Adrian Berry took over programming at Jacksons Lane in 2006, about the same time I started working as a listings editor for Total Theatre Magazine and reading all their season brochures and press releases. It’s been a turbulent few years for the Highgate venue—they were closed for a long time, renovating after the building, a converted church, suffered extensive storm damage, then shortly after they reopened the Arts Council announced their intention to cut the venue’s funding as part of the massive Christmas disinvestment of 2007, then Haringey Council weighed in to pledge support, and finally ACE reversed their decision at the beginning of this year. As I read the press releases and followed the venue’s fortunes, I was at the same time increasingly aware of just how interesting their programme was—circus and puppetry and physical and experimental work gradually outweighing everything else. Talking to Adrian, it’s clear I wasn’t just slow to catch on: it was a process of refinement. ‘When I took over the programme in 2006,’ he says, ‘I threw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what stuck: Russell Brand and Simon Amstell to contemporary dance, but it was always my intention to focus—well, it wasn’t me saying OK I’m going to make this a circus venue—but naturally I started to put more and more circus work in.’
In the current programme (alongside a rich import of puppetry as part of the Suspense festival) there’s solo clowning from Frank Wurzinger in Hopefool; a Christmas Cinderella production that casts magicians and acrobats in its leading roles; So & So Circus’ 30s dancehall romance The Hot Dots; and a work-in-progress showing of Wake, a new circus theatre piece by German Wheel duo Acrojou Circus Theatre. With Shunt stuttering on the point of disappearing, soon Jacksons Lane is going to be the only London venue to regularly put on experimental and small-scale circus work. That isn’t to say that it’s in splendid isolation though: Adrian sees the venue as a crucible for new work that can then be sent elsewhere. ‘Circus is working its way into the mainstream now—it’s not so cult…. And I think what’s happening now, and where Jacksons Lane are kind of leading the way, is we do bring in lots of cabaret and variety, things like Circus Menagerie, but then also things like Sugar Beast Circus, Mimbre, Company FZ—circus theatre.’
Jacksons Lane is becoming a creation space where companies can rehearse and develop their shows as well as stage them. So & So Circus are the first of the Jacksons Lane Associate Artists, and a model for how they would like to support work in the future: the company’s full-length show, The Hot Dots, was originally put together at the venue, then toured around the country as it further developed and improved, and is back at Jacksons Lane in its final incarnation in November. So & So are based at the venue for the next year, and will be leading workshops and classes as well as appearing in the in-house Cinderella. The philosophy seems to be to bring a lot of different artists in and trust that interesting connections and relationships will develop. City Circ’s photographer Hannah Edy, proprietor of the Little Big Top exhibition that has until recently been gracing the lobby at Jacksons Lane, is going to be artist in residence, and the venue has an ongoing relationship with the Roundhouse—Sugar Beast Circus were based there but came to Jacksons Lane to put on their double bill, Milkwood Rodeo and The Sugar Beast Circus Show.
Jacksons Lane has come a long way since Adrian took over (‘it was like a community centre then—handwritten posters Sellotaped to the walls’) and it’s still in the process of rebranding itself. On the way is a new website to replace the outdated current instance and a greater emphasis on online promotion (the venue has traditionally spent 2/3 of its marketing budget on print, but has seen a surge in bookings online in the last few years). Another planned improvement is to load-test the beams in the loft studio—a long, bright, complexly-vaulted space, very beautiful—so that there can be a circus education programme running alongside the main-space performances. Meanwhile the theatre programme will continue to be distilled. Adrian: ‘It’s about a body of work. Everything we do here there’s a strategic reason for putting it in the programme—it’s about getting the artist in, giving them space, giving them time: so they feel an ownership of Jacksons Lane and Jacksons Lane feels an ownership with them. With two or three exceptions everything in this programme’s a collaboration—it’s all work being created here.’