It’s the third Music Hall and Variety Day!

Today is the third Music Hall and Variety Day, where the British Music Hall Society invites people around the UK and beyond to celebrate by posting on social media photographs, postcards, bill posters, programmes, costumes, stories, memories about music hall, the buildings, performers, songs and shows that you may recall or have a link with. And don’t forget the hashtags so others can find your contributions!

For my contribution, below you can enjoy Michael Grade’s excellent History of Music Hall from 2011

CCL’s Postcolonial Theatre series continues with Reimagining the Victorian Past in African and in Black Diasporic Theatre – a free online presentation

On Thursday 19th May from 6.00pm- 7.30pm BST, the Centre for Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London presents “Reimagining the Victorian Past in African and in Black Diasporic Theatre”, a talk by Tiziana Morosetti

This is the second of three events in the CCL Postcolonial Theatre series running through May.

Dr Morosetti introduces her talk here: “Several African American and Black British playwrights have engaged in the past 25 years with material from the Victorian past. If issues of slavery and segregation have been at the forefront, aligning theatre to neo-Victorian and neo-Slavery narratives, Black playwrights have also engaged with specific figures from the long 19th century, from Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus (1996), which first brought on the contemporary stage the story of Sarah Baartman (or the ‘Hottentot Venus’), to Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon (2014), which rewrites Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon (1859) while also addressing (quite literally) the presence and relevance of Boucicault on the British stage.

In my paper, I will consider as part of this emerging corpus two recent Black British plays that specifically engage with the Victorian past: Winsome Pinnock’s Rockets and Blue Lights (2018), and Janice Okoh’s The Gift (2019), which engage, respectively, with the painter William Turner (1775-1851) and with Sara Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880), goddaughter of Queen Victoria and formerly an enslaved child in the Kingdom of Dahomey. In discussing ways in which the Victorian past becomes an essential reference point in addressing questions of identity, (neo)colonialism, and racism today, I will compare these plays to two Nigerian examples that display similar engagement: Ola Rotimi’s Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1974), which reflects on colonialism through the portrait of the Oba of Benin (1857-1914) and the British Expedition of 1897; and Femi Osofisan’s Ajayi Crowther (2002), which celebrates the figure of the Nigerian linguist and clergyman (1809-91).

I will argue these examples, while displaying a closer focus on African history and overall different aesthetics, complement the vision of Black British playwrights by commenting on, and proposing counter-narratives to, the relation between Black cultures and white British power during the reign of Victoria.”

The participants:

Dr Tiziana Morosetti is an Associate Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is also an affiliate to the African Studies Centre, Oxford. She works on representations of race, Blackness and diversity on the 19th-century and contemporary British stage; and on Black drama, especially African. She is the editor of Staging the Other in Nineteenth-century British Drama (Peter Lang 2016), Africa on the Contemporary London Stage (Palgrave 2018) and, with Osita Okagbue, The Palgrave Handbook of Theatre and Race (2021). She is the General Secretary of the African Theatre Association UK (AfTA) and the co-founder and deputy director of the journal Quaderni del ’900.

Dr Morosetti’s talk will be chaired by Lynette Goddard, Professor of Black Theatre and Performance at Royal Holloway, University of London. Their research focuses on documenting and analysing the contemporary histories of contemporary Black British theatre by looking at the politics of representation and the careers of performers, playwrights and directors. As well as numerous articles and chapters, they have published two full-length monographs Staging Black Feminisms: Identity, Politics, Performance (Palgrave, 2007) and Contemporary Black British Playwrights: Margins to Mainstream (Palgrave, 2015), one shorter book, Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (Routledge, 2017), and co-edited Modern and Contemporary Black British Drama (Palgrave, 2014). They selected and introduced the plays for The Methuen Drama Book of Plays by Black British Writers (2011) and wrote introductions for Mojisola Adebayo Plays One (Oberon, 2011) and Mojisola Adebayo Plays Two (Oberon, 2019). They are currently co-editing the anthology Black British Queer Plays and Practitioners (Methuen) and the two-volume Routledge History of Contemporary British Theatre.

For more information, and to reserve your space for this free online talk, click here

Musical Theatre Conference returns to in-person gatherings this year

On Monday, 16 May 11:00am – 6:00pm BST at Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst Street, Southside B5 4TB, the UK Musical Theatre Conference returns to being a live, in-person only event after two years of Covid restrictions.

This year the theme is ‘Worlds to change and worlds to win’ – New musical theatre for our times

This is the UK’s main Conference event focusing on the musical theatre sector and art form in the UK, and is an invaluable way to network and gain an overview of musical theatre in the UK.

It’s shaping up to be an exciting gathering, with confirmed speakers so far including artistic director Suba Das (Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres), rapaturg Gerel Falconer (‘Black Power Desk’), writers Francesca Forristal and Jordan Clarke (‘Public Domain’), producer Ameena Hamid (‘The Wiz’), academic Pamela Karantonis (Goldsmiths), director Angharad Lee (‘The Last 5 Years’), creative Meg McGrady (‘The Phase’), writer Leo Mercer (‘Guy’), director Kerry Michael MBE (‘Tommy’), legal expert Stephen Pidcock (Clintons Solicitors), producer Chris Sudworth (Birmingham Hippodrome), writer Rachel Victor-Sampson (‘Royals & Rebels’), composer Tim Sutton (‘To the Streets!’) and writer DJ Walde (‘Sylvia’).

After two years of almost all MMD and MTN’s events being held online, we are planning the 2022 UK Musical Theatre Conference as a solely in-person event. This is in keeping with past Conferences and the rare opportunity they offer for gathering together those focused on new musical theatre in the UK, to network and connect in the breaks as well as debate during the formal sessions.

This year’s Conference will look at areas where musical theatre is making a difference within the performing arts and wider society, and poised to make more significant impacts over the next decade. For surely this is a time when the world needs more musical theatre. At this stage we expect session topics to include how musical theatre can engage audiences with the climate crisis, musical theatre that amplifies the voices of particular communities, adapting real life stories for musical theatre, and evolving approaches to making musical theatre more inclusive. Further details and speakers to be announced soon.

Booking gives attendees access in person to dedicated networking sessions (10-11am and 5.15-6.15pm) with musical theatre industry peers, and to the conference sessions (11am-1.30pm and 3-5.15pm), with further networking opportunities over lunch, which will be provided at the venue thanks to conference sponsors.

The 2022 UK Musical Theatre Conference is brought to you by Musical Theatre Network and Mercury Musical Developments, in association with Birmingham Hippodrome. Concord Theatricals are lead sponsor of the 2022 UK Musical Theatre Conference, and Theatrical Rights Worldwide as session sponsors. Thanks also to Birmingham Hippodrome as venue partner, and to Arts Council England for their core funding of Musical Theatre Network and Mercury Musical Developments as co-producers of the Conference.

For ticket and event information, click here

Celebrate “Bawdy but British” Douglas Byng on Music Hall and Variety Day

One of several big-selling compilations of the works of Douglas Byng

Monday May 16th marks the third annual Music Hall and Variety Day, when celebrations of the UK’s wonderful Music Hall and variety heydays proliferate across social media, online, and in-person events too.

This year the British Music Hall Society (instigators of the annual celebration) are reprising last year’s celebration of legendary cabaret star Douglas Byng, which was an in-person event. Now, to make the event more widely available, it is being presented once again, this time as an online Zoom broadcast.

When “Doris, the Goddess of Wind” was featured by Alan Bennett in his hit play THE HABIT OF ART, it reminded audiences of one the long- lost saucy cabaret performers of an earlier time. The writer and original performer of this piece was the popular cabaret, musical and revue star Douglas Byng, usually appearing in drag as one of his gallery of characters encapsulated in song. Naughty, bawdy, saucy, camp, risqué, outrageous – Byng was all of these, and more. Which is why he retained his affectionate relationship and popularity with audiences over a career spanning six decades.

On Monday, 16th May, The British Music Hall Society hosts an online evening telling Byng’s life story, presented by Richard Norman and Keith Fawkes, which is amply illustrated with recordings of the master at work, both on film and on disc. Byng’s debonair drag appearances in revue were described by Noel Coward as “the most refined vulgarity in London”. His records of his own saucy songs sold millions, and he was Britain’s biggest cabaret star for many years in the 20s and 30s.

His full name was Douglas Coy Byng, but “Coy” was the one thing Byng was definitely not. An openly gay performer at a time when this was very much not the norm, Byng’s long career was helped by his versatility in adapting to fluctuating trends after the cabaret scene changed during and after world war two; he found a home in pantomime for thirty years, while he could still be found performing his speciality routines in his eighties.

Now unjustly forgotten, Douglas Byng deserves this celebration and also a renewed recognition as one of the pioneers of LGBT visibility, as well as being a much-loved and very entertaining “turn” for well over 60 years.

DOUGLAS BYNG is an online event, presented by the British Music Hall Society.

Find details and tickets here

Walter Sickert – first major retrospective in 60 years includes music hall works

Walter Richard Sickert
Brighton Pierrots (1915)
Tate collection

At Tate Britain until September 18, there’s a rare chance to see collected works of English painter Walter Sickert in the first major retrospective of his work for over 60 years. Those interested in music hall will definitely not want to miss it.

Walter Sickert is recognised as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, having helped shape modern British art as we know it. With ties to renowned painters from James Abbott McNeill Whistler to Edgar Degas, he strengthened the artistic connections between Britain and France and continues to influence contemporary painters to this very day.

The first major retrospective of Sickert at Tate in over 60 years, this exhibition explores how he had an often radical, distinctive approach to setting and subject matter. From working off detailed sketches to taking inspiration from news photography, these were the tools he used to depict his vision of everyday life.

A former actor, he had a flair and fascination for all things theatrical, including performers in music halls crafted on canvas, and nude portraits staged in intimate, domestic settings. His imagination was also fuelled by current events including the rise of celebrity culture, and he used this to create compelling narratives.

Much like the man, his art was complex. Creative and colourful, his body of work was ever-changing and can be interpreted in different ways. His own self-portraits, for example, showcase how he evolved throughout his career – from his beginnings as an actor and artistic apprentice, to becoming one of the most gifted and influential artists of his time.

Room Three sounds of particular interest to those with theatre on their minds, as the catalogue to the exhibition says:

“Initially inspired by Degas’s paintings of Parisian café-concerts, Sickert’s music hall paintings catapulted his career to new heights. From a young age he was described as ‘stage-struck’ and acted professionally before becoming an artist. Sickert visited music halls almost every night and made sketches that not only captured the effects of light and movement onstage, but also the people watching in the audience. His subsequent paintings adopted unusual viewpoints while playing with colour, expressing the vibrancy of the performative atmosphere. However, critics described music halls as ‘working-class entertainments’, perceiving popular culture as an inappropriate subject for fine art.

Music halls were popular entertainment venues in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Sickert’s paintings of London, but also Paris and Dieppe, trace their development and demise – from nightly live performances to hosting the first cinematic screenings in Britain. The cinema as well as radio and music recordings became popular, leading to a decline in music hall audiences. Yet, Sickert never lost his interest in theatrical subjects and later turned his attention to other forms of popular entertainment.”

On selected Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.00pm, you can add to your enjoyment with a pre-show talk, lasting 60 minutes, details of which you can find here

For more information, and to book tickets, click here

For anyone who might want a bit of an introduction to Sickert’s work, here are a couple of interesting video courtesy of YouTube posters

A review of the Tate Britain exhibition
From a small exhibition last year entitled THE THEATRE OF LIFE