Interview Spotlight on Exchange Theatre for the 15th year
This month’s Spotlight from the FAFGB will be on Exchange Theatre. We were able to speak with Fanny Dulin, executive director and producer, and David Furlong, artistic director and stage director. Both were kind enough to present to us the activities and projects carried by this dynamic company, which they have managed together for nearly fifteen years. Q. Can you briefly introduce Exchange Theatre to us? R. (Fanny) Exchange Theatre is a bilingual and international theatre company based in London and founded in 2006 by David (who is Mauritian) and myself (who am French).
Q. What was the idea behind the founding of Exchange Theatre? R. (David) Fanny and I started from the observation that the heritage of French-speaking theatre was little produced in the United Kingdom. We have therefore chosen to stage and play great texts from the French language repertoire. The Exchange of Paul Claudel was the first stone of the edifice that we have managed to build over time. Q. How has Exchange Theatre evolved since 2006? R. (Fanny) We took on more responsibilities: in addition to going on stage, I became executive director and producer, and David became artistic director and director. Over the years and productions (Sartre, Durringer, Feydeau), the objectives have widened. With more than 38 shows produced, collaborative projects, including a residency for young audiences at the Institut Français, the association first became a cultural marker of the expatriate French-speaking community in London. However, Exchange Theatre, anchored in the British scene, also continues its road “towards the reunion of the world” (to use Claudel’s phrase) and towards a theatre that abolishes borders.
Q. How would you define the theatre that you offer? R. (David) We want it to be spontaneous, free from a certain conservatism, and following in particular the model of the National Popular Theatre. We also ensure, in the choices of our collaborations and shows, to subscribe to the values of diversity and inclusion. The company therefore does not want to be cornered as a window of French culture, but adopts it as a root for actually more commitment to diversity and universalism in order to build cultural and human bridges.
Q. What activities does Exchange Theatre offer? R. (Fanny) The organisation has developed three main activities. The first is the productions, adaptations and staging of shows. The second is the offer of theatre classes in French: for adults with Le Workshop, for children with Le Petit Théâtre and with Languages through schools , making it possible to teach French for free through theater in public schools in Borough (Southwark district) thanks to public subsidies. Finally with The Trap, our rehearsal studio, we give others the opportunity to practice theatre in the heart of London.
Q. What have been the main challenges you have faced since your inception? And how did you deal with it? R. (David) Brexit is definitely one of them. It came as the company was emerging. This crisis gives more than ever its place to the “theatre of exchange” and to the multiculturalism that the company encourages. Almost paradoxically, Brexit has pushed the company to position itself more firmly in its values and openness goals, reflecting even more on its inclusive work. Since 2016, the company has grown steadily with critical and commercial successes in both languages, notably Le Misanthrope and The doctor in spite of himself by Molière from 2016 to 2018, then The Flies according to Sartre in 2019. These Molière productions resulted in three Off-West End Awards nominations (better staging, better production, better video creation). At the same time, I had the good fortune to be admitted to the Royal Opera House in 2017 and to the Young Vic in 2020. (Fanny) This year also marks a crossroads for Exchange Theatre with the coronavirus crisis and the entertainment world. The company has not abandoned its values and has not yet stopped. Thus during the confinement, the theatre classes of Le Workshop and Le Petit Theatre for children continued online. We have created a web-series with our French-speaking adult students (ZOOM Service on Facebook and Instagram). We organized 8 bilingual virtual classes per week for children based all over Europe (France, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy) - making 96 Zoom sessions in total. We have streamed shows and podcasts to up to 3,000 viewers. With the support of the Arts Council of England and thanks to the hard work of its members, the company has therefore been able to reinvent itself, assert its digital presence, position itself in current debates on the need for representation, and show its resilience and resistance by meeting these current challenges. Q. Can you tell us about your projects? R. (David) We are back in November with the publication of the adaptation of Break of Noon by Paul Claudel, as well as a new show as part of the South Ken Kids Festival of the Institut Français. Our new family show Le Cat in (re) Boots! shows well this evolution and this affirmation on the London scene with the values which are ours. Indeed, Exchange Theatre re-adapts the famous tale of Puss in Boots by Perrault in an anti-racist version advocating social mobility and breaking down barriers of class and origin.