Interview: Nancy Hirst on The Ballad of St John’s Car Park
We caught up with Nancy Hirst, artistic director of Icon Theatre, to talk about The Ballad of St John’s Car Park, set to premiere at Chatham’s St George Hotel this October.
Tell us about The Ballad of St John’s Car Park. What should we expect?
The Ballad of St John’s Car Park is a large-scale immersive theatre production, staged in The St George’s Hotel in Chatham.
The production tells a unifying story about moments in Medway’s history that have been transformed by activism, from the protested closure of Chatham Dockyard in 1984 to the Black Lives Matter movement’s 2020 campaign to rename a local car park that commemorated slave trader, Sir John Hawkins.
Set at a Karaoke night, the production includes story, songs, dance and spectacular projection. In Icon’s signature style, the show is performed by industry leading performers alongside local rising stars and a large community ensemble. Expect 75 people on stage.
What makes activism important to you to explore?
Right now, we are at a moment in our national history where our right to protest has been significantly restricted by recent legislation. The Ballad of St John’s Car Park seeks to demonstrate the positive side of protest and how activism can contribute to making important change.
Who or what inspires you to make your work?
If you are working in subsidised theatre, you have a responsibility to deliver work that takes risks and challenges audiences to think differently. I am inspired by directors and companies that do so such as Talawa, Kane Husbands and The PappyShow, Bryony Kimmings and Kirsty Housley. I am also inspired by companies that prioritise staging work that is created by bringing professional theatre artists into collaboration with communities such as WildWorks (I was lucky enough to catch their I Am Kevin this summer), Derby Theatre and National Theatre of Wales.
What would be your advice to those wanting to make work in areas like Medway?
Icon’s artistic policy is to create theatre by, for and with our community, so we always start there. When we make a new production I never fully know what the outcome will be. We start off with a small creative idea and develop it with community groups and a team of professional creatives. For this production, I was inspired by the strength and persistence of the Black Lives Matter movement’s campaign to change the name of a local car park that commemorated slave trader Sir John Hawkins.
Medway is full of talented creative people of all ages – ask them what they want to create and how.
What are your favourite haunts in Medway and London? (To eat, to see shows, to explore)
I am fascinated by Medway’s rich history. All of Icon’s theatre productions in one way or another are connected to it. Our 2022 production If Not Now was staged at Rochester Castle, The Chatham Witch at Fort Amherst and The Silk of 1000 Spiders at Fort Luton. They are all open to visit, if like me you enjoy history.
My favourite thing to do to relax in London is to take a walk along Regents Canal.