The only bad thing about following Sheffield’s most forward-thinking theatre company Third Angel, is trying to keep up with them. Since 1995 they’ve been putting on performances that rarely appear in a form you’re entirely familiar with and always fill you with perspective on life that you’d never have imagined. Scrolling through the timeline on the Third Angel website, and the multiple pieces they produced each year, is a process of kicking yourself for the ones you’ve missed and reflecting nostalgically on the shows you’ve seen as decisive turning points in your own engagement with the arts.
My own introduction to Third Angel occurred at the Edinburgh Festival's Forest Fringe with a chance viewing of Class Of ‘76: a poignant, poetic, sort-of presentation in which co-artistic director Alexander Kelly told the story of his mission to track down everyone in his infant school class photo. Since then Third Angel have done everything from create a live illustration of an Arab Strap song on an overhead projector (Songmap, 2013), to capture the entire story of contemporary human civilisation in a series of bizarre anecdotes told by three blokes in a sitting room (What I Heard About The World, 2010). Partus (2016) is drawn from a similar breadth of human stories, but focussing on birth: its joys, its despairs, its vague superstitions and its cold, hard truths.
What all Third Angel shows have in common is that they may begin with the germ of an abstract intellectual or artistic notion, but whether through music, semi-fictional stories or personal anecdotes they make their shows accessible by simply reflecting human existence. We asked Third Angel's two artistic directors Alex Kelly and Rachael Walton to tell us more.
How would you describe your work?
We tell stories. We make theatre, and films, and games and projects on the internet, but at the heart of all that is storytelling. The shows we make are always part of a conversation with the audience. Sometimes that conversation happens during the making of the show: our research process often involves us asking people for their experiences, their stories. And sometimes that conversation happens during the show itself. The shows have a strong visual element; we like to create interesting and exciting images and environments for audiences to explore.
What inspires you?
The things that inspire us to make shows are the things that are going on in our lives, things that are going on in the world around us. We trust that if something bothers us or intrigues us enough to research it and want to make a show about it, then it will interest (at least a few people in) our audience.
What’s your workspace like?
Our workspace at the moment is the Lyceum Theatre's rehearsal room. It is light and spacious as it’s on the top floor with lots of windows. The sky always looks great from up here, and we love the views across Sheffield, the way the light changes throughout the day, the way you can see the shape of the land and the weather moving down the valley.
What do you love about Sheffield?
We love the way it is a big city, but that it doesn’t feel huge. You can live somewhere really nice that is within walking distance of the city centre. There are lots of independent shops and great cafes, and the outdoor space is brilliant: so many parks, and of course the countryside is so close. We love the way people always thank the bus driver when they get off.
What would you do to improve the city?
Well, on the subject of buses, the recent timetable changes seem to mean longer waits on all of the routes we use… so maybe they could look at that again.
Third Angel's next show is The Department of Distractions, at the Crucible Studio in January-February 2019.
- Words by
- Robert Cooke