Chichester Festival Theatre’s THE MIDNIGHT GANG

Chichester’s much-loved 2018 musical production of an adaptation of a David Walliams book is ideal family viewing. It is available to view online now.

A bang on the head during a cricket match at his boarding school has landed twelve-year-old Tom in the children’s ward of the spooky Lord Funt Hospital. Luckily, he’s not on his own with the child-hating Matron and the scary-looking Porter. George, Amber, Robin and Sally are in there too, and they’re not taking things lying down. When the lights go out and the clock strikes twelve, they’re off. But will they let new boy Tom join their forbidden midnight adventures through the hospital’s labyrinthine realm?

This inventive tale of fun, friendship and the importance of kindness is adapted from David Walliams’s best selling children’s book of 2016.

This stage version is by Bryony Lavery, whose adaptations include Chichester’s hit family shows The Hundred and One Dalmatians (2014) and A Christmas Carol (2015), with music and lyrics by renowned musician and composer Joe Stilgoe (The Jungle Book, 2017). It is directed by Dale Rooks.

The production is available until 29th May. Captions are available in English and Polish.

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the Chichester Festival Theatre to enable it to keep its doors open after this crisis has passed.


The National Theatre’s FRANKENSTEIN

The National Theatre’s acclaimed 2011 production of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN is free to watch from 7pm on Thursday 30th April until 7pm on Friday 8th May.

Directed by Academy Award®-winner Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), this production sees Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Hamlet, Sherlock) and Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary, Trainspotting) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and his creation.

Childlike in his innocence but grotesque in form, Frankenstein’s bewildered creature is cast out into a hostile universe by his horror-struck maker. Meeting with cruelty wherever he goes, the increasingly desperate and vengeful Creature determines to track down his creator and strike a terrifying deal.

This filmed performance is recommended for ages 12 and up. This recording has been “adjusted for YouTube” – whatever that may mean!

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the National Theatre – or text NTATHOME 10 to 70085 to donate £10 – to enable it to keep its doors open after this crisis has passed.


Streatham Hill Theatre fights to survive

If I were to tell you that a theatre larger than the London Palladium was hidden away in a London suburb, shuttered and in danger of being lost forever, you might not believe me. But in Streatham, there it stands.

The Streatham Hill Theatre is an astonishingly lavish venue which is fighting for survival. It’s currently closed and decaying. The passionate and dedicated Friends group is currently fundraising to fund a feasibility study for the commercial assessment of the venue’s future potential as a multi-use arts centre.

Already on the Theatres Trust’s “Theatres At Risk Register”, Streatham Hill Theatre is an incredible survivor, which was built by the celebrated theatre architect WGR Sprague. Sprague designed a wealth of beautiful theatres, mostly in London, such as The Aldwych, the Novello, Wyndham’s, Gielgud, St Martin’s, Ambassadors, and the Queen’s (recently renamed Sondheim) all in the West End, as well as the Coronet in Notting Hill. The Streatham Hill Playhouse (as it was originally named) was Sprague’s last completed theatre before he died, designed together with architect WH Barton. At 2,800 seats it was one of the largest live theatres ever built in the suburbs of London, and probably the best equipped theatre outside the West End. It opened in November 1929 during a brief revival of UK theatre building. The theatre was Grade ll-listed in 1994. (Incidentally, the late Roy Hudd who died just a few days ago, made his professional debut here in 1957).

Streatham Hill Theatre – undated, uncredited photo, 1930s

With an impressively detailed façade in off-white Doultonware, the interiors are described by the Theatres Trust thus; “The foyers, auditorium and public areas were described as being ‘in the Adam manner’ but are quite eclectic, with friezes of sphinxes, angels and garlands in abundance. The bar at first floor level is mahogany, and has murals of scenes of old London.” Quite a visual feast, then, and that was before audiences even got to see a show on the enormous stage (which still retains its original stage equipment).

Extensive bomb damage to auditorium (on right of picture) in 1944. Proscenium and stage house (right) survive.

Damaged from bombing in 1944, the theatre was restored to its original glory* in 1950 and reopened. Bingo had kept the place open from 1962 until 2017, but since then this lovely house has been dark, largely unused and at increasingly at risk.

The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre formed in mid-2018 and have steadily increased their profile and supporter numbers ever since. The theatre’s 90th anniversary on 20th November 2019 was a great media opportunity, which was seized enthusiastically, and actors Simon Callow and Catherine Russell joined a party hosted in the theatre’s foyer (courtesy of the building’s current owners, Beacon Bingo), to call attention to the ongoing risk of losing this unique asset. Helpfully, in early 2019 the local council, Lambeth, agreed the Friends’ application for listing of the theatre as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). This gives the community a chance to acquire the property should the current owners decide to sell.

The Foundation stone laid by stage star Miss Evelyn Laye at the commencement of construction- 6th September 1928. Photo Courtesy of the Friends website.

Let’s take a quick look around, with these photos – for which, my grateful thanks to Tim Hatcher and Roger Fox

Soon after the 90th anniversary event, the crowdfunding campaign was launched to raise the money for a feasibility study of the building’s future as a mixed-use arts centre. This fund was dramatically boosted by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who pledged £15,000 to help the fund achieve its target of £35,000. At time of writing, they need a further £8,000 to hit their target by their deadline, which is 25th May.

Please consider helping them if you are able. Any amount will help. You can find the crowdfunding details below. Please consider joining the Friends group too – they need your support.

Such a large scale venue presents its own challenges regarding future use, but there are many creative ways in which this “sleeping beauty” can be brought back into productive use for a community which values the jewel in their midst. I wish them success!

Take a quick photographic look inside here

You can find out more about Friends of the Streatham Hill Theatre here

Join the Friends’ Facebook page here

You can contribute to their crowdfunding appeal here

EXTRA: My friend and colleague Tim Hatcher has written this expert, fascinating article about the differences between the original build and the rebuild of the Theatre’s auditorium. It can be found here.

Hampstead Theatre’s #AIWW: THE ARREST OF AI WEIWEI

The next play available from Hampstead Theatre is Howard Brenton’s political drama, THE ARREST OF AI WEIWEI.

On 3 April 2011, as he was boarding a flight to Taipei, the Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei was arrested at Beijing Airport. Advised merely that his travel “could damage state security”, he was escorted to a van by officials after which he disappeared for 81 days. On his release, the government claimed that his imprisonment related to tax evasion.

Howard Brenton’s play is based on conversations with Ai in which he told the story of that imprisonment – by turns surreal, hilarious, and terrifying. A portrait of the Artist in extreme conditions, it is also an affirmation of the centrality of Art and of freedom of speech in civilised society.

Directed by James Macdonald (who also directed Hampstead Theatre At Home production Wild) and starring Benedict Wong as Ai Weiwei (Doctor StrangeThe Personal History of David Copperfield, Black Mirror, The Martian).  

The production is available now until 10pm on May 3rd on demand.

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the Hampstead Theatre to enable it to keep its doors open after this crisis has passed


Southwark Playhouse’s hit musical WASTED

The Southwark Playhouse has launched “Southwark Stayhouse” with a trio of shows o view online, the highlight of which is WASTED, the brilliant new rock musical about the Bronte sisters.

Yes, that’s what I said. It didn’t sound like my cup of tea, to be frank, but I went along with an open mind and…it blew me away. A uniformly strong cast told the Brontes story through music in a style which brought them roaring up to date with a real in-your face quality.

I knew that it had to reappear sometime, but I didn’t think that it would happen like this. Now. and for free.

Directed by Adam Lenson, with music by Christopher Ash, book and lyrics by Carl Miller, and produced by the impeccable trio of Sally Humphreys, Oli Sones and Jason Haigh-Ellery, WASTED is a total shock to the system that works like a dream. Enjoy!

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the Southwark Playhouse to enable it to reopen its doors after this crisis has passed.