Brian Way started Theatre Centre in 1953 and was Artistic Director there until 1977 when he emigrated to Canada. He died in 2006.
Theatre Centre started out with four main aims:
1. To provide the opportunity for out of work professional actors to continue practising their art on at least one day a week
2. To provide a place where experiments in various forms of theatre may be made
3. To build up teams of actors who can, both in and out of London, take part in theatre ventures that are not within the usual practice of everyday theatre
4. To present at the Centre – with arena staging – three or more productions per year
Brian Way: ‘Theatre seemed to work more deeply when actor and audience were in the same room together, sharing the same physical and psychological space. This led to abandoning the proscenium theatre to experiment in many, many different forms of open stage. I believe that theatre can provide intuitive experience and stretch horizons; these can contain truths that are greater than the truths that are the regular diet in compulsory establishment education and the form of education will probably never change until it ceases to be compulsory.’
Margaret Faulkes: ‘I recall the insurance agent whose company would not insure us because it was well known ‘actors stayed out late at night and had champagne parties.’ He was not convinced by my argument that £5 a week and early morning calls were hardly conducive to riotous living.’
David Johnston remembers Brian Way:
‘I met up with Brian [Way] who was quite a character – I sat for half a day with him in his office drinking and listened to him tell me everything, he liked talking a lot. Then I went on the road and saw a couple of their shows and I was very pleasantly surprised that, although the scripts they were using were ones he’d written 10 years ago, very old-fashioned, the commitment of the actors to the work and the truthfulness of the work was very high quality.
Brian’s father was a colonial governor in Jamaica and he liked telling stories and cracking jokes – a larger than life character. I knew him when he’d decided to leave Theatre Centre – he’d run it for 20-odd years and he’d become an international celebrity, going round giving his master classes and I guess a lot of people were scared of him but I just thought he was good fun. He was a stage manager in the 1940s at the Old Vic and he’d been a conscientious objector in the war and I think he had to go to prison and he got very interested in theatre and started a company in Bristol. He always said he used to sit at the Old Vic behind the curtains during the shows – particularly the children’s shows – and he used to look through the curtains and observe what the kids were doing. His observation was that the first four rows of kids were really engaged with the show but the further back you went the more they were disengaged so he came to the conclusion that there were two problems – one was the form of the theatre, the second was the environment – they’d come out of school, they were all hyper-excited, they’d all got sweets and they weren’t focused on the work and what they were being offered was very pantomimic and twee so his idea was to resolve all those problems by going into schools, by creating theatre-in-the-round and by creating simple work that would relate to them and feel truthful. And also participation – he created this whole range of participation with the whole audience, getting them to make sounds, getting them to support characters, getting them to imagine – very much what was happening at the same time in a different way in educational drama – imaginative work to assist the actors and the atmosphere – you might blow a wind or hold hands to help a person get up a hill or something – which by then people were feeling was very old-fashioned but actually when you saw it done in a school could be very moving.
What Brian was always interested in was seeing where children were and developing and stretching their hearts. Brian Way felt that theatre for young people should ideally happen in schools, be in the round, be presented to audiences of no more than 200, to narrow age ranges, with relevant material, and should start to use the natural participation of the child in a valuable rather than tokenist way.’