The announcement that Alphabetti theatre was moving from their iconic basement after two years, filtered into our inboxes last week; and already, as I plodded through the pissing rain to Newbridge Street, I was met with the a horde of building work: orange plastic barriers and men in high vis vests.
I was greeted, as I usually am, with the Theatre’s usual warmth and comfort, characteristic of its underground labyrinth of vivid creativity. They’re dealing with it well though, metaphorically speaking, as when we went to see How to Be a Man on the following Saturday we were kindly offered blankets, which was very sweet.
So here I was, rudely stumbling into the bar, drenched, loudly asking where Ali was (turns out he was the guy on the phone). From years of working in retail, I have mastered small talk; I asked how his day was (“Terrible”) and how everything was going (“Busy”). I quickly decided that was more than enough, so settled into the interview proper: me leaning against the bar, with my scrappy notebook at the ready (I find if you have a recording devices, people get too self conscious to be natural); and Ali Pritchard behind the bar, delicately peeling a tangerine.
Ali Pritchard is the founder and artistic director of Alphabetti Theatre. I read on the website that he founded it at just 23, making Ali one of the UK’s youngest artistic directors. As I’m 22, I asked him, or more sort of told him that this is an incredible feat, which lead onto probably the only direct question I asked Ali: Why Alphabetti? It happened by accident, he said.
It was an organic process and continues to be. They started in the upstairs space of The Dog and Parrot after a combination of charm and persuasion, before moving to a basement of an old office building in December 2014. The temporality of this company struck me; they are ever evolving, ever changing: their philosophy and ethos is to create “A space to experiment, evolve and discover excellence”. Ali pressed that this is as much for the audience as it is for the writers, artists, and performers — it is a community endeavour.
We moved on to discuss Alphabetti’s ‘alternative Christmas show,’ How Did We Get To This Point? A development piece about individual change, nuanced to expose wider change and implications. I jokingly said it was the Daniel Blake of theatre, but apparently people have already picked up on that and they have received support from Tyneside Cinema. Supported by Crisis at Christmas, with 5% of the ticket prices going to the charity. Ali has been working closely with Crisis members through creative writing workshops, and he has created a response piece entitled Wrong Place, Wrong Time, which will be performed directly after each of the shows. Ali quietly revealed he was nervous; it is essentially, autobiographical — everything in this show is true.
Alphabetti is a necessity. It champions the fringe culture of Newcastle and is picking up on talent like Matt Miller’s brilliant ‘Sticking’ before others in the region. Ali stated how: “We try and say ‘yes’” — or give writers, artists, companies, or performers, the support, direction, or contacts that can improve their work.
Running a fringe theatre company in the North East demands dedication, time, hard work, flexibility, and charisma. Where are they moving to next? Top Secret, but we’re excited. Congratulations, Alphabetti.
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