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


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

Remembering Jill Hudson

Stage Doorkeeper Jill Hudson was the first person I met walking into the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1986. For the next 31 years she was the first person most people saw.

Jilly was a smart lady with a big heart and an even larger presence; she ruled the Stage Door with a friendly smile, a quick mind, a calm demeanour – and considerable authority.

The news that Jill has died on January 6th after living with cancer for some time, just a few days after her birthday (on New Year’s Day), is a sad moment for myself and all those thousands of show-people who came across her, and recognised her as a happy part of Drury Lane’s glittering history.

She started at Drury Lane like me, in 1986, on the original five-year run of 42nd STREET, an incredibly happy show which had a real family atmosphere thanks to the warm-hearted management of General Manager Bill Cronshaw. Jill left in late 2017 due to illness, interestingly during the revival of 42nd STREET (which ran at the theatre for nearly two years until January 2019). She did say to me in 2017 that she wanted to retire on the last night of the show, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

For 31 years a favourite with the large casts which filled the Lane, the stage door was really Jilly’s home, with assorted cards and gifts from previous celebrity (and non-celebrity) friends, soft toys and of course Chelsea FC memorabilia. Visitors buzzed in and out constantly, always welcomed and the kettle was always on for a brew and a chat whenever time permitted.

Jilly knew how to be firm whilst being pleasant, qualities which many a visitor appreciated, and in terms of working relationships you knew just where you were with Jill- and it worked both ways. She was the best.

She will not be forgotten by those many people who met her, laughed with her and enjoyed her warm and happy Tannoy messages- especially keeping people up to date on sports event back in the days before mobile phones. Indeed, Twitter and Instagram have lit up with tributes since the news of her passing emerged – proof, if any were needed, that Jill was more loved than even she may have even known!

My thoughts and heartfelt wishes go out to her family and loved ones.

Thanks for all the happy memories, Jilly. Drury Lane will never be quite the same again.


Time Travel Theatre: Panto Preparations in 1948

With the pantomime season now in full swing, let’s journey back to a time when pantomimes opened on Christmas Eve and the biggest, like those at the London Palladium, ran until the following Easter.

In this short film from the BBC Archives, we see preparations of props, scenery and costumes, together with some rehearsal footage of JACK AND THE BEANSTALK presented at the Wimbledon Theatre by legendary pantomime and ice-show impresario Tom Arnold.

Enjoy the film, which you can see here


Time Travel Theatre: Celebrating Noel Coward’s 120th anniversary- and you’re invited to his 70th birthday!

In celebration of the 120th anniversary of his birthday, let’s remind ourselves of the author, actor and leading light of the English twentieth century stage, Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973).

The above footage was filmed on the occasion of his 70th birthday in 1969, exactly 50 years ago today. Anyone who was anyone in the theatre world paid homage to “The Master” at a gala reception at London’s Savoy Hotel. Sadly the footage has no sound as it was shot for British Pathé News who put a voice-over commentary over the sequences, as was their practice at the time.

So grab some canapes, crack open a bottle of bubbly/prosecco/Vimto/fizzy water, and let’s all celebrate Sir Noel Coward!

BONUS EXTRA

Here’s a clip of Noel Coward a few months later at the 1970 Tony Awards in New York being presented with an honorary Tony Award by the equally legendary Cary Grant.

With thanks to the original YouTube posters, British Pathé and MrPoochsmooch