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

Mouse eats Fox

20th Century Fox logo 1953. copyright. courtesy Logopof at Flickr

So Disney’s takeover of 21st Century-Fox is sealed at a cost of $71 billion. What, I wonder, will this mean theatrically? Disney’s own theatrical arm, Disney Theatrical Group, are producers of highly-successful screen to stage adaptations of Disney properties such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, Aladdin and others. In terms of film studios adapting their own works, Disney is by far the most successful, focussing as they have on musicals, mostly animated, which is of course the area in which Disney has been an industry leader since the 1930s.

Perhaps with this major acquisition we shall see more stage musical versions of Fox film properties. They certainly have the material. Don’t forget, 20th Century-Fox was one of the foremost exponents of the vibrant Technicolor Musical in the early 1940s, easily rivalling fellow majors Paramount and even MGM in terms of budget, spectacle and quality. Legendary “42nd Street” director/drillmeister Busby Berkeley, in “The Gangs All Here” (see the Blu Ray for the most sumptuous colour you have ever bathed in), giving us a memorable (and a little bit trippy) routine with neon hula hoops in the dark, as well as the unique Carmen Miranda jauntily sporting a hat the size of the Empire State building made entirely of fruit; now there’s a challenge for any stage designer!

Many other hit movies (including all of the Marilyn Monroe vehicles) seem to be sitting there just waiting to be developed. Of course, many of them originated as stage works, others as book or short stories. Fox’s art house label, Fox Searchlight, similarly has a string of intriguing titles which have the potential to hit the stage profitably.

Fox was late to the Broadway party. After years of simply licensing out properties, in 2013 they took a more active role, collaborating with major Broadway producer Kevin McCollum (producer of Motown, Rent, In The Heights, amongst others) on bringing their film works to the stage. Fox Stage Productions have developed stage versions (in various degrees of production) including The Devil Wears Prada, Mrs Doubtfire and Father of the Bride, as well as the stage version of All About Eve, currently playing in London starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James (co-produced by Sonia Friedman).

Stage is much cheaper to produce than film, with greater potential returns and longevity for a big hit. In London, for example, The Lion King has achieved substantially advanced prices in a 2000-seater house, consistently, for twenty years (this October). The comparative price of a theatre ticket versus a movie ticket (in the UK, at least 5 to 1 in favour of theatre) also plays its part in the financials.

What would I like to see? Well how about a musical version of How To Marry A Millionaire, starring Summer Strallen, Louise Dearman and Sheila Atim, and the boys Tyrone Huntley, Gabriel Vick, Michael Xavier and (a dream) Robert Morse as J D Hanley.

Perhaps you have your own ideas of what shows from Fox you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments below…

It will naturally take time for the identification, development and the hard work of turning possibilities into actual slated projects, but I feel certain that Disney’s global success and ambition will help many historic Fox properties to realise their future stage potential and reach wider audiences.

Review: The Phlebotomist

The Phlebotomist at Hampstead Theatre until 20 April. More information here

IN BRIEF Slow-burning drama ignites into a complex battle between cold science and humanity, driven by a magnetic central performance and a strong script

“Wherever there’s a system, people will find a way to cheat it”. So says one of the characters in THE PHLEBOTOMIST, returning to Hampstead theatre after a sellout run last year, now expanded and fully-produced, shortlisted for an Olivier Award and also for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award. Not bad for writer Ella Road’s debut play.

Bea is a phlebotomist (or blood taker), in a future just a few years away where people’s life chances are ruled by their (1 to 10) genetic rating from one single blood test.

Bea’s quirky, a little insecure and a 7.1. She meets and falls for Aaron, who is charming, literary, and a desirable 8.9. They slowly fall for each other. When Bea’s friend Char’s rating test reveals she is developing Huntingdon’s disease, which will ruin her rating, she implores Bea to replace her blood for a better rated sample so that she can continue with her top job.

So begins Bea’s entanglement in the dark world of blood swapping, rapidly becoming used to the extra money. She buys new stuff, gets a bigger flat with Aaron, all is going well. Until the secrets and lies this relationship are built on come to light. Inequalities test them and things start to unravel, spiralling to a devastating conclusion. The near-silent, still coda is both potent and moving.

Personally, I always feel that work based “in the future” creates a sense of distance or “unreality” which is hard to overcome, especially on stage, but here the feelings and emotions are palpable, drawing you in slowly and quietly through act one and then haemorrhaging out in act two. Writer Road’s background as an actor has helped her to produce well-crafted dialogue that works, which the actors use to its fullest. Hooking us with that universal concern about our health, she gets under our skin in a most effective way, as evidenced by the intense concentration of the audience around me. To feel an audience “lean in” to a show is special; but this audience did.

The ingenious modular set design also serves as screens; as they are gradually removed in a metaphor for breakdown, underlining the unease generated. Video projected onto the screens is used to cover scene changes and the scenes, although variable, are mostly effective. Overall the balance of visual elements and dialogue is very successful.

Jade Anouka as Bea is magnetic, giving a vital, detailed and heartfelt portrayal. She makes Bea easy to care about. She and Rory Fleck Byrne (as quiet but simmering Aaron, a good performance but just occasionally lacking vocal projection) are well-matched, both returning from last year’s run. Direction is tight and economical, suited to the material. The show has also expanded well from the small downstairs studio and now feels as if it has fully reached its stage potential. (And, as I suggested previously, it has been optioned for TV.)

Pointing up a whole raft of ideas, from ethics, to responsibility to oneself and the unborn child, self-esteem, of truth and lies, and their ultimate consequences, THE PHLEBOTOMIST is a passionately-written, compelling and unsettling view of an uncertain future world. Book quickly before it sells out. Again.

The Phlebotomist runs at Hampstead Theatre until 20 April. Tickets and more information here

Manchester theatregoers! – The Funeral Director is coming…

This week only! The Funeral Director concludes its tour in Manchester. Details here

Calling all Manchester theatregoers who enjoy new writing. The winner of the 2018 Papatango Playwriting competition (from over 1300 entries) is The Funeral Director, and it’s coming to Manchester this week, courtesy of English Touring Theatre.

Five star and four star reviews greeted this play when it first opened, and now Manchester theatregoers have a chance to see this accomplished new play for themselves.

Iman Qureshi’s The Funeral Director is an incisive and heartfelt story of sexuality, gender and religion in 21st century Britain. It is well worth a visit.

Life as the director of a Muslim funeral parlour isn’t always easy, but Ayesha has things pretty sorted. She and Zeyd share everything: a marriage, a business, a future. Until Tom walks in to organise his boyfriend’s funeral. A snap moral decision, informed by the values of Ayesha’s community and faith, has profound consequences. Forced to confront a secret she has hidden even from herself, Ayesha must decide who she is – no matter the cost. Brilliant actress Aryana Ramkhalawon returns to play Ayesha giving a riveting and taut performance in this well-written show which tackles complex issues with care and humanity.

From 27 to 30 March, the show is at HOME Manchester at 7.45pm daily. On Wednesday 27 there is a post-show Q&A, Friday 29th the show is caption subtitled and on Saturday 30th the performance is audio described. more information and tickets here

Theatre, the perfect Mother’s Day Treat! UPDATED WITH OFFERS

MUMS, show this article to your kids.

KIDS, get planning a treat for Mum, she deserves it!

March 31st is Mothers Day in the UK, so knowing that a lot of you will be buying flowers, having lunch, afternoon tea, and so many other ways of celebrating, that I thought you might like to consider a better kind of treat for your Mum. A show!

As the day is always a Sunday, most theatres will be closed outside of London, sadly. However for those of you near or with access to London, how about considering these shows which are playing on Sunday 31st?

For Mums who like a bit of eye candy and sixties music Rip It Up (the 60s), at the Garrick, has two shows at 2.00pm and 7.30pm, details here


For Mums who like a lot more eye candy! Magic Mike Live, at the Hippodrome, has two shows at 7.30pm and 10.00pm, details here

For Mums who like a bit of spectacle The Lion King, at the Lyceum, has a show at 2.30pm, details here

For Mums who like stories about kids Matilda, at the Cambridge, has a show at 3.00pm, details here

For Mums who love Michael Jackson Thriller Live, at the Lyric, has two shows, at 3.30pm and 7.30pm, details here


For Mums who love a good laugh The Play That Goes Wrong has two shows at 3.00pm and 7.00pm, details here

Also For Mums who love a good laugh The Comedy About A Bank Robbery has two shows at 3.00pm and 7.00pm, details here


For Mums who love a bit of Shakespeare Richard III, at Alexandra Palace Theatre, has a show at 7.30pm, details here

For Mums who love a power musical Six The Musical, at the Arts Theatre, has two shows at 4.00pm and 7.00pm, details here

For Mums who love a bit of a murder mystery Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall, has a show at 3.00pm , details here

For Mums who love Harry Potter Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, at the Palace Theatre, has a show at 1.00pm (Part One) and 6.30pm (Part Two), details here

OR, If you fancy celebrating on the Saturday, then why not share the magic of a top London musical with your Mum, from classic favourites including Les Mis, Mamma Mia! and The Phantom of the Opera, to great new productions such as Waitress and 9 to 5 The Musical. All of these five shows have a matinee and evening performance on Saturday 30th March.