Theatre archive; watch decorative plaster makers at work

If you, like me, have ever looked intently with pleasure at the beautiful plasterwork in many of our older theatres, then you will be intrigued to discover and enjoy this short film courtesy of British Pathe which details the process of casting elaborate plaster decoration for theatre walls and ceilings.

For anyone interested in, or wanting to know more about theatre plasterwork, further reading can be found in an interesting article by David Harrison here

Take a look inside the V&A’s Theatre and Performance archive which is under threat

Since the appalling decision to greatly reduce access to the V&A’s Theatre and Performance collection and fire two-thirds of the specialist staff and curators, there has been a justifiable outcry from academic institutions and the general public.

While this is to be expected, many of this blog’s readers have contacted me to ask about the archive as they have never personally visited it themselves, and so find it hard to fully appreciate what treasure lies within its parameters.

And so now you can go inside the collection, thanks to a short film called ENCOUNTERS IN THE ARCHIVE which takes you inside the collection, to look at some of the costumes, with expert curators discussing the works and their significance.

The film lasts 17 minutes. ENCOUNTERS IN THE ARCHIVE was conceived and produced by Donatella Barbieri and filmed and edited by filmmaker Netia Jones.

I am confident that after just a few minutes of this fascinating viewing, you’ll want to ask all your friends and colleagues to sign the petition to save the collection from being locked away from public sight potentially forever.


Please sign the petition to save the V&A collection and its staff here

LATE ADDITION – Lord Smith has tabled a question in the House of Lords, which you can find here . While useful for drawing attention to this attempted cultural vandalism, if you share my wary opinion of our corrupt parliamentary system you may well agree with me that this has very little real value.


Statement upon the proposed restructuring & job losses at the V&A Theatre & Performance Department. 30 March


The V&A internal consultation process with its staff is concluding at the end of March.  To my knowledge there has been no consultation with the industry or related bodies in the SIBMAS community. This is very disappointing for a museum with the reputation of the V&A, who say they value their performing arts collections, which are internationally so important.
SIBMAS continues to have concerns about what is going on as suddenly the Theatre & Performance Department, which are part of a distinct unit/department are now tied into the National Art Library review, when there is no obvious connection between National Art Library and Theatre & Performance Department.  Indeed, National Art Library does not collect performing arts library materials. It is the Theatre & Performance team of experts that cover it within their remit in a different location & departmental structure. This is evident through V&A annual reports and museum’s collection policy. SIBMAS finds this confusing, and we ask for clarification, over potential jobs losses or furloughing of Theatre & Performance staff.  We continue to ask for the V&A to have a consultation with SIBMAS & the industry it serves. In such a consultation we would emphasize once again that the V&A should make sure the Theatre & Performance Department is saved as an actual specialist entity within its restructuring.
The V&A management and Board of Trustees have been appointed well after the Theatre Museum closure in 2007 to save money.  They may not be aware of the great uproar at that time. It was seen then that the Theatre Museum closure was the sacrificial cow to save the V&A money. Theatre & Performance should not take disproportionate cuts in any reorganisation.  I believe that they have forgotten that performing arts collections needs a different approach to the decorative arts and crafts, to keep their unique character, as recognised by UNESCO.

Alan R. Jones ( President of SIBMAS )

MY LIGHT SHINES ON embodies the spirit of the Edinburgh Festivals – and there’s more

For the first time in 73 years, Edinburgh – the Festival City- is quiet this August. This would have been the opening weekend of the 2020 Edinburgh International Festival season. But of course, it’s not a normal year. With the necessity for safety impacting the necessity for artistic expression, the creative forces behind the Festival have specially commissioned MY LIGHT SHINES ON, a film full of brand new work from artists across genres, featuring famous faces from festivals across the years and exclusive collaborations with other Edinburgh August festivals. The film is available, free to watch, on the Festival’s YouTube channel throughout August.  You can also find the film at the foot of this blog entry (while it remains available to view).

This unique broadcast launches a series of new recorded activity, also available on the Festival’s YouTube channel from tonight, and then throughout August.

As a part of the MY LIGHT SHINES ON Online Festival, Scotland’s major national artistic companies have been commissioned to create extraordinary works that audiences can enjoy from their own homes. In celebration of our Festival City, they bring light and life to sites that must stay empty this year with unique filmed performances and insights from artists. New shows will be added daily so do check back at the festival’s YouTube channel regularly.

Enjoy these lovingly created lights that still shine despite our current circumstances, helping us to find our way back to performances everyone can enjoy – and which remind us of why the arts are such a beloved and vital part of our culture.

Time Travel Theatre: Lost Theatres Rediscovered

1. The Grand Theatre, Fulham

Photo copyright Corry Bevington

This is the first in a series of articles exploring and celebrating the UK’s many lost theatres and music halls. Although all that is left after the wrecker’s ball is a few fuzzy photos, some posters and a lot of joyous yet fragile memories, just sometimes we are given a precious window back in time. Through film, occasionally these lovely old venues are captured as part of another story, which uses their (usually faded) glories as an inexpensive backdrop for the story being told. I wanted to share with you some of our “lost” theatres through photos and films. This, the first in the series, salutes the Fulham Grand Theatre (1897-1958)

Undated Image from website, no attribution available

The Fulham Theatre opened on 23rd August 1897, built for Alexander F Henderson as a live theatre. Designed by celebrated theatre architect W.G.R. Sprague (who designed so many beautiful West End theatres), it was commandingly located at the intersection of Putney Bridge Approach and Fulham High Street, in SW6. High atop its façade with portico entrance and Ionic columns, sat a statue of Britannia and two hand-maidens.

Main foyer, Undated Image from website. No attribution available

Designed internally in the Beaux Arts style, with decorations by a Mr De Jong, the auditorium was on four levels and originally accommodated 2239 (this capacity appears to include a large number of standing places as well as seated), which was later reduced to a seating capacity of 1132. The theatre changed its name to The Shilling Theatre after a few years’ operation, and from 1912 onwards was mostly used as a cinema.

Auditorium boxes. Undated photo. No attribution available.

By 1937 it had been renamed The Grand Theatre, reverting to live performance, and closed in 1950. A little while after closure it began an undignified use as a storage facility and, in 1953, briefly as a film location (about which, more details below). After this momentary flicker of interest the theatre fell into further neglect and was demolished in 1958 to be replaced by an undistinguished office block.

Photo from 1952 when used for storage. Photo by Colin Sorensen from site with thanks.

You can read a detailed review of the 1897 opening of the theatre on the excellent website here

During a period of closure. Undated photo. From site with thanks.

ESCAPE BY NIGHT poster. Image Used with permission. Copyright By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Link

Our window into the past is provided by a film called ESCAPE BY NIGHT (1953) which was filmed in part at the empty Fulham Grand Theatre. The story of a hard-drinking reporter who hides out with an Italian gangster in order to get his life story, the pair take refuge in a deserted theatre, aided only by a naïve young boy who stumbles across their hideout. The film is a low-budget affair, shot at the tiny Southall Studios and on location at the Fulham Grand. The film stars UK-based American actor Bonar Colleano as the reporter, and, as Leslie Halliwell puts it in his excellent Movie Guide, “the world’s most unlikely villain – Sid James”, as the Italian gangster. It’s hardly a great movie, however such a generous amount of screen time is spent in the theatre itself, it is worth a watch. For those less forgiving, or with less time to spare, the theatre footage starts at about 20 minutes in.

Here are some screenshots from the film showing various parts of the building:

Facade with advertising board attached
Side elevation/Stage Door
Dress Circle level
Upper Circle looking down into Dress Circle
Upper Circle level
Exit doors

I am delighted to say that I have located a copy of the film on YouTube for you to watch in the link below. Please bear in mind that links may expire – but where they do I will try to find you an alternative source.

With thanks to You Tube Poster Vintage Films, LLC. (Link checked as live at 18/03/2021 – NB links may be withdrawn at any time)

FOOTNOTE: In my research for this article I stumbled across a superb set of photos taken just before the theatre’s demolition by photographer Corry Bevington. There is a link to the photos on her website here. Find The Fulham Grand in the index under “Other projects”. *****UPDATE- Unfortunately, this link is no longer working*****