The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry – the UK City of Culture for 2021 – is to reopen its doors to the public on 17th May – the first day that the government’s roadmap allows – with socially distanced audiences able to enjoy Joe Pasquale and Sarah Earnshaw in John Godber’s April in Paris, which kicks off its UK tour at the Belgrade.
Those first audience members through the doors will also be able to enjoy the brand-new upstairs Café Bar Nineteen58 and newly refurbished downstairs Belgrade Café which has been created in the building as part of the £5.5m 2020 Redevelopment Project for the theatre; as well as the enhanced food and beverage offering, this has provided new spaces for audiences, visitors and additional capacity for workshops and community groups.
Prior to this, from 12th April, The Belgrade Café will be offering a full range of locally sourced food and drink for patrons to takeaway and enjoy on tables outside the theatre on Belgrade Square. The refurbishment was inspired by and named after the theatre’s founding year and is decorated with vintage show posters and artwork from across the decades.
The Belgrade is Coventry’s largest professional theatre, producing and presenting a diverse range of shows, events and ground-breaking community and education initiatives. In its landmark building, across the region, the UK and online, it uses theatre to entertain, inspire, share the city’s stories, uncover hidden histories, and unleash the creativity of diverse communities.
Joanna Reid, Executive Director of the Belgrade, said, “The whole team can’t wait to reopen on 17 May and to welcome shows and audiences back into our two auditoria as soon as possible. We are delighted that we are launching a tour of APRIL IN PARIS on Monday 17 May and are continuing to work to secure more shows during May to August. We’re excited that we’ve been able to complete our 2020 Redevelopment in time for City of Culture despite the challenges posed by both the pandemic and Brexit. We hope to see you back at the Belgrade soon!”
Following April in Paris, the Belgrade continues to book in performances at short notice and audiences will be able to enjoy an eclectic mix of music, theatre and comedy over the summer months The theatre’s digital offerings also continue: Jabala and the Jinn, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Private Peaceful and the MT Festival UK will stream at various times between the end of March and the beginning of June.
The UK Asian Film Festival will also be hosted at the venue, with socially distanced audiences watching five film premieres in the Belgrade’s B2 auditorium, including the world premiere of Beatles and India. These films have been selected by five Coventry locals, after training in film curation. The UK Asian Film Festival celebrates the art of storytelling extending from ancient oral traditions to tales told in today’s digital age, giving wings to South Asian roots since 1997. This year’s programming theme is Ray of Hope to mark the birth centenary of Satyajit Ray. The film choices reflect the shift in power that bring hope to the lives of the protagonists. Further details to be announced.
An autumn season of non-socially distanced work from 1 September will be announced on 1st June.
A key partner of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021, the Belgrade Theatre’s 2021 programme is being delivered by three diverse artists under the role of Co-Artistic Directors alongside members of the local community. Corey Campbell, Balisha Karra and Justine Themen are developing a new vision and way of working for a 21st Century Theatre, bringing with them a unique perspective that celebrates the City’s diversity and drives positive change.
As well as directing the City of Culture opening event, Coventry Moves, Justine Themen has commissioned a brand-new digital version of Like There’s No Tomorrow (Weds 19 May – Sun 13 June 2021), one of the first National Theatre Connections plays to be specifically commissioned for and created by young people. Originally devised by Belgrade Youth Theatre in March 2020, in 2021 it will amplify the voices of Coventry’s young people and their views on climate change, across the country. The Belgrade will also be hosting the region’s NT Connections Festival this summer, showcasing work by local youth theatres across the West Midlands.
Another cornerstone of the City of Culture programme, The Belgrade will co-present with Paines Plough, a festival of new world-class plays and community-led activities in the world’s first plug-in, pop-up and play theatre Roundabout (Monday 26 July – Sunday 8 August 2021). Balisha Karra will direct Coventry based playwright Frankie Meredith’s May Queen, and the other plays that will be played in repertory throughout the festival are Hungry by Chris Bush, Really Big and Really Loud by Phoebe Eclair-Powell, Black Love by Chinonyerem Odimba, with music by Ben and Max Ringham.
Filming has also begun on SeaView, an original digital series developed by Strictly Arts Theatre Company and Belgrade Film and Digital Ltd using theatre techniques, conceived before Covid-19 took the world of theatre online, and directed by Corey Campbell. Inspired by a true story, and lived experiences, SeaView is a supernatural drama centred on urban, working class communities in the Midlands. It follows the story of Steven, a high-flying university student who appears to have a bright future ahead of him… Release dates and further information to be announced shortly.
Whilst – as with so many theatres across the country during 2020– The Belgrade wasn’t able to present live work on stage during much of the year, the whole team worked hard to keep engaging with local audiences and communities. The theatre rapidly adapted to making its offerings digital, including taking their annual pantomime online – Jack and the Beanstalk was watched by 55,600 people in the UK and in 25 countries across the world. The team behind the theatre’s renowned participation programme Click Spring also continued to offer workshops, Summer School and Acting Classes over Zoom. They also kept engaging with audiences on social media, including Facebook pub quizzes and online play-reading groups, and created podcasts, education packs and Spotify musical theatre playlists.
Councillor David Welsh, from Coventry City Council, said, ““There has been so much work happening throughout the Covid outbreak to improve facilities at the Belgrade Theatre and I am really pleased that they can now take the first tentative steps by announcing what future productions they will be able to host. I want to thank all those involved for the hard work they have put into getting the Belgrade Theatre ready, and I wish the theatre every success.”