Regional theatres join forces to engage young people through ambitious partnership

Hull Truck Theatre, Octagon Theatre Bolton and Derby Theatre, have joined forces to forge a three-year partnership, developing an exciting new strand of programming, specifically designed to engage an important and coveted audience demographic… children and young people.

Live theatre opens up the imagination, brings stories to life and can provide young people with a safe place where they can relax and immerse themselves in another world. Most young people’s first experience of attending the theatre is as part of a school visit – this is especially true for those in lower income families. Traditionally, large school groups would visit their regional theatre on mass during the festive period, usually to enjoy an uplifting and entertaining production – with subsequent visits throughout the year planned for specific groups where there was a direct learning benefit identified. Over recent years, school visits outside the festive period have dwindled, with feedback from schools citing that travel costs, de-prioritisation of arts subjects within the curriculum and concerns around student behaviour adding a new multi-layered challenge for attendance.

It’s also no secret that the current landscape for mid-scale theatres is challenging. With soaring costs across all areas, and audiences also feeling the pinch, theatres are having to find more creative ways of delivering an engaging and ambitious programme of work and reaching an all-important new audience.

This new strategic partnership between a dynamic trio of mid-scale theatres is seeking to deepen the relationship between classroom education and the arts by annually producing and programming an artistically ambitious drama which is aligned to a text studied in schools as part of the curriculum for GCSE students. Each chosen title across the three-year period will appeal to schools studying the text and also have a wider appeal to general audiences.

Of Mice and Men portrait, Lenny and Carl over look a mountain with bold "OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck" overlayed to the left side of the photo.

Across the three-year partnership, each one of the theatres will lead on the production of the show, which will then rotate accordingly. Titles are being chosen in consultation with schools in each venue’s catchment area. The production will move from venue to venue in the February – April programming slot, enabling more audiences to experience the work across multiple locations. This process also enables all three partners to invest and share resources and ideas, growing richer work with capital to be able to accommodate larger casts sizes, alongside seizing the opportunity to diversify the leadership of projects and productions. For example, this year’s production of Animal Farm was directed by critically acclaimed Director Iqbal Khan, whose credits include multiple productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Creative Director of the opening ceremony of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

3 actors on stage wearing head costumes for Animal Farm performance. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography
Animal Farm performance at Octagon Theatre Bolton (photo by Pamela Raith)

Animal Farm took to the stage earlier this year, led by Octagon Theatre Bolton. On average 20% of ticket sales (across all three venues) were sold specifically to schools’ audiences, with early bird and standard education ticket rates available to make a visit more affordable. Specific school’s performances were included in the schedule to fit in comfortably with school hours and travel time, and additional learning resources were made available for teachers to review with their students both before and after their visit. In total, 3,964 school tickets were sold across the duration of the run – which is an excellent starting point to build on over the next two years.

Roddy Gauld, Chief Executive of the Octagon Theatre Bolton, said:

“For many people, their first trip to the theatre is with school, so it’s essential that we engage schools as part of our long-term audience development. These first theatre visits will form our relationship with communities for generations to come. This partnership has got off to a flying start, with exceptional demand to see our co-production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was brilliant to see the auditorium full of students eager to watch the show and leaving discussing what they’d just felt and experienced. Seeing classic texts come to life on stage is such a valuable learning experience, and a text like Animal Farm has so much to say about the world young people are growing up in.”

Next year’s production of John Steinbeck’s classic text, Of Mice and Men is already announced and on-sale and will be led in co-creation by Derby Theatre.

Sarah Brigham, Artistic Director and Executive Officer at Derby Theatre, said:

“We know that when young people engage with high quality, affordable, innovative theatre it often ignites a passion for the arts which can be a lifelong relationship. This crucial partnership aims to develop a series of work which will be the cornerstone to young people’s arts experiences and at the same time, offers schools and teachers new inroads into well-known titles in a fresh and engaging way. The productions sit within a strong framework of engagement work at each venue and brings together our expertise in both producing and learning.”

Janthi Mills-Ward, Executive Director and CEO of Hull Truck Theatre, said:

“We are always looking for new and dynamic ways to reach new audiences, especially creating inspiring work which grabs the attention of younger audiences. As a theatre that is deeply rooted in its community, we’ve got an ongoing commitment to both introduce and engage children and young people in the arts from an early age. Live theatre continues to be a fantastic way to enrich a student’s understanding of a set text that is being studied in the classroom. We’re currently excited to be working with schools to finalise a production title for Spring 2026, which will be led by Hull Truck Theatre.”  

by Hull Truck Theatre, Octagon Theatre Bolton and Derby

Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre believe that every child has the right to experience and enjoy our country’s culture and world-leading theatre, so we will be asking political parties to commit to providing funding and support for our aim in their general election manifestos – that every child goes to the theatre by the time they leave school.

Find out more about our Theatre for Every Child Campaign at


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