Interview with Suzann McLean, Peckham Fringe

Returning for a second triumphant year in southeast London, the Peckham Fringe runs from 5 May – 4 Jun 2023 at the Theatre Peckham.

There really is something for everyone including That’s Your Friend (a Black girl survival guide for university), The Oracle (Doomsday comedy), Peeking in the Dark (thriller in the online world), Pigs Might Fly (a new farmyard musical) and Ned (play about disenfranchised human beings, nostalgia and violence).

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I asked the artistic director at Peckham, Suzann McLean, to tell us about the Fringe, the venue, and the theatre scene in this part of the capital.

Last year’s Peckham Fringe included No I.D. which has gone on to play at Vault Festival and at the Royal Court this year.

Promotional image for Peckham Fringe

Peckham Fringe is now selling tickets for shows through May and early June. What’s the best part about putting this festival together?

The best part about putting Peckham Fringe together is the opportunity to curate a festival that is truly representative of the local community.

I believe that theatre is for the people and as such the people should have a say in what is programmed on our stage. The festival this year has been curated by a group who have been with us for over a year learning about Theatre Peckham’s mission and vision, watching shows together and acting as an advisory board.

The TP Ambassadors have been the driving force in selecting shows that resonate with the local community, appeal to first-time theatregoers, and excite regular theatre audiences keen to experience vibrant theatre.

London has such a lively scene for emerging creatives in theatre and comedy. Why do you think it is important to have so many opportunities of this type, and how did Peckham Fringe come into being last year?

Theatre is place for telling stories, engaging with people and exploring and reflecting the human experience. It’s an evolving space that shifts as society shifts.

London is known for growing artists who create work that reflects the world we live in today and theatre offers a way for people to experience and engage with stories in such a unique way that can’t always be achieved by having conversations, debates or reading the news.

Peckham Fringe was set up as a platform for these wonderful, empathetic shared experiences. Its success has been proven by the number of shows from last year’s fringe, which have gone on to have a future life.

Do you think the theatre landscape has vastly changed following 2020’s closures and resets?

Initially, I believed that the theatre landscape had undergone some positive changes in the wake of 2020’s closures and resets. However, I have since noticed a strong pull for the industry to return to its previous state.

It’s frustrating and disheartening to see opposing forces at play – those who are pushing for equity in the sector and those who wish to maintain the status quo.

Despite witnessing conversations where people expressed genuine commitment to supporting diversity in leadership, young people, and the voices of marginalised communities, the struggle for survival in the sector has caused many to shift their priorities back to what was before.

Systemic change has been forgotten by some, and this has hindered the industry’s ability to address the imbalance and move towards a more equitable future.

Tell me about Theatre Peckham and its place in the London theatre scene.

Young people are at the heart of everything that we do at Theatre Peckham. We strive to empower artists from underrepresented backgrounds to boldly and unapologetically share their stories.

The shows we present go beyond convention and challenge the limits of form and genre, while also shining a light on topics that inspire and motivate diverse audiences.

We are a multi-award-winning theatre, being recognised for our commitment to education, training and skills, the impact we have on widen access and participation in theatre and by a number of Off West End Awards for our productions, a testament to our dedication to excellence in the arts.

Which shows are you/have you been most proud of at Peckham Fringe or more generally?

Peckham Fringe boasts an impressive line-up of 18 shows, and I am super excited to have all of them platformed in our venue.

With such a wide range of productions, there truly is something for everyone – from captivating stories that explore heritage, to a delightful farmyard musical designed for children under five, to a thought-provoking roller-skating event that promotes mental wellbeing.

I am particularly proud to highlight the opening production, I Love Acting, But F*** This Industry, which is written by two of my former students who have joined forces to share their experiences of the acting industry. To see their journey from young aspiring artists to powerful, honest, and comic geniuses is truly inspiring.

Additionally, NYAMAKALA by Marie-Ange Camara is another production that fills me with pride. I first met Marie-Ange in 2019 when she interviewed me for her Goldsmiths’ University dissertation, and now, four years later, she returns to our venue with a play that celebrates her African heritage through captivating storytelling and traditional live music.

What should audiences expect who engage with your spaces and shows?

Audiences should get ready to be fully immersed in the world of each artist as they present their work at Peckham Fringe.

Each production offers a raw and authentic glimpse into the lives of real people, the same people we encounter every day at the bus stop or on the street. What may have been a fleeting moment or a brief glimpse behind their eyes has now been transformed into a compelling and thought-provoking play.

This is what makes Peckham Fringe truly exciting – the opportunity to experience the power of storytelling and connect with the human experience in a profound way.

So, the audience should come and join us in celebrating the unique and inspiring voices of our community.

What do you think?

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