Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Stephen Sharkey: Ten Years of The Miniaturists

By | Published on Wednesday 11 November 2015

This week a venerable London arts institution celebrates its tenth birthday. The Miniaturists, as you may be aware, stage regular collections of small but perfectly formed theatrical pieces over at Arcola Theatre, and if you haven’t been yet, you’ve been missing a treat.


So, as they’ve spent a full decade of producing the work of established and up and coming playwrights with the help of established and up and coming performers, I thought it was about time we had a chat. I put some questions to co-founder Stephen Sharkey.

CM: For anyone reading who is (scandalously) not yet aware of what Miniaturists is all about, can you fill them in?
SS: We present five short plays, maximum twenty minutes each, fully staged. The idea is simply to give playwrights a place to play, and meet the audience. They work with a director of their choosing and are as involved as they want to be in all aspects of production. We use lighting and sound design, and the actors are in costume. We usually play on a Sunday on the set already in place for the current production at the host theatre. We’re like The Borrowers, only less cute.

CM: How did it all begin? Who was involved? What inspired you to set the ball rolling?
SS: Like so many good ideas, The Miniaturists was the result of a lunch, back in the autumn of 2005. Present were Samantha Ellis, Glyn Cannon and I, writers who had had things produced and were busy working on commissions, but were feeling a real need to ‘meet the audience’ and put some words into the air. The team at Southwark Playhouse very kindly let us borrow the theatre for a Sunday, and away we went.

CM: Over the years you have featured the work of some pretty big playwriting names. How did you initially manage to get the more established writers involved?
SS: I think there are a few good reasons why writers like David Eldridge and Moira Buffini are very supportive of the show and contribute work: they get the idea of ‘meeting the audience’, and telling a short story on stage appeals to them. They appreciate what we’re doing in trying to programme a mix of writers with different styles and levels of experience.

CM: Miniaturists also showcases the work of emerging writers, of course. How do you go about finding those playwrights? Do you feel you’ve been instrumental in helping those emerging writers to establish careers? Have any of them gone on to become the big names…?
SS: Writers come and see the show and immediately understand what the show offers them: a place to play to a supportive and discerning audience. Directors and other practitioners quickly grasped what we were about and encouraged writers they work with to get in touch with us. Generally speaking, it’s a grapevine thing. As to our being instrumental in helping emerging writers to become established or successful, I wouldn’t put it quite that way. But we do give them a place to practice, in a kind of collegiate atmosphere. Talented writers develop their skills over years.

CM: You’ve had the help of some pretty high profile performers as well, haven’t you? Why do you think they enjoy doing this sort of work?
SS: There’s a fundamental generosity there, of course. Plus, they like the intimacy of the show, and again I think they understand the ethos, that it’s a supportive and creative environment and a place to flex their muscles without some of the pressures usually attendant on their work.

CM: Do you have any highlights or special memories from the past decade?
SS: There are too many to list, really. I have been knocked sideways by so many of the plays, either because they were shocking, or strange, or hilarious, or beautiful, or sometimes all of these things at once… If I had to pick a stand out moment from the ten years it has to be the very first show, it was a joyous night and we realised we had come up with something of genuine value to artists and audience alike.

CM: You are a playwright as well, of course. Have you written many of your own shorts for Miniaturists? Is the process beneficial to your progress as a writer?
SS: I’ve written a few, including a piece for the 40th show that featured a cast of twenty seven – miniatures can be big! And it’s been a great thing for me, down the years. I’ve worked quite a lot in theatres outside London so it’s lovely to come back and play on home turf – I’ve lived just up the road from the Arcola all the years we’ve been doing the show there.

CM: Do you have any future plans for Miniaturists, other than to keep going?
SS: You know what they say, if it ain’t broke… Here’s to the next ten years!

Miniaturists 54, the tenth birthday bash, is on at Arcola Theatre on 15 Nov. For more info and to book, check this page here.  But remember, Miniaturists is a regular event, so make sure you check the website or follow them on twitter for info about future editions.

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Photo: John Wilson