Awards News

Voting closes soon for WhatsonStage Awards

Just a reminder that public voting is soon to close for the 20th annual WhatsOnStage Awards.

This is your chance to participate in the only awards directly voted for by the theatregoing public.

You have until Monday 27th January to cast your votes, with the winners being announced at a ceremony at the Prince of Wales Theatre on March 1st.

Don’t miss your chance to influence the vote. You can get voting here

OFFIES Awards 2020 – vote for your favourite theatres

The OFFIES, or Off West End Theatre Awards, released their awards shortlists on January 9th. You can find the shortlist here.

Although you cannot vote in the show awards, you do have a chance to vote for your favourite Off West End theatres!

The People’s Vote (formerly the Public Vote) offers you the opportunity to vote for your favourite theatre venue in nine award categories. And the voting is now open. You’ll need to vote before 21st February by completing a form which you can find here

Finalists will be announced on Monday 24 Feb 2020 via Twitter, and then a list of finalists will appear on the OFFIES website.

All the winners will be announced at the OFFIES Awards event on 8 March 2020 at Battersea Arts Centre.

The Cost Of Cutting Culture: A discussion

The Cost of Cutting Culture – can a creative education close the business skills gap?

A lively and engrossing discussion formed the majority of the Lord Mayor’s Gresham College Lecture on Thursday 9th January, attended by a packed audience and a knowledgeable panel including William Russell, Lord Mayor of London, and the directors of the City of London’s key cultural institutions: Kathryn McDowell CBE, DL, MD of the London Symphony Orchestra, Lynne Williams who is Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE, MD of the Barbican Centre, and Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London.

Introduced by the Lord Mayor, he made the points that over the last twenty years the tech companies have replaced the oil and engineering firms as as the world’s largest employers, with a raft of implications for what the jobs of tomorrow will look like.

With the changing demands at work, and the threat of automation to 40% of the UK’s current jobs, creative skills are becoming more important and desirable in the workplace. The so- called “Fusion Skills” – social, analytical and creative skills – will progressively play a larger part in the job descriptions of many future UK Jobs.

The alarming situation is that there is a genuine demotion of the arts in the UK school curriculum. The arts are not represented at GCSE Level at all.

The UK’s future workplaces will need to attract the best candidates by offering creative work environments but also extensions of that out into the environment. People aspire to work and live in areas like Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and Camden, as they are seen to have a creative vibe which enriches their environments. 

Culture Mile is a move to create a similar creative hub destination, a creative partnership between The Barbican Centre, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the LSO and the Museum of London. It aims to create a thriving and intriguing cultural community which runs from Farringdon to Moorgate- the Culture Mile.

The discussion covered what businesses can do to support and drive creativity, and the role of the Culture Mile in supporting a creative society.

Each organisation outlines the way that their work has developed to encompass outreach and life-long learning opportunities in the community, with particular drive to unlock each person’s creativity. The links between culture ,commerce and finance were also discussed.

Questions from the audience included issues such as sponsorship, digital services, and the work of creating a cultural community which could call Culture Mile its home- central to this being affordable housing.

So, lots to enjoy and lots to think about for the future, in a very listenable hour.

You can watch or listen to the whole event via the link here.

TALKING AUDIENCES: An Exhibition in Bristol

For anyone who lives in or is visiting Bristol within the next few weeks, there is a very interesting exhibition at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre history. Until February 28th, the Collection hosts “Talking Audiences”, an exhibition which is the culmination of two years of archival research by Dr Kirsty Sedgman into the Bristol Old Vic as part of her British Academy postdoctoral Fellowship project.

Nearly lost in the late 1940s, when under threat of being sold off as a warehouse, the Bristol theatre was built in 1766 as the Theatre Royal, and was one of the first successes of the Arts Council of Great Britain’s remit of making great theatre available across the country. Linked to London’s Old Vic, the relationship had its stresses and strains, but the theatre thrives to this day, long after the link has fallen away.

Although the theatre’s journey was an uneven one, the exhibition traces the ups and downs of these early years intercut with audience reactions, which makes a fascinating look at how a venue interacts with those it seeks to engage with.

You can find out more information here


IN BRIEF Moments of silent-era skill delight in a loosely formatted show

Its rather hard to know what there is left to say about Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, which is perhaps why THE STRANGE TALE… is an entertaining if rather rambling ride.

Using many conventions and devices first seen in silent movies, the majority of the show’s timeframe is 1910, on the ocean crossing from Britain to America, where, as the star (and star understudy) of legendary music hall impresario Fred Karno, Chaplin and Jefferson (later Laurel) made their names in America.

As one would expect with the show being presented as part of the London Mime Festival, the speech is minimal, and title cards (as used in silent films) are cannily employed , not just for speech but also to set time and places. This is most helpful when the play’s timeline rambles around from 1886 to 1973, often at a fast clip.

As writer and director Paul Hunter writes in the programme, “we set out to create a comically unreliable tribute to two extraordinary artists”. For an unreliable show, it uses the factual pieces to anchor the flights of fancy, but whether we learn anything new about them is another matter. The show is presented by Told By An Idiot (whose shows are always worth seeing) and Theatre Royal Plymouth.

From start to finish the show weaves a large number of delightful visual gags into the show, building expectation and then subverting it, inspired by the silent movies which made Charlie and then Stan both international sucesses.

Techniques such as title cards, blackouts, use of old sound effects equipment are charming links to the time being explored. This is underscored by the action being accompanied by an old upright piano (the accompaniment of choice for the silent films) to lend it a further authenticity, greatly helped by this one-week run in the faded Victorian glory of Wilton’s Music Hall. The accomplished pianist, Sara Alexander, plays not only the piano but other smaller parts including Chaplin’s mother with warmth and sincerity. It is also interesting to note that they have blended one of Chaplin’s own compositions, the popular “Smile”, into the show’s musical underscore.

It’s Chaplin who has the lion’s share of the stage time. From a backstory of poverty, mental illness and unsteady parentage, one realises that Charlie pretty much was on his own from an early age. The use of stage metaphors applied to his own story is rather charming and engaging. Chaplin is both self-contained and self-obsessed, to the exclusion of all others.

Laurel gets short shrift with no backstory, he simply appears. Always very much second fiddle to Chaplin, his unflagging idolatry comes through from start to finish.

The introduction of Oliver Hardy, undated and sketchy, feels a bit like an afterthought and whilst occasionally amusing, doesn’t really add much. The character never has time to step outside of cliché to make you feel for him.

Nick Haverson makes an agreeably ratty Karno, with his dodgy antics, and also does what little he can with Oliver Hardy’s character as written, and several other characters.

Laurel, as played by Jerone Marsh-Reid is physically expressive more than facially, and conveys his unwavering idolatry of Chaplin consistently.

With small bends in time- the clog dance which becomes a rap dance and back again- it may be that the show tries to connect to younger audiences. However successful that may be, it is true that all the performers work very hard in showcasing the material. There are funny, sad and touching moments dotted throughout the show, and although we leave not knowing much more about the characters, perhaps we have a taste of their personal style of work.

THE STRANGE TALE OF CHARLIE CHAPLIN AND STAN LAUREL plays Wilton’s Music Hall until Saturday 18th January, details here, and then tours.

90th anniversary brings rare chance to tour London’s Apollo Victoria

The stunning Apollo Victoria Theatre is 90 this year, and celebrations include a rare chance to take a tour of the theatre’s foyers and auditorium. The next is on Saturday 8th February at 11.00am.

Opened as the New Victoria Theatre on 15th October 1930 , it was designed for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres(PCT) by William Edward Trent and Ernest Wamsley Lewis, seating over 2,500, this was a huge new entrant into London’s entertainment world .

The exteriors (two almost identical facades) are strongly Germanic and assume great authority on the street. The foyers and auditorium have nautical themes, with the fabulous auditorium resembling an undersea palace, filled with glass stalactites and a lavish attention to design detail. Designed to play the then-popular cine-variety (films plus short stage shows which bracketed the films), it had adequate stage and dressing room facilities for these purposes. When cinemas tailed off in popularity it was the stage facilities which saved the venue from demolition.

The cinematic legacy is a high capacity with excellent sightlines. In an extensive 2002 restoration, the auditorium was returned to its original glory with the original 3,500 auditorium lights being replaced by 88,000 LEDs, making it (as I believe) the first auditorium to be lit in this way.

The vast crowds which ebb and flow through the building at showtimes sometimes make it had to see details, so these limited-number tours are a great way to see the building without having to elbow your way through the masses.

Information from the theatre owner ATG states that “the tour lasts approximately 90 minutes. Tea, coffee and soft drinks will be offered. This tour will use routes that include steps.” Tickets are priced at £15 and can be obtained via the ATG website here.

Maybe I’ll see you there?

Read more about the theatre’s history at the Theatre trust website here