Producer Profile: Ashley Cook
Ashley founded Troupe in 2013 which aims to present the boldest new writing and the bravest rediscoveries. He won the Stage One Bursary Award in 2015 and an inaugural MGCfutures Bursary Award in 2016. Troupe’s latest production is the world premiere of The Sweet Science of Bruising by Joy Wilkinson, which transfers to Wilton’s Music Hall in June 2019 after a sold-out run at Southwark Playhouse. Other recent work includes the UK premiere of Rasheeda Speaking (Trafalgar Studios), Dear Brutus (Southwark Playhouse) and The Cardinal (Southwark Playhouse).
How did The Sweet Science of Bruising fall on your desk?
I put out a big call to literary agents in 2014, looking for new plays to produce and Joy's agent sent me her play. Victorian female boxers fighting for their freedom - Joy's idea and her beautiful story gripped me from the first page. I just knew audiences would want to see it. It took four years, a bit of reworking of the script, and for me to get to the right place financially to produce it. Finally it opened at Southwark Playhouse in 2018, which ended up being the perfect time for it, coming as it did in a year that saw so much brilliant female-led theatre.
Is there a noticeable difference/challenge at Wilton’s Music Hall over Southwark Playhouse?
Wilton's is three times the capacity of the 'Little' at Southwark Playhouse so our budgets and our sales targets are bigger. We're also staging the play in proscenium arch at Wilton's, rather than thrust as we were at Southwark. We've been through a few cast and creative team changes and a major change is the acoustic at Wilton's. It's just so unique and very different to any other theatre in London. But the script hasn't changed too much. We're just making everything a bit bigger and bolder! We're really excited about bringing the show to Wilton's and especially seeing our live boxing matches in what is one of the oldest surviving grand music halls in the world. The venue has so much magic and atmosphere, which will bring a whole new authenticity to our epic lady boxing show - Wilton's was built only ten years before our play begins and we're pretty sure Wilton's would have seen boxing in its long history so it couldn't be more fitting a venue for the piece.
How has connecting with Stage One, gaining a mentor and receiving a bursary award, helped with your development as a Producer?
Stage One just gives you a wonderful calling card in the industry. Telling people that you won a bursary award helps people take you more seriously from the start of any conversation. Stage One has introduced me to a wonderful network of like-minded people and has offered me essential advice, financial support and mentorship that has allowed me to progress and learn about the business.
“I have always been fascinated by the contradictions in femininity and violence and power and women’s bodies” - Joy Wilkinson in The Guardian last month. What's it like working with a writer on the debut of a play as opposed to a revival?
It's so refreshing to work with a living playwright as they are always around to answer your questions about the play! With the debut of a play the producer and director are much more involved with the final script because it's the first time anyone (including the playwright) has seen it actually realised on a stage. There are often a few teething problems that spring from rehearsal that you never imagined could be there because it hasn't been put on its feet before. I've loved this process because it's so creative, and, although new writing is more of a risk financially than a revival, it is so rewarding to be a part of those creative discussions and to know that you have been an important part of a bringing a new play to life. The Sweet Science of Bruising is already being licensed for amateur productions and school productions around the world, and as a producer it's very satisfying to know that you were responsible for staging the world premiere, wherever the play happens to go next. I love bringing life to old plays too, but most of the problems have been ironed out by the time you stage a revival and there is less direct involvement with the playwright, which I've loved on this show.
What do you look for in a show to produce?
I ask myself five questions. Would I want to see it? Would other people want to see it? Can I find the right venue for it? Can I budget it correctly and get it financed? Can I market it? I need to be able to give a firm 'yes' to all of those questions before I go any further.
One show you’ve seen and loved that will always stay with you?
My favourite of recent times is The Inheritance. Such clever, epic storytelling, both classic and contemporary all at the same time (can you tell that's my favourite combo?), breathtaking performances and superbly staged.
It may be 2 weeks before the show opens… but any plans for the bank holiday weekend?
I wish I could say I'm nipping to the South of France for the weekend, but I will be prepping for the final week of rehearsal and production week at Wilton's so I'll be chained to my laptop so that my lady boxers can step into the ring with total confidence!
'When that bell rings, your life is entirely in your hands.'
1869. Deep in the heart of Victorian London is a theatre where only the strongest survive. Controlled by men and constrained by corsets, four very different women are drawn into the dark underground world of female boxing; each finds an unexpected freedom in the ring. As their lives begin to intertwine their journey takes us from grand drawing rooms to rowdy backstreet pubs where the women fight inequality as well as each other. But with the final showdown approaching, only one can become the Lady Boxing Champion of the World...
Fresh from a sold-out run at Southwark Playhouse, Joy Wilkinson (current writer for Doctor Who) brings to life this little-known but important part of the City’s history. Featuring an ensemble cast and thrilling live boxing matches, The Sweet Science of Bruising is staged in the electrifying atmosphere of the world’s oldest grand music hall located in London’s East End, Wilton’s Music Hall.
Wednesday 5 June – Saturday 29 June 2019
Press night: Friday 7 June, 7.30pm
Monday to Saturdays at 7.30pm
Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm (no matinee Thurs 6 June)
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
★★★★ ‘The Sweet Science of Bruising is Joy Wilkinson’s ode to women everywhere.’ LondonTheatre1
★★★★ ‘Joy Wilkinson’s fascinating, full-blooded play… a knockout.’ The Times