We got the name from the film Donnie Darko," says David Hutchison of Sell A Door theatre company in response to my obvious first question, "as 'cellar door' is meant to be the most oddly pleasing combination of sounds.
We thought Sell A Door was a bit of a twist on that and a pleasing play on words. It does also sound nice, so maybe it is a useful marketing ploy."
Hutchison, who is artistic director of Sell A Door alongside his business partner Phillip Rowntree, has certainly got a way with words. During our conversation, the 24-year-old enthuses about almost every topic he touches upon. His passion is palpable; but, then, he has just secured his first major grant from Creative Scotland, and his prolific theatre output over the past four to five years almost speaks for itself.
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Having met at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), Hutchison and Rowntree have done everything necessary to keep their company afloat and onstage. "We'll continue to do anything it takes," assures the former. "We've buzzed around Leicester Square with flyers, waited tables and behind bars, and our office was pretty much the back seat of our car for the first few years."
Originally from Stirling, Hutchison went to Liverpool to study on the acting course. Fortuitously, Rowntree was not only on the same course but was the first flatmate he encountered in his new digs. "It was a really full-on course, and as there were only 30 people on it, we all spent lots of time together. Phillip and I loved the acting side, but we also had to go along to a theatre management course. As everyone else doodled and snoozed, we were enthralled. I had always wondered how you could support yourself as a working actor and, through this introduction, we quite quickly gravitated towards the possibility that our future might be to create our own work."
The high-risk business of going out on their own was made much less scary by the tutor of the management course, Paul Iles. Iles, who was founder general manager of Edinburgh's Festival Theatre and who passed away through illness last year, talked them through the practicalities of the business and, once Sell A Door was set up, he looked over contracts for them and championed their company.
"Paul was an inspiration to us both," adds Hutchison. "We always knew we could call on him, day or night, and we were always popping round to see him. He was a business mentor and friend, and we probably wouldn't have been able to get to where we are without him."
From their first production at LIPA – The Secrets Inside, which had a £50 budget – they've come a long way. It was a piece of new writing with a focus on good old-fashioned storytelling and it played Venue 45 of the Fringe in 2008. "Oh, we got so much wrong," Hutchison remembers. "It was definitely a grabbing-in-the-dark approach that year. We just chucked ourselves at the wall and saw where we stuck. It was crazy but a great experience; and I definitely fell in love with the vibe of Edinburgh in August."
So much so that Sell A Door returned to the Fringe the following year and, in 2010, had seven shows running across the city. "It was quite a month. Then September was a month of comedowns after all the excitement and frenzy."
Production values have been improved upon year on year. Classic titles such as Dracula (by Liz Lochhead) and Lord Of The Flies were followed by a coming-of-age season where Spring Awakening and The History Boys were the main attractions for their typical audience of literate young adults. This slew of shows caught the eyes of two theatre practitioners in Scotland
"Julie Ellen, artistic director/CEO at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, asked us where we were based and, although a lot of our output was originating from our Greenwich locale, we were still nomadic and often literally doing business from our backseats. Julie explained what we had to do to get to the next level and, amazingly, she offered us a residency in Greenock, allowing us to share their space, which has been fantastic."
Collaboration seems to be key – and the way forward – for Sell A Door in Scotland. Their current production, Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All The Luck, is a co-production with Mull Theatre and they have already learned a lot from this more experienced company and its director, Alasdair McCrone.
"We caught Alasdair's eye when we brought Lord Of The Flies to Mull; something I was excited about performing on an island considering where the play is set. As we discussed possibilities for the future for our companies, I realised there was something exciting on Mull and that we were a good match. It's been great to feel like they are championing a new company and behind us the whole way."
Having been on Mull since earlier this month, in the longest rehearsal period they've ever had (a mere three and a half weeks), Hutchison is starting to see parallels with the community and Miller's play. "The action is set in a small community – in the American Midwest – and there's definitely a sense of isolation, of ships passing in the night, as well as the fact the characters can't help bumping into one another.
"Being on Mull has been such a change from London – there's no worrying about getting the last tube home and I'm even beginning to like the fact there is no Starbucks, although a Domino's wouldn't go amiss. The pace is beginning to rub off on me too: my 8.30am morning coffee in the theatre is now being taken nearer 8.45am. I think I might be chilling out."
Hutchison certainly deserves to unwind for a bit, although after his Fringe First-winning show Rainbow this summer (his other show, Proof, was well received too) there is no sign of him taking his foot off the accelerator any time soon. "I'm thinking of fables next, shows that feature a fantastical or sci-fi element. There's a strain of that sort of fairy tale versus realism in The Man Who Had All The Luck – although this was pretty much miscommunicated in its short run on Broadway in 1944, when any kind of escapism would have probably been well received by audiences rather than its more bleak stage portrayal."
In this vein, A Midsummer Night's Dream and 1984 will be future productions, although Hutchison seems most excited about a piece of new writing by Stacy Sobieski. "Peter is a continuation of the film Finding Neverland [a semi-biographical take on the life of JM Barrie] and takes up where it left off, following the young character's journey. Stacy sent me the script a year ago and it's a great piece of writing. It'll be great to do something so absolutely new again: the first time since 2008, when it was just a table, a chair and some great new writing."
It's Hutchison's business acumen and gritty drive that will probably set Sell A Door apart as the company matures. "Within the year, we'll be a multi-site company," he concludes. "I'll be in Greenock and Phillip in Greenwich. I can't imagine not doing what I'm doing. I get to wake up every day and love going to my work. I even thrive on the 14-hour working days."
It was third time lucky for their Creative Scotland funding application, so maybe Hutchinson is the young man with all the luck right now; he certainly has enough determination.
The Man Who Had All The Luck opens in Mull Theatre tonight at 8pm and tours until November 8. Visit www.selladoor.com.