Theatre from the Third Age

Harry Burton is helping to change views on age with Frontier Theatre

ACTOR and director Harry Burton is yet another voice in the chorus of commentators lamenting over society’s obsession with the young.

But instead of shaking his head, shrugging his shoulders and moving on to the next problem, Burton is part of a new group trying to do something about it. Frontier Theatre Productions is a City-based theatre company that aims to create opportunities for experienced actors who are overlooked by casting directors because of their age.

Veteran director and Hampstead Theatre founder James Roose-Evans launched the company in 2015 as a way of re-establishing performers who have “disappeared” from the stage or screen as they age, and unearthing new talent in the over-60 set. The project has the backing of some big name actors, writers and directors, with Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian McKellan and Mike Leigh throwing their support behind Roose Evans and his team. One year down the track and Frontier is set to stage its second ever production; a double bill of Spring by award-winning writer Susan Hill and Mitch Hooper’s The Last Dance.

At the helm of the production is Burton, something of a veteran of the stage and screen himself with more than 30 years’ experience under his belt. He says he jumped at the opportunity to work with Frontier and its founder whom he describes as “a mythical figure of London theatre”. He explained: “Hampstead Theatre is a huge part of James’ legacy, and I think Frontier came from him asking himself: ‘what else can I leave behind me?’”

“As much as we’re trying to create roles for older actors, we’re also trying to tell stories that are inspirational and insightful for people in the last third of their lives. Older people are just as hungry for stories so we’re trying to feed that appetite.” In Spring we meet a young woman who finds herself at a crossroads and contemplating her future aloud to an older woman. The Last Dance follows an older couple who are reaching the end of their lives and are thus getting all grievances out in the open.

Sally Faulkner plays the central character in both productions, connecting the plays thematically as the older woman. She is joined in Spring by Portia Van de Braam playing the young woman, in her first role out of drama school. Burton says this relationship between the two actors – in character and off stage – illustrates what young people stand to gain from recognising the value of older people. “These are people who can reach back into their youth and share their own perspectives that we can learn from,” he says. “Rather than talking down to young people, I think stories are a much more effective way of framing any sort of advice.” While Spring/The Last Dance is Burton’s first formal involvement with Frontier, he is hoping the relationship will continue.

“I’m 54, so I guess I’m technically entering the third age too,” he says. “I’ve spent my whole live in theatre and storytelling, and you do get to a point where you’re starting to ponder your value. “If [Frontier Theatre] grows the way it could grow then it could turn into something really significant, and I would feel incredibly blessed to be a part of that.”

Frontier Theatre Productions’ Spring and The Last Dance opens 18 October and runs until 5 November at The Theatre Room,
6 Fredericks Place EC2R 8AB