Less is More – run by Middlesbrough actors, directors and producers Laura Lonsdale and David Tuffnell – is hosting two special shows this summer at Middlesbrough Town Hall – starting next week with the ‘Bard of the Boro’ presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
In the depths of the Covid lockdowns, many working in the arts were faced with a stark choice.
Unable to work, they could try and wait until the day that theatres and venues opened again – a day that, before the scientific miracle of vaccines, might never have come.
Or they could leave a career they had worked incredibly hard to achieve, and abandon a dream.
“There was no jobs for anyone in the performing arts industry,” remembers Laura Lonsdale.
“So we thought – how can we create longevity? How do we support people and make sure there’s work for them here?”
Laura runs production company Less is More with David Tuffnell, who she first met studying drama on Teesside as a teenager.
They’ve been producing shows for more than a decade, but after the shock of the pandemic, they were determined to strengthen the theatre offer in Middlesbrough, promote it to a new audience, and protect those working in the industry or studying to break in.
Fast forward 18 months, and rehearsals are well underway for two shows which will be held at the Town Hall this summer.
Bringing Shakespeare to life – with a Middlesbrough accent – is the ‘Bard of the Boro’ which will see A Midsummer Night’s Dream staged in the Town Hall’s quadrangle courtyard.
“We wanted to use Middlesbrough Town Hall as a location – it’s somewhere that people maybe didn’t associate with theatre,” said Laura.
“We’re using the quadrangle – it’s such an incredible but underused space. We’ve set it in the 1940s in Middlesbrough, and while the town was a very industrial place there was a mystical side to it too and I think the setting will really reflect that.
“And the wartime era still, culturally, holds a lot of weight today – it was one of the last things before Covid that brought the whole nation together.”
The production will see professional and student actors team up, with help from a community amateur dramatic Shakespeare group, a youth theatre group, and a local community band.
David continued: “The more we chat about it and take it to actors, the more it feels real.
“The quadrangle is almost not of this time. There’s the stonework, the Gothic architecture of the Town Hall, it just completely fits the show.”
The pair are also staging Spring Awakening in the Town Hall’s courtroom, a coming-of-age rock musical produced in collaboration with the New Wave youth theatre group.
“That’s another fantastic space. It’s so intimate and I really think that it will suit the show,” continued David.
“It’s perfect because it symbolises that restrictive, religious background which the show is about.”
David grew up in Linthorpe and now lives in Tollesby, while Laura is from Acklam and currently resides just down the road in Coulby Newham.
After first meeting at Stockton and Billingham Technical College, Laura went on to study at London’s Academy of Live & Recorded Arts (ALRA) while David went to The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA).
They both began their careers as actors and moved away from the area, but have also transitioned into producing, directing and writing – teaming up as Less is More when they returned to their home town.
For Middlesbrough, about Middlesbrough and by Middlesbrough.
“When we came back home and chatted, we just said ‘there’s not a lot going on’ so we started doing things ourselves,” continued David.
Laura laughs: “I moved into directing as well. Because the industry has changed so much – you have to be able to do everything!”
They put on their first show, Beautiful Thing, during Middlesbrough’s ‘Supergay’ Pride event in 2009.
Further shows followed, in which the pair represented Teesside’s rich culture through the real life stories of the people who live here, rather than its industrial landmarks.
“We entered a contest and people were writing plays about the Transporter which is obviously great, but there’s so much humour on Teesside and that’s what we found interesting,” he continued.
One such story, Miss Crispy, was about a woman who won a beauty contest at a local crisp factory in the 1980s – while the more recent In The Footsteps of Giants was centred around the lives of three women who worked in a knickers factory on Cargo Fleet Lane in Middlesbrough.
The upcoming shows this summer are a way for the pair to help a new generation of actors, writers, director and storytellers to continue representing the region.
“It’s undoubtedly more difficult for young people in the arts in the area now,” said David.
“If you remember, the Government told people in the arts to go and retrain and find another job during the pandemic.
“We’re working with some big names in the industry – our director for Spring Awakening is Maria Crocker, who is quite a big catch, she’s from Middlesbrough but has really carved out an incredible reputation which is just growing.
“We want to raise people’s aspirations. In the industry Maria, for example, is such a star that our young people in years to come will be able to put on their CV ‘I worked with her’.”
David continued: “We’re also trying to help facilitate contacts, networking, and showing how a career in the arts is possible.
“We have some brilliant young people and brilliant training facilities on Teesside but there’s still probably a sense that you don’t want to go into the arts.
“But hopefully we can open a few people’s eyes.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at Middlesbrough Town Hall from Monday, August 1 to Wednesday, August 3.
Tickets are £12 for adults and £10 for students and children plus a 50p booking fee.
A Spring Awakening is playing on Saturday September 24 and Sunday 25.
Tickets are £15.50 – £12.50 for under 25s including a 50p booking fee.
Book tickets for both at www.middlesbroughtownhall.co.uk or call the box office on 01642 729 729.