The curtain has now fallen on one of the most unique and inspiring theatre spaces London has seen in recent years. We look back on the yearlong season at Found111, and the final production: Fool for Love.
In mid-2015, London based theatre producer Emily Dobbs recognised an opportunity when she discovered the derelict former home of Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. She took out a short-term lease and formed Found111, breathing one last gasp of air into a very special place. Well known creatives such as Stella McCartney, Jarvis Cocker, Alexander McQueen and Paloma Faith were schooled within the walls; the Sex Pistols played their first public performance there back in November 1975, when they supported the little-known pub rock band Bazooka Joe. It was a space which oozed with creativity.
Found111’s opening performance, The Dazzle, made a stampeding announcement: here was a venue and producer with serious intentions. Publications such as The Stage, The Guardian and The Evening Standard were wooed by the stylised Productions of the Dazzle, Bug, Unfaithful and the swansong piece: Fool for Love. Susannah Clap wrote in the Observer: “Every now and then a particular theatre becomes a breeding ground. It becomes indispensable. Which is the case with Emily Dobbs’ Found111. It is not only that this unlikely theatrical space, at the top of several punitive flights of stairs next to Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, has been terrifically well programmed with ferocious plays. It is also that it’s productions have been detailed and unsparing. The physical conditions—the low ceiling, the cramped room where the audience almost spill onto the stage—mean that the space itself becomes a magnifying glass for actors.”
Director Simon Evans, a key member of Dobbs’ team, returned to Found111 to direct Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, a tense play set in a run-down Mojave Desert motel. Ripper Street duo Adam Rothenburg and Lydia Wilson were electric in their portrayal of Eddie and May—the audience gripped the edge of their seats, never knowing which way their moods’ would next be flung. Joe McGann was excellent in his croaky turn as the ironically named Old Man character, with Luke Neal contributing brilliantly as third wheel Martin.
Set Designer Ben Stones and Lighting Designer Elliot Griggs created arguably the most impressive and visually impactful performance environment employed at Found111. With limited space, resources and time; the creative duo worked with Simon and Emily to offer Found111 regulars a fresh interpretation of the space.
Elliot explained his approach to lighting Fool for Love: “Ben had a clear aesthetic in mind for the production so I had a good idea of what the lighting needed to achieve. Ben had built a detailed scale model of the set, which I recreated in Vectorworks, enabling me to visualise the space in 3D and work out the practicalities of how to light it. Found111 was an interesting space, which needed to be approached more like an installation than a standard theatre environment. The majority of the action took place in the motel room, which we lit in a very naturalistic way, around the motel is what looks like an enormous mound of mud, which we used to represent a different world to the motel. It was key for both areas to co-exist and for the actors to be able to move freely between them, but for them to be lit very differently. It was important to keep the motel room natural looking, whilst the outside area was very stylised and lit with stark, fluorescent lighting.”
Elliot discussed the benefits of pre-visualising the space in Vectorworks: “Because the fit-up time was very tight, the awkward architecture of the space and the lighting being mounted on unistrut rather than truss or bars, there was no margin for error when we got into the venue. If the unistrut went up in the wrong place and we had to move it—that would take away time we didn’t have. Building the whole theatre space in a 3D visualiser such as Vectorworks was brilliant because it let me see my lighting design from every angle. Ben was particularly concerned about certain lights being hidden from view, so I viewed the performance area from several different seating positions to make sure everything was spot-on.”
With such a specific brief and definite idea of how the environment should look, Elliot explained his choice of lighting fixtures: “Ben and I were keen to use a digital light curtain (DLC) style effect, upstage of the motel room in what is essentially no-man’s land. I initially looked at the GLP X4 Bar 20 LED battens, but eventually opted for the excellent GLP X4S lights, which gave me an enormous amount of flexibility. The X4S has a massive zoom range and beautiful, rich colours. There’s one section in the play where they are used to represent headlights sweeping across the stage, so the pan and tilt functionality was an added bonus over my original idea of the bar. The rest of the lighting in the motel and at front of house is exclusively tungsten fresnels; the space is very tight, with less than three metres between the floor and ceiling, so using source fours wasn’t a viable option because they take up a lot more space. All the conventionals were lamped down to below 650W to economise on power consumption due to the limited amperage available in the theatre.”
Emily Dobbs, who was recently made The Stage’s top 100 list, explained why she chose to stage Fool for Love in Found111: “I have always loved Fool for Love. There is a raw, visceral potency to Sam Shepard’s writing which is tremendously exciting to realise creatively. I had always wanted to do Fool for Love in an intimate space to respond to the claustrophobic, obsessive nature of the central relationship. So when Found111 opened, Fool for Love was immediately on my hit list. Sam Shepard’s agent remarked on how Found111 responded intrinsically to the anarchic spirit in Mr. Shepard—Simon Evans and I felt exactly the same. Found's gritty, crumbling facade was the perfect vessel to create a world about an addictive, intoxicating and dangerous relationship. Fool for Love, like all the plays we have staged at Found111, examines, with a forensic and sometimes unnerving eye, the dysfunctionality and all-consuming dependence of relationships. And both the ecstasy and destruction they create. Fool for Love is the pinnacle of these themes and I therefore felt a fitting finalé to Found111's yearlong season.”
Fool for Love continued in the same vein as the previous productions at Found111, receiving deservedly flattering reviews and critical recognition. Daisy Bowie-Sell wrote in What’s on Stage: “Fool for Love is a suitably ambitious piece to end on in a space where ambition has always been the name of the game.” Everything Theatre’s Charlotte Rose added: “This production perfectly captures the dramatic tension of Shepard’s dialogue, with a first-class cast that deliver every line in this relatively compact play with the reverence it deserves…the set design is effective and lighting design enjoyably eerie.”
Following the final performance on December 17th, and the magnificent send-off party; the doors have now closed for the last time and the magical space is bestowed to the annals of history. Emily reflected on the experience of running Found111: “Looking back to Autumn last year when I made the decision to take on a found space for as long as it lasted, I barely stopped to think about the challenges. I was so excited by the opportunity that Soho Estates had given me; I could programme the venue and produce my own shows at the same time. Running a space that was teetering on the edge of dereliction was surely just a matter of working really hard and pulling in a few favours! Twelve months later I can say that this is definitely true, I've worked harder than I ever have in my life and built a hugely valuable network of supporters and advocates around me that have enabled Found111 to become the success story it is. Running a found space has taught me to be enormously resourceful, scouring eBay for set elements, scavenging through salvage yards at weekends, literally every element has had to be 'found' somewhere and it becomes an overriding obsession that as each production has been confirmed you want to make it as exciting and ambitious as the last.”
Emily continued: “One of the most exciting parts of running a found space has been the ability to reinvent the venue each time and surprise our loyal audiences. The Dazzle and Fool for Love used a thrust stage, Unfaithful a traverse and Bug was staged on a variation of a thrust; almost `in the round`. We have had to stage each production around a central weight bearing pillar that has posed its own unique challenge, as has the size of the backstage areas and even the logistics of how the cast reach the dressing rooms on the floor below. However, rather than see these as limitations we have used them as vital parts of the creative process that have forced us to think outside the norm. It was an emotional day when we said goodbye to Found111, but the physical elements weren't important, we stripped back and returned the space to its original empty shell, then started our journey to find the next space and all of the exciting challenges that come with it. This is why I'm so keen to retain the Found name with whatever door number we end up residing at next because Found isn't about the physical space, it's about an ethos and a state of mind.”
Although Found111 no longer exists, Emily and her production company are busy planning their next move: “Found111 was an absolutely blank canvas with no infrastructure whatsoever but a hugely creative history that profoundly influenced the work that was staged there. That combined with the central location was what attracted me to it as a venue. This means there are no rules for the next Found, though experience says a central West End location has been critical to Found111’s success. We hope to find a similarly successful relationship as the one we have had with Soho Estates and are currently talking to local stakeholders as well as private companies. Simultaneously I will be working on freelance projects with Emily Dobbs Productions. Watch this space!”
Account Manager John Pauls, who coordinated the supply of PRG XL Video equipment to each of the shows concluded: “Working with Emily Dobbs and her team was a fantastic experience, we all fed off of their creative energy and were excited by her projects at Found111. Working with the Lighting Designers for Bug, Unfaithful and Fool for Love, Richard Howell, James Whiteside and Elliot Griggs respectively, was enlightening because each one of them approached the challenges of limited space and power in their own way and used their creative expertise to realise wonderful designs. We’re all keen to see which path Emily Dobbs Productions takes next, and look forward to working with Emily and her team on future projects.”