January 20th marks the 3rd anniversary of Unrestricted Theatre.

Who would have thought that two-thirds of its lifespan would be during a global pandemic that shut theatres down for the longest period in their history.

I would just like to thank all of you “wonderful people out there in the web” (to paraphrase Norma Desmond) for continuing to visit, for your emails when you enjoy reading an article, and for your continued support of the theatre (and theatres) that we all love and enjoy. There’s never been a time when they’ve needed your support more.

HoLBA’s West End future plans revealed

Heart of London Business Alliance comprises three Business Improvement Districts in the West End. Funded by businesses which operate in the area, over the last five years it has done much to support its members, in the process investing in schemes which make the West End a more attractive place for visitors and benefitting the entire area in many ways.

The area covered by the Alliance is home to 39 West End theatres, all of which have suffered greatly during the Covid disruption. In a concrete show of support for theatre, and the wider cultural offer, HoLBA rapidly commissioned Arup to produce analysis of the economic value of the arts and culture sector to the West End and the UK economy as a whole, along with several projections as to the damage caused and scenarios for recovery together with their projected long-term impacts. The results of that study were a major campaigning tool for the allocation of the Cultural Recovery Fund. You can find my earlier items about this initiative here and here. And you can find the fascinating Arup report here.

The plan is helpfully grouped around themes of Shape, Promote, Manage, Advocate and Support. The standout which caught my eye was the aim to create an Arts Quarter in the small backstreets around the Leicester Square area.

HoLBA said in its announcement “We are delighted to officially share our Business Plan 2022-2027, setting out our vision to build on the reputation of our area as a world-class destination over the next five years. We believe the heart of London is central to the identity of the West End, and we have been consistently championing the interests of our West End business community to drive the recovery of the area following the pandemic.

Our mission remains the same as it was when the BID was founded over two decades ago. We want to maintain London’s status as a global city, and the West End’s prominence as a leading cultural and commercial destination.”

The Business Plan is a bid for a further five years of HoLBA’s initiatives, and is dependent on a positive ballot response from its members, the result of which will be known on March 4th.

You can discover more about the work achieved and find out about planned future projects to help the West End bounce back and thrive by reading their plan which you can find here

Betty White: A Celebration

Today, January 17th, would have been the 100th birthday of US National Treasure Betty White. A celebration was planned to be marked with a documentary to be screened in cinema across the US. Sadly it was not quite the ending we all hoped for.

On New Year’s Eve came the unexpected news that Betty had passed away just six days after a stroke, dampening many people’s New year celebrations and making it more of a fond remembering of , and gratitude for, all the times that she had entertained us, both on TV, (where she started her career in 1939, holding the record for the longest career in TV, spanning nine decades) and in very occasional films.

One of the earliest TV pioneers, Betty was greatly in-demand on television, and loved appearing before the cameras, but her behind the scenes career was even more impressive, being one of the first women to wield power behind the camera as well as in front. In this respect, it was natural that one of her closest friends was fellow TV pioneer Lucille Ball who grew her career into being one of the most important executives in TV, her company Desilu responsible for creating such timeless shows as I LOVE LUCY and its many spinoffs, THE UNTOUCHABLES, STAR TREK and MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, to name just a few of her studio’s biggest hits.

Betty was a supporter of women breaking to the heavily male-dominated world of TV production, forming her own production company in 1952 and selecting a female director for her first projects. Further, she was also supportive of African-American talent. When affiliate stations in the Southern US complained about the regular appearance of African-American tap dancer Arthur Duncan on her show, she told them to “Live with it”. And she made sure she gave him a longer spot on her next programme.

It has been widely noted that Betty had an astonishing TV career, with armfuls of awards across the decades. But what is not so remembered is that Betty was a much-loved stage star too. “When did she have time?”, you might say.

Well, the TV “season” would last for 40 weeks of the year. During the summer break, Betty and third husband Allen Ludden, also a beloved TV face from TV’s popular PASSWORD game show, would travel the US doing one-week dates in summer stock. Details are hard to piece together from this distance in miles and time, but I’ve given it my best shot, with material drawn from several sources. People surprised at her musical appearances may not know that Betty sang on TV from the start in 1939, and Allen had his own record album released in 1963.

Their most often-reprised audience favourite summer stock vehicle together was the comedy play CRITIC’S CHOICE, whose plot concerns a theatre critic who feels obligated to give his own wife’s play a bad review to avoid charges of favouritism. JANUS was another favourite play, the one which had brought them together, in 1962.

Betty and Allen were married on June 14, 1963, and remained together until Allen’s death in 1981 from stomach cancer. Lucille Ball helped Betty through this difficult time, for which Betty stated she was forever grateful for Lucy’s friendship at the time when she needed it most. Betty never remarried in the remaining 40 years of her life, remarking “when you’ve had the best, you don’t need the rest”.

Rest In Peace, Betty, Thank You for being a strong, independent, vibrant and caring woman – a humanitarian and animal activist with a huge range of talents, a unique twinkle in your eye and someone who made the world a better place. You will be sorely missed but not forgotten.

I am donating to an animal charity to mark Betty White’s 100th birthday. Will you join me?


(Summer 1959) She acted in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical, “The King and I,” in a Kenley Players production at the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio. John Kenley was artistic director.

(Summer 1961) She acted in Bob Merrill’s musical, “Take Me Along,” in a Kenley Players production at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio with Jack Carson in the cast. John Kenley was artistic director.

(1962) She acted in Ira Levin’s play, “Critic’s Choice,” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts with Allen Ludden in the cast.

Summer 1963 She starred in BRIGADOON in Paterson, New Jersey, with Allen Ludden in the cast (their first stage work together after being recently married)

Summer 1963 She starred in THE KING AND I in St Louis, Missouri.

(1963) She acted in Carolyn Green’s play, “Janus,” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts with Allen Ludden in the cast. Show also played Skowhegan, Maine (TBC)

(Summer 1964) She acted in Ira Levin’s play, “Critic’s Choice,” in a Kenley Players production at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus (one week from June 16th) and the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio (one week from June 9th) with Allen Ludden in the cast. John Kenley was artistic director.

(1964) In the ifrst week of August she played in MR PRESIDENT at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Kansas with Allen Ludden in the cast.

Summer 1965 She starred in SOUTH PACIFIC, opened June 22nd at the Melody Top in Milwaukee (from on-air announcement)

(Summer 1965) She acted in John Van Druten’s musical, “Bell, Book and Candle”, in a Kenley Players production at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and the Packard Music Hall Theatre in Warren, Ohio with Allen Ludden in the cast. John Kenley was artistic director. Playing the first two weeks in August (from on-air announcement).

(1965) She acted in John Van Druten’s play, “Bell, Book, and Candle,” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey with Allen Ludden and James Coco in the cast. Christopher Hewett was director.

Around 1966 they definitely did GUYS AND DOLLS together, with Allen Ludden as Sky Masterson. details TBC

(1967) She acted in Muriel Resnik’s play, “Any Wednesday,” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts with April Shawhan in the cast.

(1967) Allen Ludden played Sky Masterson in GUYS AND DOLLS in Atlanta, Georgia (from on-air announcement)

(1968) She acted in Harry Kurnitz’s play, “Once More, With Feeling,” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts with Allen Ludden in the cast.

(June 24 to 29, 1968) She acted in Harry Kurnitz’s play, “Once More, With Feeling,” at the Oguquit Playhouse in a John Lane presentation with Allen Ludden in the cast. Porter Van Zandt was director.

(Summer 1979) She played Dolly Gallagher Levi in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s musical, “Hello, Dolly!,” in a Kenley Players production at the Memorial Hall in Dayton; the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Columbus and in Akron, Ohio. John Kenley was artistic director.

TROUBLE IN MIND cast talking on Instagram this Friday

This Friday 21st January at 1.00pm GMT you can catch an Instagram Live talk by two of the stars of the National Theatre’s production of TROUBLE IN MIND, the incomparable Tanya Moodie and Rory Keenan.

They will be talking about the show, their roles, and giving insights into the actor’s life, as well as taking some of your questions.

This talk is, like many others from the National, a free to attend event but they do ask that those who are financially bale make a contribution which they feel is affordable. This helps towards funding future events.

You can find the donation page here

You can find the National’s Instagram page here

Voting for the WhatsOnStage Awards closes January 21st

Its nearly closing time for public voting for the annual WhatsOnStage Awards!

This is an opportunity for you to make your selection from the shortlists which were created from public nominations at the end of last year. And these are the only awards which are voted for exclusively by the theatregoing public.

So take a wander over to their website which you can find here, and cast your votes .

The awards ceremony will be held on 27th February.