Co-founder Tony Earnshaw muses on the inspiring warmth, enthusiasm and ideas for new community theatre from Damn Cheek’s recent audience in Dorking.

The other night, Darren Cheek, Debbie Christie and I took a trip to Narnia. 

Sounds unlikely, but the Old House pub in Dorking has a room which you enter by going through a wardrobe. It’s a room with a very warm and special atmosphere, enhanced by the lovely audiences we had for the 2 performances of our first Audience with Damn Cheek.

The show was a trip through the development of Damn Cheek, from the first time Darren, Debbie and I met, through to the present day. Shared memories and stories from the road were interspersed with excerpts from the shows. 

Debbie kicked us off with the final Prime Minister’s speech from The Speech to plenty of recognition laughter – interesting to find so many current references in something written in 2013. 

Then we looked back on the last few years of touring, Mystery Plays, R&D, Zoom theatre, dinner theatre, and community theatre. We talked about the people we’ve had the privilege to work with, not least the Damn Cheek team, past and present. 

We shared, performed, sang and laughed. Crucially, we shared our vision, our drivers, and our hopes for the future. We talked legacy, accessibility, creativity and inclusivity. We shared our ideas and approach to partnering, to co–producing, to working with friends. We had a ball. 

And the audiences? They seemed to have a ball as well. They were engaged from the start, and fired up at the end. They loved the passion and the underlying vision. They were taken with the broad scope of our activities. 

But more than this – and especially given that they came from Dorking and environs – our audiences were enthused by our plans for a 2023 Dorking version of one of our recent productions in the North East of England.

In the Q and A session people were bubbling over with ideas and enthusiasm. The audience included the chair of the local arts festival, people involved in writing groups, community activists and potential collaborators. A very special group and a very special evening. 

Next morning Darren and I met with one audience member, someone who has already been helping find a venue for next year. She told us that 4 of the audience had spent an hour buzzing with ideas and plans over a drink after the show, and we will be working together in developing some of those ideas. 

So we have the beginnings of a core group for Dorking 2023. We also have a template for a show which we can create with communities elsewhere. 

The ‘Audience with’ concept was an experiment and it worked. The ripples and the legacy continue…