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Summer in London, Rikki Beadle-Blair Interview: “Now feels like a perfect storm; there’s never been a more inspiring and exciting time to be an artist.”

Rikki Beadle-Blair

Rikki Beadle-Blair

It’s mid-morning on a hot summer’s day in Stratford. I am sitting in on rehearsals for Rikki Beadle-Blair’s new play ‘Summer in London’ at Theatre Royal Stratford East. The cast are in the middle of a Skype call with a leading trans awareness charity and the conversation is geared around identifying micro aggression and confirming pronouns. To the uninformed, it may not be easily understood that there are still multiple difficulties for trans people, binary and non-binary who are seeking access to a society on the same terms as everyone else.

Beadle-Blair is a writer, director, composer, choreographer, designer, producer and performer. He has won several awards including the Sony Award, the Los Angeles Outfest Screenwriting and was ranked forth on the Rainbow list of the UK’s hundred most influential LGBT+ people. What star sign is he? “I’m a Leo. I would say I am a template Leo,” he smiles. “Leos like bright colours and are summery creatures. They have lots of friends. They like being at home and are very bold. I think Leo’s struggle to keep their egos in check – but if someone else is a good leader – then they are the first to admit it.”

We are talking at lunch between rehearsals ahead of the Queen’s Speech, a week on from the Grenfell Tower fire and on the same day that Donald Trump has blamed his predecessor Barack Obama over the death of Otto Warmbier, 22, the US student who died after being imprisoned for 17 months in North Korea. Beadle Blair smiles patiently when considering the long and slow decline of the Western World and says: “None of it surprises me but all of it is quite shocking. A lot of the things that I think of as really very terrible are really good. These are crazy and politically turbulent times, where you just don’t know what’s going to happen next, people are clinging to their jobs and are promoted beyond their capabilities. Now feels like a perfect storm; there’s never been a more inspiring and exciting time to be an artist,” says Beadle-Blair.

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Rikki has written 28 plays in the last decade that have been performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Bush TheatreSoho Theatre, Tristan Bates Theatre and Contact Theatre in Manchester. What, I wonder, does success look like to him? “I know when a show is successful when I watch it and think: ‘who wrote that?’ Then I realise it was me,” he nods. “I feel something is successful when I’ve stepped out of my own limitations and done something I haven’t done before something that challenges me. If I can test my humanity, prejudice, ego and philosophy then I have succeeded.”

The aim – and Rikki seems to have adopted this as his mission – is to make theatre and art for everyone. “What Summer in London is and what my work is – the revolution for which it is calling for is not a revolution in where anyone is deposed but where everyone is valued,” he adds, quickly. “So that we are all elevated. All of us can be elevated by one another, that’s my job, my life’s work and that’s what I’m offering the audience… Along with the standard expectation of high entertainment.”

‘Summer in London is billed as a cross between “a modern Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Inbetweenerswith an all-transgender cast.” So, what else can audiences expect from this play? “An astonishing cast who are full of vibrancy and humanity,” he says. “I tend to do very funny plays around very heavy subjects. I wanted to make something set in London that was uplifting, vivid and inspiring. I think I live in the most romantic and inspiring cities in the world. I want to capture what it’s like to be part of that culture and the home of so many talented people who come here to get the urban grit. Theatre Royal Stratford East is the perfect delivery room for this play; this is Stratford international!”” he beams.

“This theatre is one of the most revolutionary theatres in the world.”

Summer in London is at Theatre Royal Stratford East on 13 July, with previews from 8 July, and runs until 29 July.

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