Visible is led by founder and playwright Sonja Linden, researcher Claire French and an entrepreneurial board of trustees.
Sonja Linden: Founder / Lead on Storytelling
Playwright Sonja Linden co-founded ViSiBLE in 2013, inspired by the wealth of talent amongst Britain’s older actors.
Working in tandem with her co-artistic director, leading theatre and movement director Sue Lefton, she gathered together a group of culturally diverse professional older performers, and thus began the journey of the company and its first show. Over a period of two years, Sonja and Sue led workshops inspired by the personal and family life stories of the actors, a hugely exciting and rewarding experience that culminated in the creation of Visible’s unique first work, Who Do We Think We Are? co-created with Sue and the acting ensemble.
Her ambition is to continue to create new work that offers strong roles for older actors, challenging audiences to re-evaluate what it is to be older in our society today. Her most recent piece for the company, Roundelay (2017) was about love and sex in older age, inspired by the structure – and scandal – of Viennnese playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde.
Before founding Visible, Sonja’s focus was on stories of displacement and exile, drawing on the life experiences of her writing clients at Freedom from Torture, where she worked as writer in residence from 1997 – 2004. Here she set up Write to Life a creative and testimonial writing project for victims of torture and persecution, a writing programme that continues to flourish today. This led to her formation of iceandfire theatre in 2003 as a platform for stories of human rights.
Her plays for iceandfire include: Welcome to Ramallah, co-written with Adah Kay, Arcola Theatre and York Theatre Royal (2008), Compass Theatre, San Diego (2009); Crocodile Seeking Refuge, Lyric Hammersmith and national tour (2005-6); I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda, Finborough Theatre and national tour (2003-4), BBC World Service Radio (2004) and U.S. tour (2005-8).
Her documentary plays for iceandfire include: On A Clear Day You Can See Dover, Wilton’s Music Hall and national tour (2010); Palestine Monologues, national tour; Asylum Monologues, (national tour); Asylum Dialogues, Tricycle Theatre and national tour.
Other work includes The Strange Passenger, Paines Plough, Battersea Arts Centre and national tour; The Jewish Daughter, sequel to Brecht’s The Jewish Wife, New End Theatre; Call Me Judas, Paines Plough, Finborough; and, Present Continuous, Edinburgh Festival, and BBC Radio 4.
Claire French: Lead on Research
Claire is a theatre maker and researcher who enjoys work on the margins between applied and professional theatre, the first as a researcher and facilitator, and the latter as dramaturg, creative producer and programmer. She is currently a Commonwealth Scholar and PhD Candidate at the University of Warwick, focusing at the intersections of sociolinguistics and performance and interested in language use in devised performance processes.
Collaborations with ViSiBLE include Roundelay (2017), The Wardrobe Project (2016) and Who Do We Think We Are? (2014). Other recent UK-based projects include theatre workshops with refugees at Evelyn Oldfield Foundation (2014) and Housed by David Watson, Old Vic Community Company (2014). Prior to this, Claire lived and worked in both Germany and Australia, with her most prominent role as director of Perth’s amphitheatre bamBOO, where she programmed and produced 3 years of interdisciplinary arts festivals including the highly successful Eat my Monologue with writing by Andrew Bovell, Tom Holloway and Damian Millar and in concert with directors including Matthew Lutton.
Previous training includes London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (MA Applied Theatre, distinction), the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and University of Notre Dame (BA Theatre Studies).
Harry Singh: Financial Administrator
Harry is currently a Lecturer in Business Strategy and Marketing and a Programme Manager at London School of Commerce. His background is in consultancy, first focusing on hospitality management and eventually migrating to the education sector.
ViSiBLE associate artists
Described by Ian McKellen as one of the three best directors in the country, Mike Alfreds is a true master of the ensemble. Born in London in 1934, trained in the USA and Israel. He burst on the scene with Arabian Nights (1975) and Bleak House (1977), the first two productions by Shared Experience, now one of the most successful companies in the UK. At the National he directed Ian McKellen, Sheila Hancock and Roy Kinnear in his own version of The Cherry Orchard (1985). In the 1990s he ran the Cambridge Theatre Company, later renamed Method and Madness. “I make them forge the work on the floor. They have to discover by doing. Get them free with the text so they never do it the same way twice.”
Annabel Arden’s distinguished career encompasses opera, theatre and broadcasting as well as acting and devising new work. In 1983 Annabel was a co-founder of the renowned Theatre de Complicité.
In the 2016/17 season, Annabel directed a new production of Carmen - the inaugural production of the newly formed Grange Festival and her new staging of Turandot for Opera North received huge acclaim, and she will recreate this staging for the Teatro Sao Carlos, Lisbon in the 2017/18 season, and for Opera North, Annabel will direct new productions of Osud (Janacek) and L’enfant et les sortilèges.
In the 2015/16 season, Annabel Arden directed an acclaimed new production of Andrea Chénier for Opera North - winner of “Best Opera Production” at the Manchester Theatre Awards - and the first new production of Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Glyndebourne Festival in over 30 years.
In the United Kingdom, Annabel has directed Cafe Kafka and The Commission for the Royal Opera House; L’elisir d’amore, Gianni Schicci and The Miserly Knight for the Glyndebourne Festival; The Rake’s Progress for English National Opera and La bohème for Welsh National Opera. She has enjoyed a long association with Opera North, for whom she has directed La Traviata, Die Zauberflöte, The Cunning Little Vixen and Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria. Abroad she has directed The Cunning Little Vixen for the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona; L’elisir d’amore for the Houston Grand Opera; Beethoven’s Leonore in New York, London and Salzburg; Faust in Lucerne; and Der Zwerg for the Maggio Musicale, Firenze and the Teatro Regio, Torino.
Annabel directed The Soldier’s Tale with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Pierre Boulez; she has directed concert performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, and she directed and narrated Jurowski’s farewell concert of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Glyndebourne in 2013. Annabel has directed plays for the National Theatre, Royal Court, Almeida Theatre, BBC, Sydney Theatre Company and for Theatre de Complicité of which she remains an Associate Artist. Annabel Arden graduated from Cambridge University, and trained with Lecoq in Paris.
Drawing upon a dual creative and business background, Frederique is a performer, writer, producer, strategy and business development executive with 15 years of international experience at companies including Liberty Global, Radical Media and Johannes Leonardo. Corporate work included planning TV channel launches, developing cross-media and TV projects and managing brand campaigns for Google and other clients. Frederique founded Out of Line productions in Paris and New York to produce independent film and theatre. Theatre productions: Mauritius (Urban Stages), Brilliant Traces (Urban Stages), Cloud Tectonics (45 Bleecker) The Real Thing (Soho Rep), Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead (45 Bleecker), Miss Julie (Algonquin), and Les Bonnes Manières (Manufacture Des Abbesses, creation of The Norman Conquests in France). Film: ‘Universal Language’, winner of six awards at Anchorage International Film Festival, Macon, White Sands, Emerge and Hell’s Half Mile. She trained as a performer at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and is a graduate from Sciences Po. Paris and Columbia Business School in New York.
Roger Winfield / Chair
During Roger’s career as a solicitor in private practice, he has advised charities and voluntary organisations. He has also acted as honorary legal adviser to a national charity and as a volunteer in legal advice centres.
‘I am delighted to have the opportunity to play an active part in supporting the exciting new venture that is Visible Theatre Ensemble. In addition to producing interesting work Visible Theatre Ensemble recognises the importance of using the invaluable experience that older actors bring to the theatre.’
Lucy has worked in the cultural and voluntary sectors for nearly two decades, with past experience including senior roles at Arts Council England, British Refugee Council and the House of Lords. Lucy was Director of Apples and Snakes, England’s leading organisation for performance poetry and spoken word, from 2010 to October 2015, when she left to become Chief Executive at Wikimedia UK. Lucy is passionate about participation, diversity and equality, and believes that these values are entirely compatible – indeed, essential – to producing high quality, engaging and innovative art.
James Hadley is Executive Director of Musical Theatre Network – a strategic organisation supporting and creating opportunities for new musical theatre in the UK. Prior to his current role, he worked in the London Theatre team at Arts Council England from 2008 until 2015, where he became aware of Visible’s work from the company’s first workshop and thereafter advised them on several funding applications. James has a background in directing and producing theatre, including in New Zealand, where he also programmed BATS Theatre for four years, one of the country’s leading venues for new writing and supporting emerging theatremakers.
‘I believe Visible’s work occupies an important, unique position in Britain’s theatre landscape – leading the way for further achievements in this area, and its work is rich in socio-political as well as creative value. I’m pleased to be part of championing and nurturing Visible’s work with older professional actors.’
David Metz / Treasurer
David is an expert on ageing, formerly Director of AgeNet, a Foresight project; a formerly visiting professor at the Centre for Ageing and Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; author of the book Older, Richer, Fitter, published by Age Concern; and formerly adviser to UnLtd’s Ageing Challenge Programme.
‘I am sure that keeping active and engaged in later life is good for health and well-being, and I’m pleased to be associated with Visible Theatre Ensemble which will help both the company and the audiences enjoy life to the full.’
Emily is Chief Executive at the National Opera Studio. Before that she worked at Royal Opera House within Organisational Development, in a newly created role to support their artistic and strategic vision through people. She won the first ever Performing Arts Fellowship on the Clore Leadership Programme (2012-13), before which she was Stage Manager for Opera at the ROH for 13 years.
‘I am proud to be associated with Visible, a new company with the commitment and potential to make a real difference to how we view ageing and older people, through creating excellent and thought-provoking professional work for the stage.’
Chris, a former BBC radio presenter and award-winning television producer, is a consultant and trainer in media and communications skills. She has also been active in experimental theatre, education and arts administration. In her spare time, she works for an anti-racism charity and with asylum seekers and refugees.
‘As a fan of Visible’s work, it’s a privilege – and a pleasure – to be associated with the company and help it fulfil its ambitions. Visible not only challenges attitudes to age and ageing, but does so with great panache.’
Dr. Caryn Solomon
Caryn is a Social Psychologist who has consulted and taught in the fields of Organisational Change and Leadership for over 30 years. Drawing on her early background in music and theatre, she has developed unique team and leader development processes for many organisations internationally, utilising storytelling, psychodrama and other creative, experiential learning processes. At London School of Economics she teaches Organisation Development and she is a founding and core faculty member of the Tutu African Leadership Institute.
‘What an honour to be associated with Visible – working with well-versed experts, making innovative, compelling theatre that challenges, reframes and breathes new life into old views about ageing.’
Dame Harriet Walter
Since training at LAMDA, Harriet has worked extensively in theatre, television, film and radio. Most recently she was Livia in Women Beware Women at the Olivier NT. She is an associate artist with the RSC, where she played Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra alongside Patrick Stewart, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Lady Macbeth opposite Anthony Sher, The Duchess of Malfi, All’s Well That Ends Well (with Peggy Ashcroft) Twelfth Night and Three Sisters (winning an Olivier award for the last two). Harriet played Elizabeth Ist in Mary Stuart (Donmar, West End) for which she won the Evening Standard Award and was nominated for a Tony Award for the Broadway transfer. Earlier theatre credits include Dinner, The Children’s Hour and Arcadia all at the NT and Three Birds Alighting on a Field, Cloud Nine, Hamlet and The Seagull all at the Royal Court.
Film credits include The Young Victoria (Queen Adelaide) Atonement, Bright Young Things, Sense and Sensibility and Louis Malle’s Milou et Mai.
She has published three books: Other People’s Shoes and Macbeth for the Faber series ‘Actors on Shakespeare’ & Facing It.
She was appointed a CBE in 2000 and DBE in the Honours List 2011
Professor Sir Michael Marmot
Sir Michael Marmot is Professor of Epidemiology at University College London, Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, and Immediate Past President of the World Medical Association.
He is the author of The Health Gap: the challenge of an unequal world (Bloomsbury: 2015) and Status Syndrome: how your place on the social gradient directly affects your health (Bloomsbury: 2004). Professor Marmot holds the Harvard Lown Professorship for 2014-2017 and is the recipient of the Prince Mahidol Award for Public Health 2015. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from 18 universities.
Marmot has led research groups on health inequalities for over 40 years. He chairs the Commission on Equity and Health Inequalities in the Americas, set up in 2015 by the World Health Organizations’ Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO/ WHO). He was Chair of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), which was set up by the World Health Organization in 2005, and produced the report entitled: ‘Closing the Gap in a Generation’ in August 2008.
At the request of the British Government, he conducted the Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England post 2010, which published its report 'Fair Society, Healthy Lives' in February 2010. This was followed by the European Review of Social Determinants of Health and the Health Divide, for WHO Euro in 2014. He chaired the Breast Screening Review for the NHS National Cancer Action Team and was a member of The Lancet-University of Oslo Commission on Global Governance for Health. He set up and led a number of longitudinal cohort studies on the social gradient in health in the UCL Department of Epidemiology & Public Health (where he was head of department for 25 years): the Whitehall II Studies of British Civil Servants, investigating explanations for the striking inverse social gradient in morbidity and mortality; the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), and several international research efforts on the social determinants of health.
He served as President of the British Medical Association (BMA) in 2010-2011, and is President of the British Lung Foundation. He is an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Epidemiology; a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences; an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy, and an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health of the Royal College of Physicians.
He was a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution for six years and in 2000 he was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen, for services to epidemiology and the understanding of health inequalities. Professor Marmot is a Member of the National Academy of Medicine.