Oxford Playhouse's joint-director LOUISE CHANTAL shares her delight at reopening her theatre...

Many of us, over the last very long year, have rediscovered simple pleasures and vowed to never again take them for granted again.

Along with pub lunches, window shopping and taking the train, I now count seeing an audience gather in the foyer or the crew sharing a joke by stage door as moments to treasure. After 15 nail-biting and exhausting months of closure, the Oxford Playhouse is open again.

Our first show of 2021 was the Donmar Warehouse’s brilliant production of Simon Stephen’s Blindness, a mesmerising mix of binaural sound and stunning lighting. It was experienced rather than watched, with an audience of less than 40 people at every performance, each one of whom sat onstage in a pool of their own light, listening to the intimate and unmistakable voice of Juliet Stevenson.

Small in size, the opening night's audience nonetheless gave the biggest cheer when our stalwart House Manager declared the theatre open again.

This exquisite show was exactly the kind of theatre that can only be seen at the Playhouse: too innovative and experimental to go into the bigger commercial theatres, too expensive and technically demanding to fit into Oxford’s smaller spaces.

We have opened with a clear statement about who we are: a theatre to entertain, of course, but also one that makes audiences think, feel and reflect, championing new ways of telling stories and making memories.

I can guarantee anyone who shared the experience of Blindness will never forget it.

This production marked the end of a period we will never forget too. We’ve seen the very best of people and the darkest of days.

There were times when I thought we wouldn’t survive having lost 80 per cent of our income overnight last March, and other days when I marvelled at the sheer adaptability of artists who reinvented their work to go online.

We fought hard to keep our skilled and experienced team together (unlike many theatres three-times our size), and never stopped employing and supporting artists and commissioning new work.

We’ve done plays down the phone (the delightful ‘Is this a good time?’ from Out of Chaos), combined a real time performance with emails and text messages to each audience member sitting in their own homes (The Brothers are but Believers by Javaad Alipoor), and engaged 4,500 people of all ages in hundreds of participation projects and workshops.

Another 5,000 people watched our digital productions, including the starry and very chic A Picture of Dorian Gray with Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley.

The Playhouse, like so many in the cultural sector and beyond, has used this time to reflect on what the future should look like, and made the changes to make it possible.

Uncertain of when we will return to full capacity, we have streamlined our overheads.

Read more: Unsettling pandemic thriller reopens Playhouse: Review

We have used grants from the Cultural Recovery Fund to invest in the latest digital and IT systems, overhauling our operations to save money and improve efficiency so we can employ more artists to make more theatre and reinvigorate touring theatre nationwide, not just here in Oxford.

Innovation and experimentation may be all very good, but the essence of theatre will always be good writing and good acting, irrespective of whether it’s live, digital, or a combination of both.

So this opening season has gone from the technical wizardry of Blindness to this week's quirky and iconoclastic War of the Worlds, from the irritatingly young company Rhum and Clay, to – next week - one of the country’s most celebrated actors standing alone on a stage, performing one of the 20th century’s greatest epic poems.

There may still be a few (socially distanced) tickets to see Ralph Fiennes in his own production of The Four Quarters from Monday but they are going fast.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to the Oxford Playhouse!

We’re delighted to be together again.

  • Oxford Playhouse is in Beaumont Street. To find out forthcoming shows and book tickets, and to find out how to support the Playhouse, go oxfordplayhouse.com