The National Theatre’s AMADEUS

You can now watch the National Theatre’s highly-praised production of Peter Shaffer’s classic drama AMADEUS, available from 7pm BST on Thursday July 16th.

Music. Power. Jealousy. Welcome to Vienna. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a rowdy young prodigy, arrives determined to make a splash. Awestruck by his genius, court composer Antonio Salieri has the power to promote his talent or destroy it. Seized by obsessive jealousy he begins a war with Mozart, with music and, ultimately, with God. Peter Shaffer’s iconic play had its premiere at the National Theatre in 1979, winning multiple Olivier and Tony awards before being adapted into an Academy Award-winning film.

Directed by Michael Longhurst (Constellations, The World of Extreme Happiness), Lucian Msamati (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, ‘Master Harold’… and the boys) plays Salieri – with live orchestral accompaniment by Southbank Sinfonia.

GUIDANCE: The BBFC age rating is 15 due to some strong language and moderate sex references.

The running time is 2 hours 50 minutes with a very short interval. The show is subtitled.

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the National Theatre – or you can text NTATHOME 10 to 70085 to donate £10 or NTATHOME 20 to donate £20 – to enable it to keep its doors open after this crisis has passed.


Shows To Remember: ONE MO’ TIME

On July 14th 1981 a show opened in London which had travelled from New York but originated in New Orleans. ONE MO’ TIME grew from an idea supported by people donating their time into a hugely successful musical delight which toured the world for several years.

Being taken to the theatre by friends for a birthday treat is always memorable. And so it was for my 21st when, as hard-up art students, my dear friends Julia and Shirley scraped together the money to buy us the last three seats on the back row of the Upper Circle at London’s Phoenix Theatre to see the jazzy 1920s black musical revue ONE MO’ TIME. It is an evening- and a show- which I have never forgotten.

The show had a fascinating history, from its first creation in New Orleans, to audiences clamouring for further performances, developing into longer runs and bigger halls, growing in popularity – opening in New York, London and then touring globally.

ONE MO’ TIME is a musical revue conceived, written by and starring Vernel Bagneris. It recreates an evening of 1920s African-American vaudeville, set at the Lyric Theatre of New Orleans one sultry night in 1926 . Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey played the Lyric, as did Sweet Mama Stringbean, later better known as Ethel Waters. (Sadly the Lyric burned down in 1927).

The Lyric was on the black vaudeville circuit known as the Theatre Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.). To the circuit artists themselves, the acronym stood for “Tough On Black Asses”, for the hours were long, the pay was short and the bosses mercilessly exploited the workers- as people of colour found in so many industries.

The show centres around Big Bertha’s touring vaudeville song and dance show, with offstage dialogue scenes interlacing the numbers. The star of the show was undoubtedly the music, but the backstage gossiping, rivalry, hardships, intrigues and flirtations were all interwoven to add texture to the music and give a supporting story for the performers to work with.

Originating in New Orleans as a one nighter, the show’s wildly enthusiastic reception demanded further performances, from where the show’s popularity grew exponentially. The Off-Broadway production opened in New York at the Village Gate in October 1979, running for several years. At the 23rd Annual Grammy Awards in 1980 the recording of the show was nominated for the Best Original Cast Show Album (losing to that year’s big hitter, EVITA). The live recording (produced by legendary Jerry Wexler – who also co-produced the show in New York) captures perfectly the crackle of enthusiasm audiences had for this show, and the album was a substantial seller in the soundtracks category.

In 1981 the original New York cast were invited to bring the show to London, and the production opened at the 1200-seat Cambridge Theatre on July 14 to excellent reviews (as evidenced in the poster below); outlasting its predicted run, in November the show transferred to the 1000-seat Phoenix Theatre, where it ran until July 17th, 1982, achieving a total of 486 performances, along the way earning an Olivier Award nomination for Best New Musical.

The performances were – by the time of arrival in London – highly polished, and the cast’s professionalism perhaps threw a harsher light on the scripted segments between the numbers. The dialogue was always designed to feel somewhat improvised, which gave the show a feeling of rough-and-ready authenticity, although some disagreed that it made the show feel a little “scrappy”. Whatever your reactions to the script, when the songs appeared they stole the show, in soulful, humorous and engaging performances.

The show encompassed twenty songs, all well-chosen; from the heartfelt “He’s Funny That Way” to the defiant “After You’ve Gone”; from the upbeat dance numbers including “Wait Till You See My Baby Do The Charleston” to the hilariously suggestive “Kitchen Man” and “You’ve Got The Right Key But The Wrong Keyhole”, the songs were balanced perfectly to provide highs, lows and laughs in satisfying measure.

Audiences hugged it. British audiences loved the jazzy orchestrations, the sometimes sweet, sometimes raunchy songs and the vitality of dances including the Charleston, the black bottom and the cakewalk performed by a hugely talented cast who seemed to be enjoying it as much as we were – it all added up to happy audiences at curtain down. Even when I saw it, halfway through its run, audiences really took this show to its heart – they stood, stamped, clapped and cheered. As did we.

In Summer 2001 a staging of ONE MO’ TIME at Williamstown Theatre Festival in USA got a very enthusiastic response and so the show was planned to open at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre in February 2002. Despite good notices, audiences didn’t materialise and sadly the show closed after a few months.

No one can say for certain why a revival succeeds or fails. All that I can tell you is that in my opinion the show is ready for another revival, perhaps in the UK. After the success of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ I think that this could be a hit as a co-production between several smaller-scale theatres who could share its extended run to make it financially viable.

I would love to see it return. But thanks to the album, I can go back to the original any time I want to. And with the resources below, you can experience some of the atmosphere from this very special show. Enjoy!

Hear Vernel Bagneris talk about the genesis of the show in a New Orleans Public Radio interview from 2016 here

You can listen to the original cast recording of ONE MO’ TIME here

You can see the original cast perform the musical numbers from the show (very sadly the connecting dialogue scenes have been edited out of this recording adapted for German TV) here

For anyone interested, here is a track listing of the Musical Numbers:

  1. Down in Honky Tonk Town
  2. Kiss Me Sweet
  3. Miss Jenny’s Ball
  4. Cake Walkin’ Babies From Home
  5. I’ve Got What It Takes
  6. C.C. Rider
  7. The Graveyard
  8. He’s Funny That Way
  9. Kitchen Man
  10. Wait Till You See My Baby Do the Charleston
  11. Love
  12. Louise
  13. New Orleans Hop Scop Blues
  14. Everybody Loves My Baby
  15. You’ve Got the Right Key But the Wrong Keyhole
  16. After You’ve Gone
  17. My Man Blues
  18. Papa De Da Da
  19. Muddy Waters
  20. There’s Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

Watch Now for Families: Little Angel Theatre’s SCOOP’S SPACE

Parents with children aged 5 to 11 can enjoy the award-winning The Little Angel Theatre’s streaming of another show right now on the Theatre’s YouTube channel.

This digital retelling is inspired by their 2018 production Junk (which saw us transform our studio space into a recycling plant). It will revisit Scoop, the junk lady,  and show you into her secret space – a place where she gathers and stores all of the interesting things that other people throw away, and uses them to tell to tell stories. 

The original production featured set and puppets made entirely out of recycled materials – including Bertie the bottle, jellyfish made from plastic bags, a sewer rat made from old slippers and a giant umbrella octopus.

Little Angel Theatre say “During our closure period, we’ve been releasing daily resources showing families how they can use recycled materials such as egg boxes, cardboard, newspaper and even coffee capsules to make their own puppets at home. We hope that this performance will highlight the magic that can be found in every day objects and further inspire children to get creative with the ‘junk’ that we can all find around our homes.”

This production reunited the original company of Junk and was filmed with a skeleton crew in Little Angel Studios, following social distancing guidelines.

The show is free to access and aimed at children aged from 5 to 11.

The show was created and performed whilst observing spatial distancing. It lasts twenty minutes.

Although this show is free to watch, please consider making a donation to the Little Angel Theatre which does vital work in helping younger children to access the joy of theatre.

You can watch the show here indefinitely

Little Angel Theatre’s DON’T WORRY LITTLE CRAB

Parents with younger children are in for a treat as award-winning The Little Angel Theatre is streaming another show right now on the Theatre’s YouTube channel.

Folded Feather, in association with Little Angel Theatre, present a fun, puppet-filled version of Chris Haughton’s DON’T WORRY, LITTLE CRAB.

The show is free to access and aimed at children aged from 2 to 5.

Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a rockpool. Today, they’re going for a dip in the sea. “This is going to be so great!” says Little Crab. But then Little Crab catches a first glimpse of the water… Oh. The waves! They’re ENORMOUS. “JEEPERS!” Will Little Crab be brave enough to go in?

The show was created and performed remotely. It lasts six minutes

Although this show is free to watch, please consider making a donation to the Little Angel Theatre which does vital work in helping younger children to access the joy of theatre.


Views: The UK government’s arts “lifeline” – the devil will be in the detail

A personal view by Gary Donaldson

Like most people, I welcomed the long- overdue unveiling of financial measures to help the arts and culture sector this week. However, this has come after fifteen weeks of deafening silence, which has caused incalculable tension, pain and uncertainty in our industry.

With so many theatres announcing closure, hibernation and large-scale redundancies already, the Chancellor’s financial plan already feels very much like too little too late- and that’s before we even get into the detail.

Let’s be realistic here; The Conservatives have never been advocates for funding the arts. And for this lame and failing government, it is positively the enemy. Why on earth would they actively help prop up an industry that encourages ideas, debate – and makes people think? The pressure of public support for our theatres and theatre companies has finally made them do something after almost four long months.

Needless to say, the previous emergency assistance package of £160 million given to the Arts Council to distribute didn’t go very far. Most importantly, it all but ignored the vast numbers of freelancers who keep our industry alive; it also ignored smaller and fringe venues which are so often the seed bed for tomorrow’s great actors and writers. Let’s not forget that writer James Graham (INK, THIS HOUSE, etc) started his career just ten years ago with a show at London’s Finborough Theatre. This money must reach the smaller organisations proportionately and not be utterly gobbled up by the bigger players alone.

Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that this new package has been unveiled for the entire arts and culture sector, including museums, galleries, concert venues, cinemas and heritage sites, so let’s not fool ourselves that anywhere near the 1.57 billion is coming our way. My mildly-educated guess is that the theatre sector will find itself with around £600million, less than four times the original amount doled out to the Arts Council to disseminate earlier in the crisis, but to put it into context, this amount- for the entire theatre industry- is about the same as the amount the government gave to one airline – EasyJet – several months ago when it started bellyaching as only airlines can do.

Its not as if we have all been sitting around on our backsides since Covid-19 kicked in. Larger theatres quickly started streaming work online to help to keep the country entertained throughout these dark times – and what a great response that has had- and the work continues. New content and fun activities have come out of dozens of theatres up and down the country to help children learn, adults engage and have some fun, and the whole population to feel in some way connected again, after the greatest societal dislocation since World War Two. Creative people did what creative people do best- they adapted to a new way of working and found new, vital and eminently helpful ways to make a difference in society. And while it has attracted little media attention, the scale of the work has been phenomenal.

So many small theatre groups have been doing outreach work into their communities, reinforcing the connections between isolated and vulnerable members of our society; running online workshops and activities for local communities; making scrubs and masks for heath workers; delivering groceries to those who have been shielding; and overall, contributing in hundreds of small but significant ways to their communities. If you’re looking for the true value of theatre within a community – there it is!

There have been a number of earnest and heartfelt petitions and online campaigns by arts professionals and theatre lovers to draw attention to the plight of theatres and those who work in them. Some may be perplexed as to why this should need to be so, when the theatre industry punches massively above its weight in terms of its contribution to global exports as well as the domestic economy, returning over three times the amount invested in it back to the Treasury every single year. No other industry does this!

Many of us have been banging on for decades about the fact that more people visit theatres than go to sports events each week ; now with a few higher-profile voices echoing ours, folk who have larger Twitter followings than us, perhaps we are all starting to be heard. Theatre is a multi-billion pound industry which earns more than any manufacturing sector in the UK economy. Remember that next time someone tells you that theatres don’t matter!

The reason for this lack of fighting power is, I suggest, because to the general population, we are genuinely under-visible. This is mainly attributable to a huge deficit of media time and exposure when compared to, say, sport.

Can you imagine if the arts had equality with sports on our TVs, magazines and newspapers? How much more the world could see about what we do, how we help to contribute to the fabric of society in so many significant and positive ways.

Sports/arts equality of coverage would mean that there would be several arts channels to choose from, daily highlights on at least one of the four major terrestrial TV providers and a segment in each major news bulletin.

Only then will we be seen by the whole of society for what we are – one of the UK’s strongest, most diverse, creative and vital sectors. Theatre has helped many developed economies climb out of recession faster. Money INVESTED (not given to) in theatre will return more than threefold- and it will do so faster than any other sector.

The details, we are assured, of this package will follow. Let’s hope it’s soon. Until we see that detail, we are still in the dark – literally and metaphorically.

And this time the freelancers and fringe venues must be properly supported. Ignoring them-again- risks the whole foundation of our industry.

The current Secretary of State for Culture is called Oliver Dowden. A man who in his entire Parliamentary career has never asked one arts or culture related question (according to my research into his record). A faceless career politician with just two years of “real world” work experience and certainly no genuinely evident zest for his current position; he is simply a place-filler. And yet – he may go down in history as the man who closed more theatres than Hitler.