April 18, 2020

In quarantine – a message from Richard Gregory

“Quarantine – the word speaks of disconnection: hospitals, immigration controls, officialdom at its official worst or best…. And while Quarantine’s work is neither cold nor disconnected, and is a slap in the face of the awful officialdom of much theatre, queries about meaning are often the least useful place to start…”

John McGrath, programme note for Quarantine’s Grace, 2005


Almost 22 years ago, I suggested our name. My co-founders Simon and Renny never liked it. But they couldn’t think of anything better, so it stuck.

I had some ill-conceived theory that it might describe something of the process of working together – a bit of pretension about locking ourselves in a room for 40 days and 40 nights, emerging at the end somehow transformed, with something to share with the world.

I thought that the name Quarantine would be useful when we went international. An unresearched notion that it would make sense in multiple languages. Turns out that most non-English speakers struggle to pronounce it, even if they know it.

But that’s our label, our title – on letterheads, at Companies House and the Charity Commission. On posters and in reviews. It’s become part of who I am. Predictably right now we’re getting multiple odd requests on our Facebook page and a spike in website visits. And across the world, many more people now know what the word means….

I’ve started writing this a dozen times. An attempt to make a (semi-)official statement on behalf of Quarantine. And I’ve faltered, again and again.

I’m 57 years old. There has been nothing like this in my lifetime or, of course, in yours and theirs. I’m at home with Renny. We’re practising strict quarantine because of her health – she has MS. We’re very fortunate. We can see the hills from our sitting room window.

I’m anxious and frightened; I’m bored; I’m enjoying having so much time at home. I’m tidying up and sorting out. I’m baking clichés. My hands are red and dry.

I’m finding it impossible to be creative, to have the kind of thoughts and ideas that usually flit around my mind, disturbing the sediment. They’ve flown out for a while, and that’s fine. Right now, I can only really deal with the present moment – which, as Renny says, is almost always bearable.

I sense that when a desire to make something does finally arrive, it will have little to do with reality. And that’s quite something, for me, for Quarantine. Of course, that too might well change. But let’s keep all options open.

The way that we work as Quarantine – that word again – is all about spending time with people. We start and end with the people in the room. Conversations with strangers. The rooms and the people change but the principle remains the same. I don’t know how that’s going to be afterwards. I’m hopeful, if I survive this, if we survive this, that we – the big, collective, collaborative ‘we’ – will indeed emerge somehow transformed. And closer.

At the start of her 2001 piece Something a taxi driver in Liverpool said…, Renny used a recording of a reading of a poem by Miroslav Holub, the Czech poet and immunologist. He drew on his experiences in science and medicine to make his art.


The door

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.

Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.

Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if
is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there’ll be
a draught.




Take care of yourselves and each other, everybody. Stay distant and keep close. Open the door when you can.

Richard Gregory, Co-Artistic Director

with us


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