliant Muppits Die Hard are sharper pieces of work. With turns from stand-ups, solo performers and their regular improvised soap opera Closer Each Day there was something here for everyone. A terrific venture that deserves all the love it has received – just put aside a whole day to celebrate their 10th anniversary!