Andrew Keates would be the first to profess that he owes much of his success as a director to the possibilities that come from working in studio theatres. Andrew co-ran London’s Landor Theatre for three years, but he produced and directed some of his most acclaimed productions in the smaller of Trafalgar Studio’s two spaces.
William M. Hoffman’s first AIDS play As Is, Dessa Rose, starring Cynthia Erivo and Michael Dennis’ world premiere of Dark Sublime, starring Marina Sirtis, all gained Andrew a reputation for producing work that addresses inequalities in society for minority groups.
Trafalgar Studios no longer exists, the two spaces were combined to return the venue to its former life as a single West End theatre. Like many people in the theatre industry, Andrew mourned it’s loss, “I think studio spaces are vital,” says Andrew, “because you can take greater risks with the subject matters that you cover, those that wouldn’t necessarily be mainstream enough to fill a major West End house.”
Late last year, it was announced that a new venue would open in London; The Seven Dials Playhouse, taking over the site of The Actors Centre. The 100 seat theatre plans to present a year-round programme of quality theatre consisting of contemporary text-based plays and musicals. Most importantly, it means London once again has a studio receiving house in the West End.
The opening production of Seven Dials Playhouse will be Mark Gerard’s Steve, and Andrew Keates is delighted to be directing, “I feel immensely honored,” explains Andrew, “I think wherever we are in our careers, legacy is very important. I want whenever my time comes, and someone puts me in a box in the earth, I want to know that I’ve made a difference in the industry that I love more than anything else in the world.”
“Having a brand-new theatre that was built on the shoulders of a great organisation that was the Actors Centre, and to think of all the directors out there in the world, the one that they wanted is me? How can you feel anything else but honored?”
Steve will star Holby City’s David Ames and Tony Award nominee and Olivier Award-winner Jenna Russell, “When I saw Sunday in the Park with George at the Wyndham’s Theatre, with Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, it was a really important production for me,” says Andrew, “because it was before I had the Landor and before I did all the musicals. That production and those central performances by Daniel and Jenna informed so much of the work that I wanted to do. The integrity that could be brought to musical theatre, and the beauty of Stephen Sondheim.”
“I really pinch myself now; I mean, admittedly, Jenna and I later got to know each other, but ultimately, it’s lovely to think that 17-year-old that watched Sunday in the Park with George is no longer a 17-year-old, but to have that very important, iconic leading lady in one of my plays is just an honor.”
Andrew is particularly delighted that it is with Steve he will open the new venue, “we had looked at a few different plays, but this was the one that stood out, I’m starting to address that I am a gay man approaching his late 30s. While I’ll always be a child at heart, it’s a big thing, I’ve noticed, for a single gay man getting older.”
“I’m starting to question my relationships because I’m somebody who believes in monogamy in my relationships. Yet, so many of my friends are in open relationships. What this play does is it addresses what happens when you’re getting to a certain point in life when people perhaps don’t notice you, or want to sleep with you anymore.”
Andrew is certain that Steve will have a wide appeal, “First of all, it is a group of gay characters who are in later life, so I think some of the universal themes that come with being LGBTQ+ will be recognisable for that group of people.”
“Secondly, for men and women in their 30s upwards, we can all relate to not feeling necessarily relevant anymore, and the problems that come with relationships in later life.”
“But lastly, because all of the characters are failed musical theatre performers in one way or another, I think anybody that loves musical theatre will relate to this 100% because there are so many brilliant references to Broadway and the West End throughout the years.”
Andrew says that many of those references relate to the great Stephen Sondheim, “obviously, this play was a long time in the making, and then just a few weeks after we had announced the show, Stephen Sondheim passed away.”
“So, this production, I think, will have an added layer to it by the absence of Stephen Sondheim and how much he and his work is referred to. That just makes this whole idea of getting older, and things leaving us just that little bit more bittersweet, actually.”
Andrew has now announced the remainder of the cast, and he is palpably excited by the company he has brought together, “We’ve got Joe Aaron Reid, who many of your readers will remember from Dreamgirls and In The Heights, he’s a Broadway leading man, stupendously talented, extremely well-established within the musical theatre world, and we’ve flown him over especially.”
“We’ve also got Michael Walters who was in The Inheritance; at his recall I asked which part he wanted to play, because he was so good he could have played any of them. We’ve also got Giles Cooper; this will be the third time Giles and I have worked together, and he is probably one of the funniest actors I’ve ever worked with.”
The final role was the most difficult to cast, as Andrew explains, “The character of Esteban is Argentinian, and I auditioned lots of European actors for it, but the authenticity just wasn’t right, so we cast the net very wide, literally globally. Then eventually, this self-tape came in of Nico Conde. He’s a very talented young actor, and he has a wonderful personality.”
With an impressive cast and a brand-new venue to work in, Andrew is keen to point out that Steve is not set in the present day, “it’s actually set during the Obama era, so I’m delighted to say that the play does not include any references to Donald J. Trump, to Coronavirus, or any of the other fearsome things that we’ve had to endure. We are going back in time to a place where we can just laugh and forget some of the monstrous things that are happening in society nowadays. I think we could all do with a break from being frightened all the time.”
Andrew says he would beg and implore audiences to get vaccinated and start booking theatre tickets to help the industry in these toughest of times, and when audiences do return, Seven Dials Playhouse is waiting to welcome them, “the building is changing every single day, when people arrive at the Seven Dials Playhouse, it really will be unrecognisable from the Actor’s Centre that people knew before, and I think that’s really wonderful.”
Finally, Andrew reminds us that Steve is an “LGBTQ+ play that is a stone’s throw away from Soho. This is proper event theatre. We will close the door on the outside world, and I promise, and it’s an absolute promise, you will laugh, you will cry, you will be inspired. The idea of not sharing such an enticing important, vital, zany production with audiences would be a travesty.”
Steve, directed by Andrew Keates is at The Seven Dials Playhouse Tuesday 8th February – Saturday 19th March 2022.