“BAWDY BUT BRITISH!” Enjoy a celebration of the unique Douglas Byng

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

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 popularity with audiences over a career spanning six decades.

This Thursday, 16th September, The British Music Hall Society hosts an 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 in-person event, presented by the British Music Hall Society at the Water Rats Pub/Theatre venue in London. Find details and tickets here


Discovering local history through performance – an online talk

On Wednesday 15 September at 4.00pm BST the University of Wolverhampton presents an interesting talk on the importance of drama in communities

In “Applying Heritage Theatre: Discovering local history through performance” Dr Darren Daly will examine the use of theatre to engage with and reveal local history. In the course of the talk, he will identify some of the main principles and theatrical forms for communicating history through performance and illustrate how they can reveal hidden histories and narratives.

The lecture will use examples from the University of Wolverhampton’s partnership work with the Black Country Living Museum and Black Country Studies Centre, and a recent project called Hush Now by Feral Productions which investigated the historic Mother and Baby Homes located in the Black Country and the surrounding areas.

The talk is scheduled to last 60 minutes.

Book your free tickets here


Heritage Open Day’s top 25 theatre events – What will you discover?

From 10 – 19 September across the country you can access and learn about a huge number of buildings you can’t often get in to.

The popular annual Heritage Open Days event embraces a very wide mix of events and activities, and this year it returns with a mix of in-person and online activities to enjoy wherever you are in the country.

Here’s my Top 25 events that will be most of interest to theatre-lovers. See what’s near you-or online!

IN-PERSON The Stables Theatre Building Tour
The Stables Theatre, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK17 8LU Tour and behind the scenes look at the building that is one of the UK’s most successful music venues, led by the original architect. Details here

IN-PERSON People’s Museum
Hippodrome Bingo, 27 Railway Street, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, DL14 7LR Memorabilia of Bishop Auckland on display at the Old Hippodrome Theatre. Details here

IN-PERSON AND ONLINE Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ Visits
North East Theatre Organ Association, New Victoria Centre, High Street, Howden Le Wear, Crook, County Durham, DL15 8EZ Find out the amazing story of the only remaining Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ in the North East (& one of the largest in Europe) – and hear it in action (online option via information on the page with details). Details here

IN-PERSON Exeter’s Northcott Theatre – opening the archive
Northcott Theatre, Stocker Road, Exeter, Devon, EX4 4QB For the first time, the Exeter Northcott Theatre will be sharing items from its archive and launching a fantastic new mural. Details here

IN-PERSON The Rescue of the National Picture Theatre -Speaker Hilary Byers
Stepney Station, Beverley Road, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, HU3 1TY The National Civilian WW2 Memorial Trust has for over 20 years been working towards saving the remains of the National Picture Theatre on Beverley Road in Hull. Hear about the history and recent strides forward. Details here

IN-PERSON Royal Hippodrome Theatre Tours
Royal Hippodrome Theatre, 108-112 Seaside Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN21 3PF The Hippodrome Theatre opened in 1883. Catch a behind-the-scenes look at the stage and backstage areas through guided 30 minute tours and take a look inside the Victorian auditorium! Details here

IN-PERSON Mercury Theatre Tours
Balkerne Gate, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1PT Colchester’s Mercury Theatre has recently undergone a major redevelopment. Be amongst the first to see inside -and backstage! Details here

ONLINE Wivenhoe and the Theatre
Wivenhoe, Essex. A film looking at the homes of two of Wivenhoe’s most famous residents: Sir John Martin-Harvey, a successful actor and theatre manager, and Joan Hickson OBE, best known for her portrayal of Miss Marple. Link available from Sept 10th. Details here

IN-PERSON Cheltenham Playhouse Tours
Playhouse Theatre, 47-53 Bath Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL53 7HG Guided tours around the ground floor of the grade-II listed building including scenery workshop and stage, while learning about its pre-theatre past as salt works, slipper baths and swimming pool – which you will descend into! Details here

IN-PERSON Stockport Plaza Super Cinema and Variety Theatre Open Day
Plaza Theatre, Mersey Square, Stockport, Greater Manchester, SK1 1SP The beautifully restored 1932 Stockport Plaza throws open her doors at 11.00am for a full day of FREE to attend events, including performances of the mighty Compton Theatre Organ. Details here

IN-PERSON Watford Palace Theatre
20 Clarendon Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, WD17 1JZ As part of Heritage Open Days, we will be opening up our home to you for a day of fun, facts and fabulousness. Details here

IN-PERSON Playhouse Theatre Whitstable Tours
Playhouse Theatre, 104 High Street, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 1AZ This is an opportunity to see how a theatre operates. Tours of all backstage areas are on offer as well as demonstrations covering the many aspects of how we put on a show. Details here

IN-PERSON AND ONLINE Lancaster Grand Theatre Heritage Weekend
Lancaster Grand Theatre, St Leonardgate, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 1NL Offering a Tour of the Grade II listed, 237 year old theatre. If you can’t attend in person – there is a virtual tour of the public areas of the theatre on their website. Link available from Sept 10th. Details here

IN-PERSON AND ONLINE Pavilion Theatre Gorleston – Backstage Tours
Pavilion Theatre, Pier Gardens, Gorleston, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR31 6PP The Pavilion Theatre in Gorleston celebrates its 120th birthday this year and to celebrate we’ll be running informative tours of the building including to areas that are usually closed to the public, including backstage! As part of their commitment to making the tour accessible to all, they’ll be live-streaming at least one of our tours for people to access online. Details here

IN-PERSON Tours of De Grey Rooms and York Theatre Royal
Entrance to De Grey Rooms, St. Leonards Place, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 7HD Learn about York Conservation Trust and take a guided tour of the De Grey Rooms and York Theatre Royal. Details here

IN-PERSON Tours of The Old Savoy – The home of The Deco Theatre
Abington Square, Next to The Press Restaurant, Northampton, Northamptonshire, NN1 4AE The Deco Theatre, Northampton’s hidden gem, is host to a wide variety of shows, the Christmas pantomime, and many training events. Explore its spaces and history on a guided tour. Details here

IN-PERSON Palace Theatre Centre Stage
Palace Theatre, Appleton Gate, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1JY Visit the pop-up exhibition about Newark Palace Theatre’s first 100 years. Details here

IN-PERSON Tours of The Majestic Theatre, Retford
Retford Theatre Trust, Majestic Theatre, Coronation Street, Retford, Nottinghamshire, DN22 6DX Part of Retford Heritage Open Day 2021. The Majestic Theatre will be open for free guided tours between 10am and 2pm, of both front of house and backstage. Details here

ONLINE Virtual Tours of Blakehay Theatre
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, BS23 1JZ Virtual Tour of Weston-Super-Mare’s Blakehay Theatre, a 207- seater converted from an early Victorian Baptist church in the 1980s. With this online tour, you will be guided around the Front of House, Auditorium, the Upper Studios and also the backstage areas including one of the Juliet balconies and two Dressing Rooms. Links available from Sept 10th. Details here

IN-PERSON A Brief History of Professional Theatre in Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre , Tudor Square, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 2LA A linear walk round the city centre, visiting sites of the surviving and former theatres and concert halls of Sheffield. Details here

IN-PERSON Marina Theatre Lowestoft Tours
Marina Theatre, The Marina, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR32 1HH Take one of our guided heritage tours and learn more about the Marina Theatre’s history. Details here

IN-PERSON Tyne Theatre & Opera House Tours
Tyne Theatre & Opera House, 109-119 Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE1 4AG Narrated guided tour of the Grade I listed Victorian Theatre which was built in 1867. The Theatre houses a fully restored stage machinery, a rarity in the UK. Tours last approximately 60-70 mins. Details here

IN-PERSON Sunderland Empire Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, 4-5 High Street West, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, SR1 3EX Join the Creative Learning Team at Sunderland Empire Theatre for a free tour inside the Edwardian theatre building, exploring its architecture and rich history. Details here

IN-PERSON Tours at the Lawrence Batley Theatre
Lawrence Batley Theatre, Queen Street, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD1 2SP Join us for a special backstage tour, taking in the stories of our historic building and a look behind-the-scenes, guided by one of our expert team. Be the first to see our redeveloped spaces following our A Theatre For Tomorrow campaign this summer. Details here

IN-PERSON Yvonne Arnaud Theatre events
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Millbrook, Guildford, Surrey, GU1 3UX A rare opportunity to see behind the scenes at this grade II listed venue. Celebrate theatre food and snacks through the ages with our fun and family friendly activities. Details here


St George’s Theatre self-guided tours available to all

This great idea arrives as many buildings are celebrating the various annual Open House and Heritage Open Day schemes across the UK.

The creative people at St George’s Theatre, Great Yarmouth have compiled an interesting self-guided heritage tour of their historic building which is most conveniently available to visitors and those unable to visit.

As they say themselves, “Follow in the footsteps of generations gone by & hear the fascinating stories of St George’s Theatre. Explore the stunning 300 year old church, a gem of Baroque architecture and learn about its turbulent history and its near brush with demolition…..”

You can access the tour in person, by using the QR codes handily placed around the building. Or, if you are unable to visit the theatre, you can still enjoy the tour from the comfort of your own home, through their website, details of which below.

It’s a novel way to significantly increase access to a building with an engaging history, and I hope you’ll give it a go.

Find the tour here