We meet Trinity Theatre’s new Artistic Director: Sean Turner

Nusrat Ghani

In the summer Trinity Theatre announced that it had appointed Sean Turner as its new Artistic Director. According to a spokesperson for the cultural venue, Sean’s arrival will provide a ‘fresh focus on in-house productions’ and develop the theatre’s ‘charitable and community goals’ through his artistic vision.

Sean is known for uncovering Arthur Miller’s first play, No Villain. He says he became interested in finding a copy of the text after reading about it in Miller’s autobiography. After an eighteen month search he found it in Michigan university’s library and then eventually went on to present its world premiere production and subsequent West End transfer.

In addition to this, Sean was the associate director on Mischief Theatre Group’s The Play That Goes Wrong to the West End. Trinity’s spokesperson added that Sean will continue in his role as Associate Director on it having subsequently directed productions of it across the world. Sean will also continue to oversee its West End run at the Duchess Theatre and its regional tour which, rather serendipitously, will be on at the Assembly Hall from October 19-24.

Commenting on Sean’s appointment, Trinity CEO Alex Green said:

“It was not only Sean’s artistic talent and theatrical experience that shone through, but his tenacity and innate ability to develop creative opportunities that resonated most strongly with Trinity’s new direction.

“We are thrilled to welcome him to the team, excited by his enthusiasm and focus on developing our charitable and community goals through his artistic vision.”

So Sean, now that we know a little bit about your background what attracted you to the role at Trinity?

More than anything it was the building itself. When you visit you immediately get this sense of it being something very special. Even when I was first coming here and it was closed due to lockdown it already felt like it was such a key part of the community. And then you walk into the auditorium and it’s just stunning.

Also, Tunbridge Wells is just a really lovely place. As soon as I visited I started making plans to make the big move here. I want to really turn this place into a super and thriving theatre…

So what’s your artistic vision?

I definitely want to do more inhouse productions – that’s going to be a huge part of what we do straightaway – our Christmas show The Prince and the Pauper will be our first with more coming early next year so watch this space…. And what about Trinity’s cultural programme?

I want to curate a season of work that feels cohesive – one where people can come and see a comedian they really like one night then come back to see a piece of dance the next. We’re hopefully going to expand the horizons of people who come here already but also introduce new visitors too.

We want to turn it from 4 out of 10 people knowing what we do here to pretty much everyone in the town and surrounding areas knowing who we are and what we represent.

Are you braced for what lies ahead?

Theatres face several challenges right now. There’s obviously the impact of Covid and the fact entertainment is more and more readily available at home via streaming services. Yet despite all this I always say theatre has been around since the ancient Greeks and it will survive this next challenge.

Why do you believe theatre can survive?

People need to come together and tell stories – it’s built into our very DNA. We need that experience of togetherness which brings us closer like nothing else can. So yes, it will be a challenge but not an insurmountable one.

Will you ensure that there is still a cinema offering?

Oh yes the cinema element is very important to us at Trinity as it’s lacking elsewhere in Tunbridge Wells. Our cinema programmer here is fantastic and has such a great eye for what people should see. Event cinema like NT Live is also wonderful to show and another great opportunity for us to draw audiences in.

What were you doing prior to your Trinity appointment?

I’ve been a freelance director for 15 years and I’ve done everything from Shakespeare to brand new writing and everything in between. I have always had a particular passion for comedy and the American classics. Before I worked on The Play That Goes Wrong I discovered Arthur Miller’s first ever play No Villain. I spent a long time searching for that, found it and then it transferred to the West End. For the last five years I worked with the Mischief Theatre on The Play That Goes Wrong and that’s taken me all over the world. More recently I have been touring a production of Robin Hood…

What did you enjoy most about working on The Play That Goes Wrong?

I’ve directed productions of it in Russia, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong – all kinds of places. It’s taught me a lot about how to make theatre in many different theatre cultures and that at the end of the day people coming together to be entertained is the same no matter where you are. It’s built into us, it’s integral. No matter where I’ve been in the world someone getting hit in the face with a tray is funny! People love to be together– even if there is a language barrier.

Will you go and see The Play That Goes when it comes to Tunbridge Wells later this month?

Of course! I directed the production that’s coming to the Assembly Hall so I know the cast really well and will obviously go and see them! But I have an assistant who looks after the play for the most part, so my job is really to have an overview of how the shows are going in the West End, internationally and on tour.

Back to Trinity – will you be getting involved in the social side of the theatre?

I think all aspects of Trinity are part of my remit. It’s all about having that cohesion: everything from what’s on our calendar to our lunch offering tells a story about who we are. With our food offering for example we are completely changing what we do and moving towards something quite different. Again it’s about retaining the people who are coming here but also saying to all of the people in the town who don’t know we are here ‘hey come and give us a shot’. We want to coax people out of the chains and provide an alternative ‘fast food’ offer. Once you have them here you have a captive audience and we want to build on that so they come back to see live theatres and performances.

Talking of performances, what can you tell us about The Prince and the Pauper – did you cast locally?

Not on this occasion as the casting is quite specific – you had to have two identical twins for a start and there are not too many of them around who are also actors! And the rest of the cast had to also play music but happily we have found some incredibly talented individuals who play a number of instruments. However our set and costume designers are local.

When do you start rehearsing?

At the beginning of November and I can’t wait! At the moment we’re having lots of discussions with our composer who’s writing a brand new score just for us. We’re also chatting to our set designer about what it’s going to look like visually. So there’s lots of stuff going on behind the scenes right now….

And how important will the new Trinity Clock Tower visitor attraction be for you?

Really important as it will hopefully bring more people into the building and it’s an astonishing view. On the way up we want to have galleries and exhibition spaces that celebrate the history of Trinity and Tunbridge Wells too. We are hiring someone as a Heritage Officer to come in and help us develop all of that. We want to find out about the people who are buried in our garden – what amazing stories are out there we don’t’ know about yet?! The future of Trinity is steeped in the history of this place and I don’t want to ignore that for a second.

And finally any steer on your plans for next year?

I can’t reveal a lot right now but what I can tell you is they will include some pretty exciting productions – more than we are used to at Trinity. You see what interests me is seeing people coming back on the train talking about what they have just seen in London. My challenge is how can I keep them here in Tunbridge Wells: to get them to stop thinking about the National Theatre as their local and start remembering Trinity. There is clearly a real market for theatre in Tunbridge Wells and the good news is Trinity is right here, we’re on your doorstep…

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