Watch Now: Finborough offers another classic revival – with a few intriguing twists!

Yet again the brilliant Finborough Theatre comes up with another online offering to enjoy through August. This time it’s another in their ever-fascinating line of theatrical rediscoveries which are always worth seeing. Another intriguing facet to this production is the appearance in the cast of two people best known as theatre critics not actors- Michael Billington and Fiona Mountford. Intrigued? Me too!

Presented as part of the Kensington and Chelsea Festival, this play is – intriguingly- actually located in the borough, in the streets in and around the Finborough itself. The play is available now until 25 August.

MASKS AND FACES OR, BEFORE AND BEHIND THE CURTAIN by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor was written and first performed in 1852

“We are actors. The most unfortunate of all artists. Nobody regards our feelings…”

Country gentleman Ernest Vane comes to London and is seduced into the celebrity lifestyle of a group of players – soon discarding his new wife for the more obvious charms of the great stage actress Peg Woffington.

In the tradition of The School for Scandal and The Rivals, Masks and Faces is both a 18th century period caper and a tribute to the backstage world of the theatre, complete with the hapless failed playwright, Triplet, and his hungry family, to real-life writer Colley Cibber, and the ghastly critics Soaper and Snarl……

Set in the 18th century, written in the 19th century, filmed in the 20th century (with an all-star cast), and now presented for the first time online, MASKS AND FACES is a celebration of making theatre.

First performed in 1852, the history of MASKS AND FACES is rooted in Kensington and Chelsea and the local area around the Finborough Theatre. It provided Ellen Terry – a former resident of Finborough Road, and a long term resident of Earl’s Court – with one of her first and most acclaimed leading roles. The production is supported by the Friends of Brompton Cemetery, next to the Finborough Theatre, where the co-author Tom Taylor, and actors Ben Webster and Sir Squire and Lady Bancroft – all known for their roles in Masks and Faces – lie buried.

Presented by Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre as part of The Kensington + Chelsea Festival 2021 which runs from 21 June–31 August. The Kensington + Chelsea Festival will bring people together to inspire and be inspired, offering a season of arts experiences in venues and unusual spaces, putting culture at the heart of pandemic recovery. The multi-disciplinary will celebrate creativity and culture for everyone. The Festival mix spans visual art, public art, design, theatre, circus, opera, dance, music, outdoor arts, comedy, spoken word, young people’s take-over stages, family shows, talks, micro-commissions, with creative experiments enabling audiences to see artists bringing new ideas to life.

MASKS AND FACES will be available to watch online from Wednesday, 28 July at 6.00pm to Wednesday, 25 August 2021 at midnight. The show will be available with subtitles on Screensaver here.


Find the theatre’s information about the show here

Society for Theatre Research announces new grants

Are you, or do you know, a theatre practitioner or researcher working through the pandemic and in need of financial help to develop a project?

The Society for Theatre Research has just announced they will be awarding twenty support grants of £200 available to help theatre practitioners and researchers through the ongoing problems caused by the pandemic. These grants are for practitioners working in the UK to facilitate British and British-related theatre projects.

The application is quick and closing date for applications is Friday 13th August.

You can find more information and application details here

Theatres Trust’s Theatres at Risk presentation highlights concerns and causes for optimism

On Tuesday 20th July at 4.00pm, Claire Appleby, Architectural Advisor at Theatres Trust presented a hugely engaging and exhaustive (but not exhausting) overview of Theatres at Risk in the UK, highlighting successes and losses and pointing up where there is hope of revival. Claire’s passion, knowledge, focus and love of her subject helped her audience enjoy the event in ways that many other presenters could not have achieved.

The Theatres Trust was established 60 years ago, as a response to the loss of over 800 theatres across the UK in the years prior to its establishment, and during its lifetime has put its authoritative weight behind many community and arts groups in saving theatres from the wrecker’s ball.

It is worth remembering that the Theatres Trust’s involvement in supporting retention, revival and reuse has contributed to 80 out of 177 theatres being open for performance or other use since the Theatres at Risk Register started fifteen years ago.

Claire talked us through the 31 theatres which are on the 2021 Theatres at Risk Register, an annual event which aims to publicise our irreplaceable theatre heritage. The list has at its core a number of theatres which are unused, hastening decline through decay- frustratingly, many have been on this annual list every year since its inception in 2006. But one of the great benefits of the list is that it sparks public attention and concern- and in some cases, spurs further efforts to retain them.

Claire described the way the list was created, with theatres being given a 1-3 (3 being the highest) score in each of three categories – Community Value (the theatre must have the potential to be returned to theatre use and have potential to benefit its locality), Star Rating (listed status which recognises great architecture or otherwise significant buildings) and Risk Factor (whether the building has operational issues, is vacant, deteriorating, vulnerable to redevelopment) .

Brighton Hippodrome, currently on the Theatres Trust’s Theatres at Risk 2021 list

The really valuable thing about a theatre’s score from this assessment therefore highlights the theatres most at risk, of most architectural value and with the most potential to be returned to theatre use. So, actually, its a really positive and forward-thinking way to identify an at risk building which gives it a better chance to be successfully brought back into use.

Further to this, in 2019 the Trust set up the Theatres at Risk Capacity Fund which is supported by a small number of organisations who provide funding sums. These are allocated as small-scale grants to theatres at the initial stages of their rehabilitation journey. These funds help groups pay for the very early-stages work which is almost impossible to fund elsewhere these days- things like exploratory work, business advice, planning advice, consultancy, viability studies, etc. In its three years of operation, the fund has benefitted 15 theatres at risk with funds totalling £203,000.

Claire’s 100-minute marathon was certainly a tale of highs and lows, with several theatres on the brink of making strides forward, including the vandalised-by-bulldozer Derby Hippodrome which currently exists without a roof, . On the other end of the scale, several venues were teetering on the edge of demolition, which is most regrettable, the worst loss of which is the fabulous 1500-seat Dudley Hippodrome, which the Council has received £25million from central funds to demolish it and build a college. This effectively leaves the town without a fit-for purpose theatre space, the old Town Hall which is sometimes used for events has no raked seating and draws endless complaints from customers. While its still standing, we can hope. Similarly, The Intimate Theatre in Palmers Green, London has been slated for demolition, although the decision has recently been recalled so there is a glimmer of hope there.

The one addition to the 2021 list was the CoOp Hall in Ramsbottom, which is an 1870s music hall unused since 1944. A recent rediscovery in remarkably good condition, it was originally slated for housing redevelopment, but thankfully all concerned move quickly, Remains . Bury council took swift action to protect the building, Theatres Trust applied for listed status, and much more work has been done to secure the building’s survival, including the local preservation group having just been allotted an award from the Architectural Heritage Fund

2020-21 has obviously been a particularly difficult year for all venues, especially disused buildings of all types, and therefore the work of the Trust’s Theatres at Risk program has become even more important.

The art of reviving a theatre- and it is most definitely an art- involves establishing, nurturing and funding a complex network of relationships between owners, landlords, leaseholders, developers, community groups, councils, arts organisations, potential grant aiders and potential supporters. The Trust’s skill, perseverance and diligence in its work in this area is not to be underestimated!

What the Theatres Trust has demonstrated is that by using their status and authority in considered and constructive ways, together with targeted grants from supportive funders they can immeasurably help those “on the ground” with the spirt and will but little experience tap into the support that they need to be able to create compelling applications for planning, listing and funding, and by opening doors to experience through early seed funding, they are actively contributing to reviving as many of our irreplaceable theatres as possible, and for that they deserve our praise and gratitude.

Hulme Hippodrome hosts a garden party on July 25th

Having just been delighted by the arrival in the post of my new SAVE HULME HIPPO T-shirt (see below), I was further pleased to see the announcement of a Garden Party at the Hulme Hippodrome on Sunday 25th July, from 1pm until 4pm which is, as they describe it, “an afternoon of food, talks and music to say Thank You for your support”.

1.00pm – Welcome drink, registering and signing people up

1.15pm – Walk around of Hulme Hip 

1.30pm   Presentation from the board  Directors + questions

2.00pm – Lunch + musical accompaniment 

2.40pm   Heritage Talk

3.00pm – Introduce future events

3.15pm – Planning for the future of the Hippodrome

Although too far away to attend myself, I hope that anyone in or around the Manchester area will get out and support them.

I’m delighted with my Save the Hippo T-shirt!

“Persistent” buildings and persistent people – How heritage buildings can revive our High Streets

Those concerned for the future of the nation’s historic high street buildings were treated to a lively and informative online presentation from Heritage Trust Network and Locality on July 1st.

Can historic buildings save England’s High Streets?

In a lively discussion, expert panelists discussed the potential new uses of historic high street premises and the role of culture in town centres’ revival.

Speakers were David Tittle – CEO of Heritage Trust Network, Owain Lloyd-James – Head of Places Strategy, Historic England, Carol Pyrah – Executive Director, Historic Coventry Trust, Joe Holyoak – Trustee, Moseley Road Baths, Diane Dever – Chair, Urban Rooms Network and Claire Appleby – Architecture Advisor, Theatres Trust.

The mainly heritage-based audience were treated to much impressive factual information from regeneration projects around the UK, together with practical steps and advice when furthering their own high street heritage projects.

The discussion put the High Street in context, starting as a community focus, then often rebuilt to become more retail-focused, and now as retail is on the decline, accelerated by Covid, towns need to find new creative offers to encourage people back to their High Streets.

Owain Lloyd-James of Heritage England reminded us that High Streets are areas of greater footfall, which is why so many theatres, cinemas and other cultural buildings are on them or very nearby. He also noted that retailers were waking up to the idea that they had to offer “something extra” for people to visit High Street stores. This new form, dubbed “experiential retail”, has prompted awareness amongst retailers that historic and heritage buildings can add something special to a shopping trip. This has fueled an increasing amount of interest in repurposing older buildings to create stores with character and interest, as opposed to the bland Lego boxes that infect most of our Hugh Streets today.

Carol Pyrah of Historic Coventry Trust told us about the successes achieved by her group including participating in City of Culture this year, and how they have positively shifted visitors expectations of the appeal of the city through their many placemaking and arts-based projects.

Joe Holyoak, a Trustee of Moseley Road Baths, told us of this historic building’s impressive plan for renovation and renaissance as an arts centre and studios. He also, helpfully, reminded us that the word “monument” stems from the word for memory. And finally, he reached back through time to remind us that buildings which survive down the ages have often been called “persistent” buildings, which seemed a very apt title; and he celebrated not only the persistent buildings but also the persistent people who help to bring them back into life.

Diane Dever discussed the projects arising from the Urban Rooms project in Folkestone. Sadly, for me, her presentation slides were so dense that they became unreadable and undermined the detail of what she was trying to tell us. It was, however, heartening to see Folkestone’s creative quarter emerging, and to hear that the income from shop and flat rentals in the area were helping to fund creative events.

For me, the best was saved till last, as Claire Appleby of the Theatres Trust brought out the convincers – the financial figures. As well, Claire underlined the architectural importance of theatres, their memory-link to the local communities around them, and the wide social benefits of theatres and the activities that can be housed within them. Also highlighted was the flexibility with which theatre companies had lead the way in Covid help, being outreach workers, community hubs, food banks, vaccination centres, and so much more- theatres really showed their value to their communities.

An Arts Council of England survey found that theatres were highly valued, with respondents stating that they were willing to pay £13 a year per person to retain their local theatre.

Theatres’ effects on the local economy were great, with people coming into the area to see a show and usually spending more while they were in the locality. In the last, non-Covid year of research, UK Theatre found there were 34 million visits to theatres across the UK bringing a value of over £1.38 billion, that figure without the extra benefits of restaurants, bars, hotels, etc.

As mentioned on this blog, another survey found that theatre’s wellbeing impacts on audiences contributed to a saving of over £102million to the NHS annually, with 60% of theatregoers more likely to report good health than non-theatregoers.

Finally, Claire quoted a number of recent or nearly-completed projects, with Chester’s Storyhouse (a redevelopment of their old Odeon cinema) bringing a million visitors in their last year. Bradford’s newly refurbished ex-Odeon cinema is projected to bring over a quarter of a million visitors in the first year, with a projected boost to the local economy of £10million. The newly-refurbished Globe Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees projects 170,000 visitors in their first year, bringing an £18million boost to the local economy. (And just another example from my own experience- Walthamstow’s refurbishment of their Granada cinema into a mixed-use theatre space is projected to bring over £100million into the local economy over its first ten years of operation.)

A lively Q&A followed, and the event was brought to a close by David Tittle. Thanks to everyone involved for a highly informative, positive and optimistic view of heritage buildings’ futures on our High Streets.

Watch a recording of the event, which you can find here