Weekly Repertory Theatre in the 1950s; watch an entertaining first-hand account from Martin Daniels

Through the 1950s, in hundreds of theatres up and down the British Isles, weekly repertory theatre brought a steady diet of plays to local communities who cherished their smallish local theatres. Groups of actors were hired to perform a complete season of plays, one being performed on stage whilst the following week’s play was being learned and blocked. And so it went on, week after week, year after year. Dying out at the end of the decade, “weekly rep” (as it was known) was fondly remembered by those who had seen it.

As a young actor, Martin Daniels experienced first-hand the demanding and unpredictable world of British weekly rep during the 1950s. In this engaging and informative interview from 2016 with Ardent Theatre’s Mark Sands, he tells us about how weekly rep worked, the various circuits, and why rep faded into history, along the way sharing some fascinating and funny anecdotes. The interview is helpfully divided into sections so that you can dive straight to the part that most interests you, or you can get comfy and watch the whole thing from start to finish, a pretty interesting way to spend an hour!

You can watch the interview here

Martin Daniels. Photo courtesy Mark Sands

Burnley Empire Theatre sold for £1; gets another chance at life

The Burnley Empire starts along the road to recovery. Photo courtesy Mark Salmon

East Lancashire’s last surviving Victorian theatre, the Grade II listed Burnley Empire, has been bought by a supporters group with the intention to bring it back to life after almost 25 years of neglect.

Opened in 1894, the 1200-seater venue lasted for 101 years as a theatre, cinema, and then bingo hall, until closing in 1995.

Previous owners the Duchy of Lancaster sold the building to the Trust for £1.

Since 1995, the building has slowly decayed, not helped by an arson attack and the deterioration of the building’s roof. The theatre has accordingly been on the Theatres Trust’s annual Theatres At Risk Register for many years.

The new owners, Burnley Empire Limited, operating through the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT) have made their first priority to make the building weather-tight and then to commence plans for restoration.

Let’s wish them well for the revival of this prized community asset and an historic part of Burnley’s social fabric. And if you live locally, please give a hand, if you can, to bring this sleeping beauty back to life.

Learn more about the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust here

Learn more about the excellent work of the Theatres Trust and their Theatres at Risk Register here

A trip to EartH

EartH arts centre in Hackney, red entrance on the left for upstairs, blue entrance on the right for downstairs. Photo by unrestrictedtheatre

It’s so inspiring when you see a beautiful building being brought back into use after years of neglect. This is just what has happened to EartH, (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), hidden away in Dalston.

Built in 1936 as the Savoy cinema seating 1800 in a lavish Art Deco style, it survived into the early 80s before closure and later subdivision for a range of activities. Finally, in 2017/8, the building was brought back together again and after much work and cleaning, the spaces now consist of a first floor cafe/restaurant, a downstairs “black box” venue (in the former stalls) for concerts and music events for between 900-1200 people, and the best of all, in the former balcony, a 720-capacity arts/ performance/ cinema space which retains its richly decorated ceiling and the top half of the proscenium arch. Its current condition might best be described as “arrested decay”.

Interior shot showing upstairs space with laylight and richly decorated ceiling, photo unrestrictedtheatre

The fabric of the building has now been stabilised which has taken much effort in areas such as roofing, plasterwork, cleaning and many other areas which visitors cannot actually see. Although the circle space has yet to be restored, it’s easy to appreciate the volume, scale and quality of the decoration which has thankfully survived decades of neglect.

I visited EartH courtesy of the Cinema Theatre Association and their superb visits organiser Ken Roe. We were very fortunate to meet Josh, the enthusiastic House Manager who gave us a very warm welcome and spoke with genuine affection for the building, about making friends for the facility and also of ambitious plans for the future.

Savoy cinema original auditorium at opening in 1936, photo courtesy EartH website

Josh mentioned that the group who own the building have another large scale venue nearby, and we agreed that to find a venue this size in Dalston is a precious discovery, and one that will be much in demand; this, they have already proved with a packed programme of events practically every day. One point Josh made is that they never schedule events for the two spaces at the same time, bearing in mind the potential for “sound bleed”, and Josh mentioned that they have ambitions to address this in the future.

Together with the reputation EartH is already making for itself as a popular venue, and the friendly and enthusiastic management team, I feel confident that EartH is in safe hands. Thanks for your welcome, Josh. Let’s all wish them much success, and eventually- the money to do that upstairs restoration!

Savoy Cinema at opening in 1936, photo courtesy EartH website

Find out more about EartH and its events calendar here

To find out more about the great work of the Cinema Theatre Association and how they help to preserve our building heritage, visit their website here

Ceiling decoration detail (apologies for darkness of image) Photo by unrestrictedtheatre

119-year old Camden theatre beauty gets facelift

Work begins…. (photo taken March 5th by Unrestricted Theatre)

Housed inside a Grade II-listed London theatre, popular Camden music venue Koko announced its closure ahead of a £40 million refurbishment, which will involve the purchase of buildings either side of the venue to expand into rehearsal and performance spaces, a broadcast studio, restaurants and shops in another example of the continuing trend towards vertically integrated entertainment offerings. Thankfully the original listed auditorium will be unaltered in the refurbishment.

The building started life in 1900 as the Camden Theatre, opened by the leading star of her day, Ellen Terry, and designed by leading theatre architect W G R Sprague, originally seating over 2400. In 1909 it was reborn as the Camden Hippodrome, a variety theatre and in 1913 became a cinema, which lasted until World War Two. Purchased by the BBC in 1945, it became a radio theatre, the chief recording home of hit radio shows such as The Goon Show and many others, and it was in pretty much continuous use for over two decades.

When the BBC moved out in 1972 (to relocate to the Golders Green Hippodrome), the building lay empty for some time before being revived as concert venue The Music Machine, later retitled Camden Palace and most recently refurbished as Koko in 2004. Its current capacity is around 1500.

Let’s wish the owners every success and look forward to a long and successful future life for this Camden beauty.

Read the story run by the Evening Standard here

Koko in 2016 (photo courtesy Philafrenzy)

Dame Diana Rigg

March provides a chance to share An Evening with Dame Diana Rigg in London. Tickets and more information can be found here.

This event reminded me that whenever I travel by air I am most grateful to Dame Diana. Some years ago she compiled a book entitled No Turn Unstoned, subtitled ‘the worst ever theatrical reviews’. And she has found some real stingers, although I am glad to say that the contemporary theatre world’s high standards gives very few opportunities for this kind of criticism anymore.

Whenever I travel I always take it as a calmer (I am not a good flyer) and rather than well up with anxiety, this little book has given me many smiles and at time outright laughs just when I need them most. You can dip in and out of it very easily so it is the perfect travelling companion (alongside a husband/wife/significant other/ partner/ gigolo/gigolette/ farmyard animal (if that’s your bag)) As you can see, my copy is well-travelled and somewhat dog-eared.

Bought for me by a dear actor friend, it is still available- only in second-hand condition, I would imagine- on Amazon, abebooks and lots of other fine online booksellers.