The Lion Tamers Theatre Company set to return to Salford with Removed and Destroyed

Lion Tamers Theatre Company

Lion Tamers Theatre Company - Credit: Archant

Karl Barnsley lives and breathes theatre. He is the founder of new theatre group “The Lion Tamers Theatre Company” who are responsible for producing, performing and touring new theatre work from original pieces of writing. This May sees the group’s second play debut in Salford written by new writer, Matthew Gabrielli which addresses human rights in his first feature length play.

I meet Karl at the Kings Arms in Salford which houses many of Manchester’s up and coming new productions. It is also a place where Karl spends a lot of his time. If he’s not directing he is working as a technician on other plays performed in the small studio upstairs. A true example of how his passion for theatre exudes in every way possible.

Karl studied Drama at the Cumbria University with his original intentions to combine acting and directing. It’s his passion for directing which has always remained with him during his university days and it was during an acting performance in which his tutor directed him in that he knew this was what he wanted to do. He studied the style of his tutor’s directing and his desire grew from there. He learnt a lot from his tutor and it was his style which Karl models himself on now. “My style of directing is very much about working with actors and allowing them freedom and trust to develop their own ideas.” He is always looking to encourage actors to develop themselves and offers guidance as opposed to telling a person where to stand or how to move.

After he graduated from university Karl looked at his options. He wanted to be able to produce new theatre work for the surrounding areas of the North West in and around Manchester and Liverpool. Arts funding is generally centralised in larger cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester so Karl took a case to the Arts Council to perform good quality plays outside of Manchester and Liverpool and so the Lion Tamers were born.

Karl is the centre point of the Lion Tamers. He is responsible for directing, producing, casting, marketing and advertising. He works with a small board who operate in the background offering guidance and advice when required. During performances Karl works with a production company to assist with the running of plays and employs a team of readers who help to decipher scripts that they receive from professional and aspiring writers. Writers and actors change with every performance and Karl is slowly generating a shortlist of both that he would like to continue to work with, but it is all dependant on the play. The ultimate verdict for his selection lies in a gut decision and what he wants to direct. Plus he needs to ensure whether it is easy to tour and if it is financially viable. He adds: “Sarah Franklin at the Royal Exchange in Manchester was once quoted as saying - Choosing a play to direct is like choosing a lover. You just know it’s right”

Karl is always looking at new ways of promotion, not only the plays, but the company as a whole. He is keen to explore the possibilities of performing Commedia dell’arte (street theatre) in order to gain attention from the general public. Karl has an idea of performing theatrical pieces in market places or highly populated areas to increase the interest of theatre and promote the company at the same time. He is also keen to extend his knowledge of Greek theatre and to produce plays outside in a proper amphitheater using modern technical methods.

Karl enjoys reading new scripts and getting to work with new writers. “If you do your job right as a director you will understand the aims of the writer’s work, decoding the meanings and projecting the writers vision of the play as they have written it.” Different writers have different approaches to how you direct their work. Some writers don’t mind adapting the work, but other classic writers like Pinter and Beckett would only want their work produced exactly how it was written.

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In May this year the Lion Tamers will be producing their second production which is a new play called “Removed and Destroyed”. The play is the first feature length work of up and coming writer Matthew Gabrielli.

Matthew, at 24 years old, shows great experience for someone of his age. He initially wanted to be a director and got into the theatre when he was around 16-17 years old. By 18 he was so convinced that he would be a director that he headed to London to audition for director courses, but was rejected. He returned back to the North West opting to study at Salford University. During his second year at the university Matthew decided to try the directing course, but didn’t enjoy it. His move into writing was unintended and happened by accident. Matthew used to write his own monologues which he performed and also started to write comedy sketches. Last year he applied for the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Young Writers Programme and was fortunate enough to get in. It was during his time there that the idea for Removed and Destroyed was first conceived.

He had been trying to write a feature length play for a while and knew he had to be disciplined with his approach. The idea had to be simplistic. It couldn’t be a large cast with lots of situations and sets. It had to be short and minimalistic. Fewer characters and set in one location with the action unable to move from there. The idea started with a man being interrogated and developed from there. Matthew was writing the play around the same time that Abu Hamza, the convict and preacher, was extradited from the UK. He worked on the arguments of deportation and whether they were universal. What the outcome of Hamza’s deportation would bring. Would he be tortured? A lot of the ideals of the story slowly began filtering into the play.

To research the topic, Matthew read a book called “Cruel Britannia” which documents the history of war torture and levels of involvement that the British governments would have. Sometimes blatantly torturing people and in other circumstances just witnessing it. Gabrielli submitted the play via a creative network known as “Ideas Tap” and it reached Karl Barnsley.

Removed and Destroyed is set in a country not too far away in the not too distant future. A man called Ted Daniels works for a very important company that handles contracts with the government. One day he finds a briefcase and is arrested under a terrorist act and his life is turned upside down as two brutal and dogmatic interrogators question him, the skeletons in his closet are close to being exposed and he finds himself slowly descending into their world.

Being the first full length feature that Matthew has ever written there is a nervous apprehension about seeing it all unfold. He is involved in the day to day production of the play and casting for the characters, but is confident in Karl Barnsley’s ability to direct, so is comfortable with proceedings.

Removed and Destroyed will debut in May at the Kings Arms in Salford, but it doesn’t end there for the impressive writer. Matthew is continuing his passion for writing for theatre. He is still developing his writing technique, but is enjoying watching it flourish. His involvement in producing, attending events and general theatrical responsibilities means that he’s not been able to write for a while. He has written some short plays which are being shown in February and April and is looking forward to writing his next feature length play. The dream one day though is to write an episode of Doctor Who!

Matthew is also the co-founder of a theatre company called “WritersLabb” ( The company was formed by eleven members who all graduated from the same course and they write, share ideas and put on short plays. The next event will be held on Tuesday February 18th in Liverpool. See the website for more details.

For more information regarding the Lion Tamers you can visit their website at the following address - @robgemmell1