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Trestle has been making inspirational physical storytelling theatre since 1981. Three students from Middlesex University, Sally Cook, Alan Riley and Toby Wilsher, founded the Company with the support of their course tutor, John Wright. They were joined by Joff Chafer and the Company developed a distinctive style of theatre using masks, puppets and music; Trestle soon became one of Britain’s leading touring theatre companies, able to tour internationally with its non verbal full mask shows.  Find out more about Trestle’s past touring productions.

In April 2002, after 20 years of nomadic existence, the Company moved into Trestle Arts Base, a £2,000,000 refurbishment of the 100-year-old Hill End Hospital Chapel in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Trestle was one of the first touring theatre companies to create their own home and as such, we have had to develop innovative ways of modelling the company identity and resources. Through its first decade, Trestle Arts Base has steadily built a reputation as a successful performing arts centre.

A new era began in 2004 when Toby Wilsher, the last remaining founding Artistic Director, left the Company and Emily Gray was appointed as the new Artistic Director. Emily’s vision for the Company began with expanding the methods with which Trestle makes physical storytelling theatre. Whilst masks have always remained a vital educational tool for the Company, it was clear that Trestle could not survive as a building based company serving audiences of many ages without engaging communities through media other than mask.

Three years of international collaboration followed, with Trestle unmasking to explore voice, physicality and dance:

International collaborations 2007-9: genuine exploration

Little India was the first in a trilogy of internationally influenced storytelling theatre pieces. Working with Indian theatre company Little Jasmine, Trestle recreated a telling of a classic Indian love story for a contemporary audience, using the south Indian martial art of kalari and influences of south Indian dance and music. The movement developed for this piece informed the movement for Unicorn’s Snow Queen in 2011.

Lola, which told the story of Lola Montez, the infamous 19th century fake Spanish dancer, was created with Barcelona-based dance company Increpación Danza. This collaboration evolved to include training for Increpación dancers in using text in dance and development of a second show together, the Birthday of the Infanta (11/12) 

The Glass Mountain, saw Trestle collaborate with ex artists from polish companies Gardenizia and Piesn Kozwa to explore Eastern European physical and vocal techniques to tell this Polish fable. The results of this collaboration fed into the process for a second polish influenced piece, Moon Fool; ill met by moonlight (10/11/12).

Collaborations with Emerging Companies 2010: affirmation of style

Moon Fool; ill met by moonlight was an inventive re-imagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, combining original music and playful movement, with the artists who had been working with Trestle over the previous year on polish influenced physical theatre and music.

Burn My Heart, based on the novel by award winning writer Beverley Naidoo, was a collaboration with emerging company Blindeye, whose director was also Trestle’s Associate Director. Trestle shares a physical style with Blindeye, who bring a human rights agenda to the work. This show used African and European music and movement styles combined with a powerful mix of text and physical theatre, to tell a highly relevant story based in Kenya.

A new approach: 2011 – 2014 


During 2011 Trestle had to adjust from being a core funded Arts Council Company to a project funded organisation and we underwent a company restructure to ensure that we could continue to create new work after our core funding had ended. During the year the Company mounted two new productions, directed the movement for a third and re worked two existing shows.

The Birthday of the Infanta, a one-woman interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s bittersweet eponymous fairytale, was produced in partnership with Unicorn Theatre and in collaboration with Increpación Danza. The show was met with brilliant reviews and after a successful UK tour was adapted for a non-English speaking audience, incorporating two dancers from Increpación Danza and performed in Barcelona in December 2011.

The Man with the Luggage took its inspiration from Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist play of the same name and was our second collaboration with Blindeye Theatre Company. Written by playwright and musician Lizzie Nunnery, The Man with the Luggage was a confident and compelling production that was well received by audiences across the UK. This production featured Trestle Patron Jim Broadbent, who voiced the poignant character of an ancient tree.

The Snow Queen, was an Indian adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s magical tale, for which Trestle directed the movement. This highly successful show ran at the Unicorn Theatre, London throughout the Christmas period and was seen by over 10,000 audience members. Moon Fool; ill met by moonlight was also revamped and sent out on a new UK tour with accompanying workshops for students and professional practitioners.

During the year Trestle continued to support emerging artists and to run a wide-ranging and successful programme of workshops, professional training and participatory opportunities as well as expanding to run the youth arts programme at Platform, Islington’s new youth arts hub at the Hornsey Road Baths. Trestle was also nominated for a Peter Brook Empty Space Ensemble Award for its two collaborations with Blindeye Burn my Heart and The Man with the Luggage.


Following on from the success of The Snow Queen at the Unicorn, Trestle, with support from The British Council and director Rosamunde Hutt, remounted a version that toured across India throughout the summer of 2012. We performed in Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai and Artistic Director Emily Gray led workshops inspired by the show at venues across the country. The Snow Queen was seen by over 3600 audience members and was met with such high praise that we were able to secure Arts Council Funding to tour the show back in the UK the following year. Trestle was also delighted to receive the St Albans Mayor’s Pride Award 2012 for Cultural Innovation.

2012 saw the launch of our new Half Mask set and accompanying workshop programme. Developed at Trestle Arts Base, this new set of masks are based on eight archetypal characters and offer an accessible, powerful and playful tool for workshop participants to explore. Trestle Half Masks have featured in two touring productions, Small Nose Productions’ retelling of Aesop’s Fables in 2013 and Concert Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet/Rites of Spring in 2014.


The Snow Queen UK tour received overwhelmingly positive feedback and we were excited to be able to include three performances where the piece had integrated sign language interpretation, made possible by additional funding from The Boshier Hinton Foundation and tour venues The Curve (Leicester), The Junction (Cambridge) and The Lighthouse (Poole). This year also saw the creation of The Deadlies, in collaboration with York Theatre Royal. This Half Mask project was part of the larger scale On Our Turf project, which was funded by Arts Council Strategic Touring Fund. The creative team developed a workshop, performance and sharing process with six collaborating partners including schools, youth theatres and a disability group; the process led to a number of promenade performances and an event in July 2014.

Trestle also produced Lost Dog’s double bill It Needs Horses/Home for Broken Turns at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the East to Edinburgh programme and launched a pioneering music night, The Live Music Project , which was run on a completely voluntary basis and offered local musicians and performers a professional space in which to perform.

The journey continues: 2014 and beyond


This year held some exciting developments for the Company and Trestle was delighted to have been the first recipient of the Creative Heart of Flame Award for most innovative Business in Hertfordshire. The Flame Award followed another proud achievement by Trestle Mask Maker, Joseph Arm, who was a Young Business Person of the Year Finalist at the St Albans Chamber of Commerce Community Business Awards.

The Company oversaw the creation and implication of a Trestle Mask Module in the Trinity College Performance Arts Exam syllabus, was commissioned to create a set of masks for a Motion Capture based feature film and developed our participation programme to include a highly relevant and exciting array of Primary school workshops, including Primary INSET.

We were thrilled have supported some amazing performance development and professional training opportunities at Trestle Arts Base this year, including hosting internationally renowned clown Philippe Gaulier for Small Nose Productions’ week long residency. Trestle also supported Small Nose’s development of The Black Dog Project, Keely Mills’ solo show You Can’t be Surprised by a Selfie, which features full masks produced by our Mask Team and movement directed by Emily Gray and Thadows LOOM, a new work in progress from St Albans based digital arts collective VIDEOfeet, that brought together film, live performance, projection and sound design to create a truly immersive piece.


This year saw the creation of several new and exciting projects. Trestle successfully directed Yarico The Musical in London, launched the Yarico Education Programme, supported by Arts Council England and began the Herts Hidden Heroines project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Communities Fund.

We hosted a wealth of profession shows and development periods for some of the brightest sparks in the industry, including Robert Clark DanceH2 Dance and May Contain Nuts Theatre Company. We had the pleasure of hosting a second week long residency with Gaulier, as well as the BBC. We delivered the Discover Arts Award to over 100 primary school children in Hertfordshire and celebrated Trestle Story Tent turning ten years old with a spectacular Christmas performance.

2015 also saw us begin our Arts on Prescription project, created with the St Albans Arts Team and funded by the St Albans and District Health and Wellbeing Partnership. We held an international residency here at Trestle Arts Base, with over 100 students from Istanbul and hosted an arts week at Chase Side Primary School. We also sold a whopping 586 mask sets to over 30 countries around the world and delivered the first year of our PGCE (Secondary Education Drama with English) in partnership with Middlesex University.


Throughout 2016 Trestle fulfilled its mission to inspire creativity through participation by delivering over 440 workshops with more than 7000 participants in the UK and internationally, including students in Brussels, Milan, Gibraltar, Zurich and India and many who visited us, from the International Schools of Beirut and Addis Ababa, Sev Primary School, Turkey and Sipario theatre group from the Netherlands. In the knowledge that laughter and theatre are good for us, we further developed our arts and health work – our Arts on Prescription programme went from strength to strength, and we launched the M-ask project with Dacorum Council in partnership with The Old Town Hall in Hemel. More information about M-ask can be found here.

The Trestle Mask Makers launched our Masks Sets in new tonal variations, which were used to great effect in the Yarico Education Project across the UK. The team also created a series of ventriloquism masks for actress and comedienne Nina Conti; these masks toured with Nina to the USA, after a brilliant Edinburgh fringe run and a UK national tour.

Our Herts Hidden Heroines project, drew to a close and we were overwhelmed with the public support it was given. We had the pleasure of discovering over 80 unsung heroines in Hertfordshire and were delighted that the project legacy will continue through the website, where we hope people will continue to add to the database of fabulous female role models.

Trestle Theatre Company graced the small screen twice in 2016, with appearances on BBC 2s Arts Night and BBC 1s Flog It, both featuring Trestle Masks and workshops.

In 2016, 642 Trestle Masks Sets made their way from St Albans to the USA, Singapore, India, Canada, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Gibraltar, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Qatar, Belgium, Italy, Hong Kong, Spain, Mali, Kenya, China, Rep. of Korea, Luxembourg, Austria, UAE, Thailand and Finland, not to mention England, Scotland and Wales!

We had the pleasure of hosting the Master of Clown, Philippe Gaulier for the third time and celebrated everything from weddings to surprise birthday parties at Trestle Arts Base. In December we were delighted to host Skewbald Theatre’s Mimi and the Mountain Dragon for a number of sold out performances.

2017 – A year of celebration

In 2017 our beautiful building, Trestle Arts Base, will be 15 years old! Throughout May we will be hosting a series of events and performances to celebrate the Birthday. Please keep checking the website for updates.

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