Listen to Beside the Seaside – a nostalgic sound portrait of the Golden Age of UK holidays

Available to listen to now until September 1st is a jolly celebration of the British seaside in all its glory, a compilation of seaside-related material from the BBC Sound Archive.

Seaside entertainer Tony Lidington takes a trip to Brighton for BBC Radio 4 Extra and reflects how this city has inspired a wealth of seaside memories captured in the BBC Sound Archive.

Tony came to Brighton in the eighties as a student and set up his own Pierrot Troupe, The Pierroters, named after the rotting West Pier which was the subject of a Kaleidoscope feature made in 1995.

There are first hand memories of what it was like to go on a seaside holiday between the wars in a programme called ‘Sand Between the Toes’ made in 1984.

Tony meets Max Tyler, an expert on the Fol De Rols, and he and Tony hear them perform in an extraordinary piece of archive from 1937 when four of the shows hundreds of miles apart were brought together live by the magic of wireless.

There are also insights into Brighton’s very own Cheeky Chappie as Tony visits a Fish and Chip Shop in Brighton where the Max Miller Society has set up a museum.

‘Casting Shadows’ a wonderfully evocative play by Mark Burgess conjures up an imaginary meeting between the actor Laurence Oliver, playwright Terence Rattigan and Brighton’s famous seaside entertainer, Max Miller. Roy Hudd headlines as Miller.

Gavin Henderson, president of the National Piers Society, reveals that seaside piers were initially places of sophistication, almost the arts centres of their day, and Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust looks to the future and the plans to create a new vertical Pier on Brighton seafront.

Tony celebrates the Great Days of the West Pier in his 1995 Archive Hour programme ‘Oh What a Lovely Pier!’ with contributions from the late Corin Redgrave among others.

The programmes featured within ‘4 Extra at the British Seaside’ in chronological order, with approximate timings are:
Pierrotters on Tour (from Kaleidoscope) – 8 minutes

Sand Between the Toes – Memories of Seaside holidays between the wars (1984) – 27 minutes

Casting Shadows, a play by Mark Burgess, starring Roy Hudd – 44 minutes

Oh What a Lovely Pier! (Archive Hour from 1995) – 56 minutes

This fascinating celebration can be heard at the BBC Sounds site until September 1st.


Vote for new talent in The Stage’s Debut Award shortlist

The eagerly-awaited 2020 Debut Awards shortlist from theatrical newspaper The Stage always proves interesting.

You can have your say too- one of the categories – Best West End Debut Performer – can be voted on by theatre fans. This category is highlighted in purple below.

The Best West End Debut Performer, sponsored by Trafalgar Entertainment, celebrates a performer’s first appearance in London’s West End. It is the only category where the winner is decided by public vote.  

The winners will be announced on Sunday, September 27th at The Stage Debut Awards in association with Access Entertainment, starting at 7pm BST. 

The awards will be presented as a virtual ceremony available to everyone for free. You can sign up here for details on how to watch

You can read my views later in this article, but first, here’s the complete shortlist :

Best Performer in a Play – sponsored by Audible

Saida Ahmed for Little Miss Burden at The Bunker, London
Katie Erich for Oliver Twist at Leeds Playhouse  (in a co-production with Ramps on the Moon)
Brooklyn Melvin for Oliver Twist at Leeds Playhouse (in a co-production with Ramps on the Moon) Daniel Monks for Teenage Dick at the Donmar Warehouse, London
Rachel Nwokoro for Little Baby Jesus at the Orange Tree Theatre, London
Jessica Rhodes for The Sugar Syndrome at the Orange Tree Theatre, London
Khai Shaw for Little Baby Jesus at the Orange Tree Theatre, London
Bobby Stallwood for Faith, Hope and Charity at the National Theatre, London  

Best Performer in a Musical

Shan Ako for Les Misérables at the Sondheim Theatre, London
Lucy Anderson for Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre, London
Chase Brown for Mame at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
Oli Higginson for The Last Five Years at the Southwark Playhouse, London
Adriana Ivelisse for West Side Story at Curve, Leicester
Tom Noyes for Preludes at the Southwark Playhouse, London
Bethany Tennick for Islander at the Southwark Playhouse, London
Sam Tutty for Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre, London

Best Director – sponsored by Smith & Williamson

Georgia Green for The Mikvah Project at the Orange Tree Theatre, London
Martha Kiss Perrone for When It Breaks It Burns at the Battersea Arts Centre, London
Alex Sutton for Preludes at the Southwark Playhouse, London 

Best Designer – sponsored by Robe Lighting

Liam Bunster (set and costume) for The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Andrew Exeter (lighting) for High Fidelity at the Turbine Theatre, London
Rose Revitt (set and costume) for Dr Korczak’s Example at Leeds Playhouse  

Best Composer or Lyricist 

Jim Barne and Kit Buchan for The Season at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Royal & Derngate, Northampton
Jherek Bischoff for The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the National Theatre, London
Robbie Williams for The Boy in the Dress at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon 

Best Writer

Samuel Bailey for Shook at the Southwark Playhouse, London
Mari Izzard for Hela at The Other Room, Cardiff
Eleanor Tindall for Before I Was a Bear at The Bunker, London
Temi Wilkey for The High Table at the Bush Theatre, London (in a co-production with Birmingham Rep)

Best West End Debut Performer – sponsored by Trafalgar Entertainment

Shan Ako for Les Misérables at the Sondheim Theatre
David Mitchell for The Upstart Crow at the Gielgud Theatre
Daniel Monks for Teenage Dick at the Donmar Warehouse
Samantha Pauly for Evita at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Wendell Pierce for Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre
Sam Tutty for Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre
Aimee Lou Wood for Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre


Best Creative West End Debut – sponsored by the Noël Coward Foundation

Fabian Aloise (choreographer) for Evita at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Nadia Latif (director) for Fairview at the Young Vic Theatre
Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson (composer, lyricist and book) for Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre
Femi Temowo (composer) for Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre and for Three Sisters at the National Theatre
David West Read (book) for & Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre


My personal feelings are that Best Performer in a Play would be well awarded to Jessica Rhodes for fulfilling a very demanding role in a highly-complex, fascinating portrayal of a young woman approaching adulthood in THE SUGAR SYNDROME at the Orange Tree in Richmond (read my review here). Also highly recommended is Rachel Nwokoro; her performance in LITTLE BABY JESUS – also at the Orange Tree – was magnetic (see my review here)

As to Best Performer in a Musical, I enjoyed Chase Brown in MAME (see my review here), also Tom Noyes in PRELUDES (see my review here) and Bethany Tennick in ISLANDER (see my review here).

Best Director would be well awarded to Alex Sutton for the fascinating and mesmerising PRELUDES (see my review here).

Best Writer would, for me, be well awarded to Temi Wilkey for her highly ambitious look at family, identity and sexuality in the riveting THE HIGH TABLE at the Bush Theatre (see my review here)

Best Creative West End Debut would, for me, be well awarded to Nadia Latif for her audacious work on the highly-charged coup de theatre of FAIRVIEW at the Young Vic (see my review here)

And as to Best West End Debut Performer….well, why don’t YOU decide?

Congratulations to all shortlisted creatives! Roll on September 27th…..

Transport Group’s musical BROADBEND, ARKANSAS

From America, Transport Group is offering you a free performance of their world-premiere musical from 2019, BROADBEND, ARKANSAS.

In a remarkably timely offering, the show explores how a Black family grapples with decades of inequality, violence, and suppression in the American South. Benny, an orderly at a nursing home, delicately balances his role as a caregiver to an ornery white resident who shares a contentious past with his white boss while at the same time caring for his own family as the fight for equality grips the nation in the midst of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Thirty years later, his daughter, Ruby, struggles to understand an incident of police brutality against her 15-year-old son. This unique musical, spanning nearly half a century and three generations, asks us to contemplate the cycle of violence in this country and how we will find hope and create change against the backdrop of hate that plagues America.

Starring Justin Cunningham and Danyel Fulton with a libretto by Ellen Fitzhugh and Harrison David Rivers and music and additional lyrics by Ted Shen, the show was highly-praised upon its debut and earned a number of high-profile recommendations, including from The New York Times.

The performance lasts 90 minutes and is available online until the end of August 16th (US time). The performance is offered free but you must register in order to gain access.

Transport Group ask that if you enjoy this streaming presentation, in lieu of a ticketing fee, please give what you are able, to financially support Black Theatre Network

HEADS- UP NOTES – You must register to receive a unique access code to view the recording. This access code will be valid for 48 hours from the time of registering. Just so you know!


MY LIGHT SHINES ON embodies the spirit of the Edinburgh Festivals – and there’s more

For the first time in 73 years, Edinburgh – the Festival City- is quiet this August. This would have been the opening weekend of the 2020 Edinburgh International Festival season. But of course, it’s not a normal year. With the necessity for safety impacting the necessity for artistic expression, the creative forces behind the Festival have specially commissioned MY LIGHT SHINES ON, a film full of brand new work from artists across genres, featuring famous faces from festivals across the years and exclusive collaborations with other Edinburgh August festivals. The film is available, free to watch, on the Festival’s YouTube channel throughout August.  You can also find the film at the foot of this blog entry (while it remains available to view).

This unique broadcast launches a series of new recorded activity, also available on the Festival’s YouTube channel from tonight, and then throughout August.

As a part of the MY LIGHT SHINES ON Online Festival, Scotland’s major national artistic companies have been commissioned to create extraordinary works that audiences can enjoy from their own homes. In celebration of our Festival City, they bring light and life to sites that must stay empty this year with unique filmed performances and insights from artists. New shows will be added daily so do check back at the festival’s YouTube channel regularly.

Enjoy these lovingly created lights that still shine despite our current circumstances, helping us to find our way back to performances everyone can enjoy – and which remind us of why the arts are such a beloved and vital part of our culture.

Two Grand Survivors celebrate birthdays

A very happy birthday to two Grand -in name and design – theatres which, thanks to the support of local audiences and the efforts of staunch supporters, have both withstood the ravages of time to survive and emerge as much-loved venues for the 21st century.

Swansea Grand Theatre turns 123

On 26th July, Swansea Grand Theatre celebrated its 123rd birthday.

The theatre opened in 1897 – the year Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published, the word ‘computer’ was first used, the first Boston Marathon was held, Enid Blyton was born, Brahms died, the Klondike gold rush started, the pencil sharpener was patented, the Tate Gallery opened and Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee!

Erected on the site of the former Drill Hall it was designed for proprietors H H Morell and F Mouillot by architect William Hope of Newcastle, built by D Jenkins and opened by Madame Adelina Patti – a locally resident operatic diva.

In 1968, the Swansea Grand was threatened with closure but, following a campaign led by its manager and artistic director John Chilvers, the theatre was saved. The Swansea Corporation (City Council) leased the building in May 1969 and bought it outright in 1979. The theatre was then refurbished and updated between 1983 and 1987 at a cost of £6.5m. A further £1m was spent on an Arts Wing which opened in 1999, and the opening ceremony was performed by Catherine Zeta Jones. The City and County of Swansea continues to own, manage and fund the building today.

Its opening ceremony on 26th July 1897 was certainly grand. Baroness Adelina Nicolini (Patti) travelled down by train from her home at Craig Y Nos to open the theatre. She arrived at Midland Railway Station, and was then taken by horse drawn carriage through the city, passing the then Star Theatre and the empty Theatre Royal, finally arriving at the Grand. The streets were lined with hundreds of well-wishers hungry for a look at the Opera Diva.

Blackpool Grand Theatre is 126

The Grand was designed on a prime site by Victorian master theatre architect Frank Matcham and was opened on 23rd July 1894. Hailed as ‘Matcham’s masterpiece’, it was reported to have been built in just nine months at a cost of £20,000 to a brief by owner Thomas Sorgensen to build him “the prettiest theatre in the land”. It is believed to be the first design in which Matcham used his cantilevered approach to the tiers , enabling a column-free wide spanning auditorium and an unrestricted view from every seat.

The theatre opened with a production of Hamlet with Wilson Barrett in the starring role. The programme was printed on pure silk and perfumed with ‘Tower Bouquet’ by a chemist in Church Street.

The opening of Blackpool Grand catapulted it into the number one circuit , able to attract famous actors, spectacular musicals and high-class opera. Stars such as Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtree, Beerbohm Tree, Seymour Hicks and Mrs Patrick Campbell all appeared here before Sergenson sold out to the Tower Company for £47,500 in 1909. The Tower Company then owned the Theatre until 1968.

In the twenties the Blackpool Grand became famous for staging operetta and big American musicals like Rose Marie, The Desert Song and No No Nanette. Great stars, including Evelyn Laye, Carl Brisson, Tallulah Bankhead, Matheson Lang, Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert, appeared at The Grand in this decade and many were to continue to tour throughout the Thirties, Forties and Fifties.

The sixties saw a serious decline in the theatre’s fortunes and had it not been for achieving listed status- thanks to members of the Friends Group and the Victorian Society, would certainly have been lost. Thankfully now listed Grade II* and beautifully restored, the venue continues to delight audiences well into its second century.