Creation Theatre

Creation Theatre back in the bookshop


It is great delight that our friends at Creation Theatre are back in the bookshop from February 12th until 19th March with one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies King Lear. Below is an interview with Lear himself…

Interview with King Lear

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s great kings and a renowned part to play. We thought we’d have a chat with Max, Creation’s very own Lear, to find out a bit more about what it’s like to be him.


So King Lear, that’s a pretty massive part to take on, how have you been finding it?
In this production everyone has a massive task. I’m playing Lear but Natasha, Michael, Lucy and Morgan are playing multiple roles. Goneril and Regan simultaneously – now that’s what I call a challenge. The fact is we are a very happy family of actors led by a wonderfully creative, positive and down to earth director. In that kind of environment the process becomes a lot less stressful.

Does such a tense subject make for a tense atmosphere in rehearsals?
We rehearsed the first week at a pub in East London. I was sitting in a side room, having a cup of tea as gales of laughter echoed through the walls. I thought there must be some kind of party happening and then realised the laughter was coming from our rehearsal room. So, tense atmosphere? No. Our director has a great sense of humour and knows that a rehearsal room that has a place for laughter is likely to be a creative one.

What are your impressions of other versions of Lear you’ve seen, have they influenced your take on it?
I have banished from my mind all productions I have seen. Of course, I can’t completely banish the production I was in with Richard Briers as Lear, but fortunately that was twenty six years ago, so I can’t really remember that much about it. What I do remember is Richard breaking his leg, midway through rehearsals. He turned up the next day with a leg in plaster, which he was still wearing on opening night. That’s what I call a trooper.

What’s it like to have everyone in the cast playing multiple roles around you?
In addition to playing Lear, I am playing First Servant. That means I have two death scenes. First Servant dies heroically trying to save Gloucester’s second eye. Doesn’t that count as multi-roling? But more seriously, I think the multiple roles are highly effective and add to Charlotte’s interpretation of the play on a number of levels. From Lear’s point of view, it adds to his spiralling disorientation.

How do you feel about performing in Blackwells?
It’s an amazing space, an arena of bookshelves, crammed with ideas, knowledge, experience, imagination…. When I mentioned to various friends in London the location of the show, they were really excited. I hadn’t realised that Blackwell’s in Oxford was so many people’s favourite bookshop.


Faustus in the Norrington Room

What next after Lear?
My overriding priority is the staging of a production of a little play called The Magic Apple, which I have written for my son Brandan and his friends!

Buy Tickets

Blackwell’s and Creation Theatre Present Jekyll & Hyde

8th June – 6th July 2013

posterBlackwell’s are proud to announce that once again, after the success of previous productions such as The Odyssey and Doctor Faustus, Creation Theatre will be treading the boards in our very own Norrington Room, with their production of the well-loved classic, Jekyll & Hyde. Saved by their most generous benefactors and supporters, following the wettest summer in 100 years, Creation will return with their forthcoming production of Jekyll & Hyde. This show will see the company exploring a new approach with an intimate performance to 100 guests each night.

 The Norrington Room will be transformed into a spectacular theatre as Creation delight and astound with a story of Good vs. Evil in the body of one man. Taking as inspiration the esteemed work of one of our greatest authors, Robert Louis Stevenson, one actor will embody every role in this tale of gothic horror. Refreshments will be available on the evening, and our expert booksellers will be on hand, should a book take your fancy from the Norrington Room’s almost 3 miles of shelving.

 The show will run from Saturday 8th June to Saturday 6th July. Dates and times: Tuesday & Wednesday, 7:30pm. Thursday – Saturday, 7:30pm & 9pm. Running time of one hour. Tickets are available in advance or on the door. Please be aware that seats are limited to 100 per performance, and therefore booking is advised. Seating is allocated. Performances are suitable for adults and children from the age of 8. Seated tickets are £16, standing tickets are £10. Book your ticket online at

Blackwell’s Christmas Shopping Fundraiser Evening with Creation Theatre

We are thrilled to announce that we be holding a Christmas Shopping Fundraiser Evening, in aid of Creation Theatre, on Thursday 20th December from 6 till 9pm.

Along with Creation Theatre, we invite you to buy those last minute Christmas presents, at our late-night shopping extravaganza.  Not only will we be opening later on this night, we’ll also be providing the mince pies and wine for you to get into the Christmas spirit while you browse.

Following the wettest summer in 100 years, and a 50% drop in tourism to Oxford, Creation currently finds itself in great need of support to fund their future. Despite their best efforts, the bad weather has meant that unless they are able to raise £50,000 by the end of the year, they will be unable to proceed with plans for any more shows after their current Christmas show, ‘Aladdin and the Magical Lamp.’ It would be a great loss to the Oxford community if this happened, and so for this evening 20% of all book sales will go towards Creation Theatre.

They will also have a box-office set up on the night, so you can get your tickets to their current Christmas show, ‘Aladdin and the Magical Lamp’.

So join us on Thursday from 6pm, not only to get in some more Christmas shopping before the big day, but also to support one of Oxford’s most-loved institutions.

 Aladdin and the Magical Lamp

Thursday 6th December 2012 to Saturday 5th January 2013

The North Wall Arts Centre, Summertown Oxford

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for? This Christmas, Creation Theatre will whisk you away on a magic carpet ride with peasant boy Aladdin, Princess Badr-al-Budur, and a couple of mischievous, magical genies. Along the way you’ll encounter evil scorcerors, secret caves and an enchanted lamp, in this age-old tale of adventure that everyone can enjoy.

Tickets: £13.50 – £25. Box Office: 01865766266. Or book online at


Book Auction To Help Creation Theatre

The ‘Summer’ weather was the worst in living memory and coupled with the effect that the Olympics had on tourism outside of London was  bad news for our lovely friends at Creation Theatre. They fund their productions exclusively through their ticket sales so a 50% reduction in tourists visiting Oxford has hit them very hard.

We love Creation Theatre – not only are their productions innovative and great fun but they are, collectively, one of the most inspiring groups of people that we have ever worked with. Naturally we want to do what we can to help secure the future for such a culturally important organisation for Oxford.

You can help too by bidding in our book auction:

We have 5 specially signed and dedicated copies of Michael Palin’s ‘Brazil’  The dedication reads “Thank you for supporting Creation Theatre” and 5 signed copies of Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’ that we are auctioning. All proceeds of the auction will go to Creation. Of course they would make delightful Christmas gifts but, more importantly, the money raised would help to ensure spectacles such as this are not lost to Oxford:


Place your bid by emailing by Wednesday 19th December. Please spread the word along with the raffle that Creation are running, the great work that Barefoot Book and Whistling Cat Books are doing for the cause or by any of these other fundraising ideas. Of course helping to sell out every performance of Aladdin and the Magical Lamp will help too!

Thanks in advance for anything that you are able to do…

To tweet or not to tweet – is that the question?

You know how much we love Creation Theatre, so when Charlie asked if she could do a guest blog it was our pleasure to say yes, yes, yes. Have a read and then join her conversation…

Amongst the many debates that are fluttering around the theatre world at the moment the issue of ‘tweet seats’ is in all honesty quite a long way behind funding… but nonetheless there are murmurs of debate in auditoriums and marketing departments around the country: Should we encourage audience members to share their responses to shows there and then, or is it just plain rude to give more attention to your smartphone than the professionals slogging their guts out on the stage in front of you?

Guardian readers clearly aren’t too keen on the idea, but I find that quite hard to square with the dedicated tweeter in me, and the fact that the only thing anyone wants to know at the end of the show is ‘what did the audience think?’. Engaging with the show and your fellow audience members in real time means you’ll capture the moment of shock when the apothecary’s plan falls apart (which it always does), and those sparks of ideas ignited by great theatre will be yours to keep.

The Factory (@_factory), who hopefully lots of you saw in their amazing shows Hamlet and The Odyssey in The Norrington Room earlier in the year, are pretty hot on their social media. One of the cast gets back on the stage at the end of the show to entreat the audience to send them feedback through Facebook and twitter, and each show has a public show report wiki that anyone is welcome to join in on.


Which is great when it comes from the cast, but how do we as a theatre company get somewhere towards having a ‘policy’ on this sort of thing? This summer in our Merchant of Venice we’re trialling putting on a special show called Ideas Aloud, where, much like our friends at The Factory we’ll be positively encouraging the audience to tweet during the show – and not just tweet, paint, sketch, take photos, write a poem, do a cross-stitch, you get the idea.


Much like our family shows we want you to be able to see our show in the way that suits you. At these special shows if you need to explain the intricacies of the plot to a four year old, or take a flash photo of the hero, be our guest. Come to an Ideas Aloud show and no-one is going to stop you taking a photo or tut at you for the sound of lead scratching on paper. We know that this isn’t the environment in which everyone wants to take in their Shakespeare but if you fancy live tweeting your first Shakespeare or sharing some of our vintage 1930s costume on Instagram than this might just be the show for you.


This is the first time we’ve offered a specific show like this and I’d love to know what you think: would you rather tweeting and photography were allowed at every show? How would you feel if the person sitting next to you was on their phone all the way through? Do you find it frustrating not being able to share your thoughts on the show with the company and your friends as they happen? Please pitch in by commenting below.


The Merchant of Venice runs from 7July to 1 September at The Said Business School, the Ideas Aloud show will take place on Sunday 29July.





I am not (just) a bookseller any more…

I love working in bookselling and feel privileged to have spent most of my career working at Blackwell’s on The Broad. Each year since 1987, when I started working in the book trade, the ‘death of the book’ has been trumpeted loud and clear. Each year the book has survived – sometimes thriving, sometimes taking a flesh wound.

Throughout this time I have seen my primary role (and that of the shop) as selling books. However, this perception has changed over the past year or so. With a ‘perfect storm’ of threats – the rise of Amazon and their ‘selling new books as a marketing tool’ approach, the significant take-up of ebooks, the sharp rise in tuition fees and the general malaise on the Hight Street and a double-dip recession – just selling books is not enough any more.

Now my role is focussed on making you fall in love with us. Yes, our passion for books will be the centrpiece to this, but it has to become a given that we need to offer much more. 

I was very struck by a recent book by economist John Kay called Obliquity; the central premise being that you are sometimes more likely to achieve a goal by taking an indirect path. Hence my commitment to making as many people as possible fall in love with us rather than just trying to sell as many books as possible. This way salvation lies.

The Damascene moment for me was when we agreed to Creation Theatre staging Faustus in the Norrington Room just over a year ago. It was abundantly clear that there were many hurdles to overcome and the success of the venture was by no means guaranteed. But it was ambitious, boy was it ambitious. I loved that fact. I also loved what it did for the shop – the feedback from audience and customers was overwhelmingly positive and it was the start of a relationship with Creation Theatre that is deeply respectful, mutually beneficial and above all fun. From that moment on our ambitions for many of the things that we do in the shop were raised.

Our events programme is undoubtedly the jewel in our ‘more than a bookshop’ crown – the variety and frequency can seem at times mind-boggling, from a sold out Sheldonian for Steven Pinker to our Writers Group and all points in between. Unbeknownst to most of our customers we run a small campus bookshop at Buckingham New University for part of the year and the size and success of our book tent at the Oxford Literary Festival goes from strength to strength (by my calculation it was probably the third busiest bookshop in the country on those nine heady days in March!) Some of the events that we run are not expected to make any reasonable amount of book sales but we see that being an active part of the cultural scene in Oxford as a fundamental responsibility. Barely a day goes by when we do not have some sort of event – maybe a bookstall in a college, an author talk in the evening or a group of visiting librarians who want a tour of the shop.

If you visit the shop you will, no doubt, notice that we are branching out into selling things other than books. This has the potential to be a tricky path to navigate – we must remain recognisably a bookshop – after all it is what our customers know and love us for and what we want to be doing for years to come. However, we are sourcing a range of quality items to complement our book offer. Examples of this are the ‘It’s All Greek’ statuettes that furnish our Classics Dept, top quality leather satchels or our bookish T Shirts from Out of Print.

It never fails to hearten me when I speak to customers; the esteem in which we are held is inspiring. Of course this can be a double-edged sword as expectations are incredibly high which can lead to disappointment when we fall short. We wouldn’t have it any other way – it truly is the customers – you – that allow the shop to hit the high notes that it does. The fact that genuine friendships are made between booksellers and customers is a source of great pride. We love to hear about the books that you are reading and we love to share with you those books that are dear to our hearts. No algorithmic ‘if you loved x you’ll like y’ here. Our aim is to inspire, delight, amaze and excite each and every person that walks through our doors.

Our relationship with other Oxford institutions – the Bodleian, the Story Museum, BookFeast and the Oxford University Alumni Office to name just four are a fantastic source of support and encouragement. We want to have relationships with all sorts of organisations throughout Oxford and will be working ever harder on this over the coming year. And just imagine if Oxford wins the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 crown – I might just explode.

And not just Oxford institutions – thanks to all forms of Social Media we are building new and exciting relationships with authors, independent publishers, bookshops and book bloggers from around the world. I am seeking out the very best that is happening in the book world and working on bringing it to Oxford. But I am also keenly aware that the heritage and history that has been made inside our shop has been, to a large extent, hidden away from our customers – bringing that out, polishing it up and sharing it with the world is another part of my day job. One of my favourite phrases that we use here is about us being at ‘the cutting edge of tradition’ – we need to be a modern bookshop but we can best be guided in that by what we have achieved in the past 133 years.

I hope that I haven’t been too indulgent here – feel free to get down on bended knee and profess your love or come back to the shop and renew your vows. 

My final word is to quash the rumour that the job title on my business card says ‘Ambassador for Heritage, Tradition and Romance’ – maybe next year?

Hamlet – An Insider’s View

Ben Thompson, an actor with The Factory, provides his thoughts about performing in the current production of Hamlet at Blackwell’s Bookshop . . .

‘I first saw Hamlet at Wilton’s Music Hall about 4 years ago and I was struck by how vibrant it was and how a play I thought I knew quite well could sound so fresh to my ears. Little did I think when I watched that performance that I’d find myself in the midst of all the madness, the nerves, the excitement, the immense amount of line learning and verse grappling several years later. It’s great to be a part of this ongoing project as it comes up against a new set of challenges. In the past each performance has been in a different venue and quite often a space in which the relationship between the audience and the actors is a fluid one. Here at Blackwell’s the seating is fixed and so is pretty much all of the performance space. However this only serves to give us something else to play against.

Part of The Factory’s work on Hamlet in performance is to set ourselves certain ‘obstacles’ which stop the actor getting stuck in habits and rhythms as well as hopefully showing parts of the text and story in a new light. Examples of these might be something as simple as not being allowed to touch the ground or perhaps having two actors play the same role at the same time; one speaks the lines from without the performance space while the other physically responds to what happens within it. The use of the audience’s objects as essential props within the play is yet another way of keeping it fresh for us.

Added to the mix here in Oxford is the fact that we are running Hamlet for three weeks; the longest stretch we’ve done to date so the task will be to keep the freshness and playfulness that The Factory’s work is synonymous with. In the end though all we have is the audience and the text which, at times, in itself can be a huge mountain to climb; but when (or perhaps if!) you reach the top the view’s amazing.’

Ben will be performing with The Factory in ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Odyssey’.

‘Hamlet’ runs until Saturday 24th March.

‘The Odyssey’ runs from Thursday 29th March to Saturday 28th April.

Box Office: 01865 766266