078 Propolis Theatre



Location: BRISTOL


SPILL PB BOV STUDIO-42Last weekend the Bristol Old Vic theatre celebrated its 250th birthday, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of a wonderful community of people who work and perform within the building. One of my colleagues, Faye, is part of a theatre company and she asked if I would like to write a feature on them.

Propolis Theatre are a group of 11 collaborators who all share a passion for making honest and imaginative work. A couple of the company already knew each other from school, university or the Bristol Old Vic Young Company. “We formed under the guidance of Lisa Gregan as the 5th generation of the Bristol Old Vic’s Made in Bristol, a year long programme which takes up to 12 young theatre makers and gives them rehearsal space, resources and training for two days a week. The programme culminated in us making a show which ran for a week at the Bristol Old Vic Studio.” Since then, some of the original cast have gone to drama school or begun working on other projects and so the team. As well as the core members (the majority of whom also have key production and creative roles within the company), Propolis now encompasses a group of associate artists.”


They are a diverse group in terms of ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, sexualities, genders and skill sets. “Our work begins at the intersection of this diversity and tends to veer towards the political. We make theatre as a response to the world around us. We tend to be drawn to stories which are overlooked, under-represented or misrepresented. Often the work we make is a response to our own experiences (which can be said to be representative of wider social issues), and a way of working through these.” Considering the range of skill-sets that exist within the company their inspirations are broad and vary from ballet dancers to basketball players. “Some of these include; Pina Bausch, Michael Chekhov, Cy Twombly, Theatre Ad Infinitum, Forced Entertainment, Robert Wilson, The Film ’10 things I hate about you’, Animal Collective, Kneehigh Theatre, Brian Eno and Soul Train dance moves to name a few.” 

SPILL PB BOV STUDIO-7 - CopyAfter working together for a few months and finding a shared drive, Propolis began creating their début show ‘Spill: A Verbatim Show about Sex’, which premièred last July in the Bristol Old Vic Studio as their culminating Made in Bristol show. “We made ‘Spill’ because we were frustrated about the way sex is talked about (or not talked about) in Britain today. Sex education is abysmal or non-existent and often comprises of people being shown pictures of what different STDs do to your genitals. Porn makes us all think we should be waxed and shrieking on our knees, and mainstream culture shows heterosexual couples having simultaneous orgasms in flattering lighting. This is alienating and not a good representation of the sex people are actually having. We wanted to make something which at least tried to show what it really is. We spoke to people from a variety of sexual perspectives and gave them the space to tell their stories properly without them being stereotyped, joked about or ignored. We make theatre because we think it can be honest and make you see the world differently. It’s also loads of fun.”

DSC_0215One of the biggest problems which they’ve encountered is working with such a large number of people. “We started off as a core of eleven and despite some shifts in casting the cast of Spill still consists of this many people. We like to work collaboratively and with as little hierarchy as possible. This means that we have spent a long time trying to figure out a way of communicating where everybody feels heard and valued. This is still something that we’re consistently working on.” 

Despite the difficulty of coordinating so many people the company have had many moments to be proud of. “The members of the company would probably say different moments are their favourites; as we all take on a variety of roles in the company, and have had mental blocks and breakthroughs at different times. Collectively, the moment when we first performed the show in a real theatre, with real lights, to a real audience and the realisation that we’d made something that people laughed at, and connected with was pretty spectacular. There have been other moments along the way; creating a slightly edited version of the show for schools, performing it to young people for the first time and seeing the kind of impact it might be able to have was also a moment we didn’t anticipate and we treasured it all the more as a result.”SPILL PB BOV STUDIO-45

Currently Propolis are redeveloping ‘Spill’ for a run at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. They’ll be at the Pleasance Courtyard from the 23rd-29th August. In advance of this they’ll be previewing it at Pleasance, Islington from the 10th-12th June and at again at The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol on the 1st and 2nd of July (click the venues for ticket information). “The act of interviewing people about their sex lives gave us the funniest stories we could have hoped for. There’s one about a ply-fold shower curtain that will destroy you. Come to the show to learn more!” They are also at the beginning of an exciting collaboration with sexual health charity Brook Bristol. “We are in the process of developing a version of the show to take into schools alongside workshops developed collaboratively by Brook and ourselves. These discuss different topics brought up in the show such as sexuality, gender and consent. The aim with this is to give sex education to young people who might not have otherwise had any.”

Contact details:




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *