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


Enjoy a virtual visit from your sofa during Heritage Open Days 2020

Across the UK from 11-20 September, many historic and intriguing buildings are throwing their doors open to the public for unusual levels of access to explore what’s inside.

This year a large number of events have gone online, choosing to provide tours and access virtually, with the benefit that large numbers can participate and enjoy the sessions. As usual a number of theatres are participating, all online except where indicated, including

The Cygnet Theatre, Exeter, Devon

The Roman Theatre, Colchester, Essex

Cheltenham Playhouse, Gloucestershire

The Garrick Theatre in Stockport, Manchester

The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton (not online)

The Theatre Royal Winchester, Hampshire

The Playhouse, Preston, Lancashire

The Y Theatre, Leicester, Leicestershire (not online)

The Little Theatre, Southport, Merseyside

St George’s Theatre, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Palace Theatre, Newark, Nottinghamshire

The Blakehay Theatre, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Theatre Royal Wakefield, West Yorkshire

You can find out more details about how to take a tour from the comfort of your own sofa by visiting the Heritage Open Days wesbite here


Heritage Open Days, now until 22 September

Until 22 September, there are over 100 theatre-related events going on across the country during Heritage Open Days. Most likely a theatre near you will be opening its doors to offer tours of the buildings. Intrigued? Then take a look at their website here where you can search what’s happening near you. Remember, this may be your only chance this year to see inside a building which interests you. Take advantage of the good weather now!

Shows to look forward to in September 2019

Welcome to September’s show highlights. Here are my picks of the most interesting shows that you can find around London and the UK.

So, after a rash of festivals in Edinburgh and London, there’s just a moment to catch our breath before the next wave of great shows kicks off in early September. Fasten your seatbelts!

Off-West End

PRELUDES sounds fascinating. Based on a true story of the composer genius Rachmaninoff’s sessions of hypnotherapy, PRELUDES is an intriguing new musical by three-time Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Ghost Quartet). It examines the crippling debilitation and harm the world can do to people, and how the dramatic and musical process can be used as therapy to restore them back into the fullest of creative lives. PRELUDES runs from September 6th until October 12th at Southwark Playhouse.


FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY In a run-down community hall on the edge of town, a woman has been cooking lunch for those in need. A choir is starting up, run by a volunteer who’s looking for a new beginning. A mother is seeking help in her fight to keep her young daughter from being taken into care. An older man sits silently in the corner, the first to arrive, the last to leave. Outside the rain is falling.

FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY is the culmination of a trilogy that began with BEYOND CARING – ‘Unforgettable’ (The Times) – and followed by LOVE – ‘the National’s play of the year, and then some’ (Evening Standard). Alexander Zeldin’s new play promises to be another uncompromising theatrical experience that goes to the heart of our uncertain times. Playing at the National’s Dorfman Theatre from September 9th to October 12th.


Hampstead Theatre Downstairs is an undisputed treasure trove of new writing, and this looks set to continue with EITHER . Running from September 19th to October 26th, Ruby Thomas’ funny, smart and sexy debut play probes our romantic choices in life and explores the human need to connect and be loved – regardless of the ramifications.

A young, loved-up couple are surrounded by life’s infinite possibilities and temptations. And at a time in their lives where they have little responsibility, they’re determined to live this chapter as fully and spontaneously as possible. But in their pursuit to enjoy all that life has to offer, should every opportunity that comes their way be taken?


FALSETTOS , the double Tony Award winning musical from James Lapine and William Finn finally gets its London premiere (courtesy of Selladoor Productions) at the Other Palace from August 30th until November 23rd. Featuring a brilliant cast including Laura Pitt-Pulford (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), Natasha J Barnes (WASTED) and Daniel Boys (AVENUE Q) amongst others.

An hilarious and poignant look at a modern family, FALSETTOS revolves around the life of a gay man Marvin, his wife, his lover, his soon to be bar mitzvahed son, their psychiatrist, and the lesbian neighbours, Originally created under the spectre of the AIDS crisis, this ground-breaking musical about family dynamics manages to remain buoyant and satirically perceptive even as it moves towards its heartbreaking conclusion, which reminds us that love is all that really matters.


ANNA BELLA EEMA  “Something is coming. It’s either the interstate or the end of the world”. Precocious child Annabella lives in a deserted trailer park. Schooled by her eccentric mother Irene, she learns to co-exist with the vampires, werewolves and monsters that lurk in the world outside. Desperate to ward off the new highway that threatens the demolition of their home, Annabella steps outside to build a girl out of mud. The girl comes to life. The girl is Anna Bella Eema.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour’s (Detroit, National Theatre) part ghost story, part fairytale, part coming-of-age fantasy, ANNA BELLA EEMA is a dazzling burst of storytelling from the dark heart of American Gothic. Playing at the Arcola from September 11th to October 12th.


TORCH SONG, Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winning play about the life and loves of a drag artist in 1970s New York runs from September 6th to October 13th at the Turbine Theatre in Battersea, next to the Power Station. This inaugural production at the venue is directed by Olivier-winner Drew McOnie


FOR SERVICES RENDERED A warm September afternoon in an idyllic English village. Tea is served on the terrace. Sounds of a tennis party float across the lawn. But this England has no place for the heroes of the First World War. No jobs to sustain them, no mantelpieces for their medals, and no money for their debts. Against the odds, three sisters must carve new paths in an uncertain world.

Somerset Maugham’s sharply observed and passionate play is a Chekhovian examination of desire, frustration and hope.

FOR SERVICES RENDERED runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre from September 4th to October 5th. Directed by JST’s Artistic Director, Tom Littler.


HOW LOVE IS SPELT “She wanted spontaneity, adventure… I said I can be spontaneous… I just need a little bit of time to plan.” Peta is new in town and ready for whatever London has to throw at her. She’s looking for romance, for friendship, for exciting people to lead her on big adventures. But being an independent woman in the new millennium isn’t easy, especially when there’s a constant reminder of the life you’re trying to escape. With each new encounter, Peta flirts with what might have been, but has the journey to London put enough distance between her and her past?

This is the first major revival of this fascinating and funny play from Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning playwright Chloe Moss (This Wide Night, Soho Theatre; Dickensian, BBC) which was first produced at Bush Theatre in 2004. How Love Is Spelt is directed by Charlotte Peters (Associate Director War Horse, UK Tour and An Inspector Calls, West End). Playing at Southwark Playhouse from September 4th to 28th.


At the Royal Court from September 3rd to 21st, TOTAL IMMEDIATE COLLECTIVE IMMINENT TERRESTRIAL SALVATION by experimental theatre maker Tim Crouch arrives in London after a controversial season at the Edinburgh Festival.

“You should all have a book.  Does everyone have a book? This book is part of the play. 
In a minute, we’ll all open this book and we’ll invite you to turn the pages.”

The writer manipulates a group of people to sit together and believe in something that isn’t true. The book he’s written predicts it all: the equations, the black hole and all the words we’ll speak until the end.

On this last day, at this last hour, a defector finds her voice and returns.

In this new play, presented through stage action and illustrated text, audience and actors turn the book’s pages together, they study the images and they sometimes share the words out loud.


ALL OF ME is an intimate and absurd exploration of wanting to live, wanting to die and what can happen if we sit together with the dark. Olivier Award nominee Caroline Horton reunites with director Alex Swift (★★★★ How to Win Against History, Young Vic) to bring you the show that happens after the curtain call, when the lights have gone down but the mess remains. Playing at the Yard in East London from September 10th to 28th


Until September 7th at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn, the Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical BLUES IN THE NIGHT is in its first major London revival in 30 years. Directed by Susie McKenna and starring Olivier Award winners Sharon D. Clarke (Death of A Salesman, Caroline or Change, Ghost, Amen Corner) and Clive Rowe (Guys and Dolls, Carousel), Blues in the Night is a steamy compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues numbers that frame the lives and loves of four residents of a downtown hotel. Featuring soul-filled songs by blues and jazz icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more.


West End Opening

Well, we have had quite a slew of film to stage adaptations in the last few years, haven’t we? Whilst it’s true that they will never have the same qualities as the originals, they are often worth seeing for the talent involved. A case in point is the restyling of the classic 1951 Ealing comedy THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT which originally starred Alec Guinness. All about a scientist who creates a miracle fibre which doesn’t wear out, the discovery is seized upon by both the mill owners and the trades unions who all want to suppress it. It will be intriguing to see how Sean Foley (adaptor and director) works with the fifties nature of the story and manages to bring his own quirky eye to the story details. Reuniting Foley with Stephen Mangan, (they worked together on JEEVES AND WOOSTER to great success in 2016), this will be an interesting experiment in itself.


Outside London

Manchester is in for a treat. After 50 years Jerry Herman’s classic musical MAME is back! When young Patrick goes to stay with his Auntie Mame, he walks into a fast-living world of fun and and joy. It will be a real treat to see two-time Olivier-winner Tracie Bennett (Follies) (pictured above, top right) as Mame, with the great Tim Flavin and Harriet Thorpe (Absolutely Fabulous) (pictured above, centre) as Mame’s “old, old, old friend” Vera Charles. Get set for some high-octane musical fun! The celebrated score includes the rousing title number, plus “Open a New Window,” “If He Walked into My Life,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Bosom Buddies” and “That’s How Young I Feel.” A tour must follow. Previews from September 28th and playing till November 9th.


Touring the UK

C’est Magnifique! Achieving the near-impossible task of translating a unique French movie to the stage, and doing so in some style, this UK tour of AMELIE will bring a smile to your lips and warmth to your heart, as we follow our heroine helping others but finding it hardest to help herself. With a tuneful score and dynamic Audrey Brisson as Amelie, this is your passport to joie de vivre. See it in September at Eastbourne, Inverness and Southampton . Read my review of the show here


If you love the Latin crossover music of Gloria Estefan you will enjoy ON YOUR FEET! It has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show. It looks good and sounds just great, with a brilliant band (worth the price of admission alone) who never let the energy flag.

Featuring 26 hits, this Tony Award nominated show ran on Broadway for two years, for over 750 performances. ON YOUR FEET! is the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and charts their journey from Cuba to the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom. Featuring some of the most iconic pop songs of the era, including “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, “Conga”, “Get On Your Feet”, “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “1-2-3” and many more.

ON YOUR FEET! is directed by two-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), with choreography by Olivier Award-winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys) and book by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman). See it in September at Birmingham, Plymouth, Nottingham and Sunderland. Read my review of the show here


James Lapine and William Finn’s LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is a musical adaptation of the hit 2006 quirky road movie. It’s touring the UK and is worth a visit. See it in September at Leicester, Cardiff, Aberdeen and Liverpool, where the tour closes. Read my review of the show here


Also….

From 13 to 22 September, there are over 100 theatre-related events going on across the country during Heritage Open Days. Most likely a theatre near you will be opening its doors to offer tours of the buildings. Intrigued? Then take a look at their website here where you can search what’s happening near you.


Every September since 1992, London Open House has enabled public access to 800+ buildings, many of which are inaccessible at any other time of the year, with associated walks, talks and tours over one very busy weekend, now attracting over a quarter of a million people annually.

22 theatres and 5 cinemas are listed in this year’s offerings, ranging from the grandeur of Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s freshly-refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre to the Victorian charms of Hoxton Hall and Wilton’s Music Hall, to more modern offerings such as the National Theatre. All will be open for exploration via tours and/or talks on-site. Tucked away in the “entertainment” category is the first cinema to be Grade-I listed, the incredible Tooting Granada (now rather cheesily-titled Buzz Bingo, but inside still an awe-inspiring and richly-detailed movie palace)

Please note that some sites require advance booking while others do not. Do check with the Open House website on each venue’s individual listing page for full details. Also, a lot of venues will open on just one day of the weekend, not both, so do please check before you travel.

Find out more at the Open House website which you can find here


NT Live Broadcasts

September brings two NTLive broadcasts to screens around the UK and further afield. On September 12th Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings her hit show FLEABAG to UK-wide audiences from the stage of Wyndham’s Theatre.

Then on September 26th (and later dates) it’s the welcome return of one of the National’s biggest successes of recent years, Richard Bean’s ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS starring James Corden in a career-boosting role for him.

To find screenings in your area check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.


London Shows closing

September 7th- BLUES IN THE NIGHT closes at The Kiln Theatre

September 8th- JOSEPH closes at the London Palladium

September 9th- EQUUS closes at Trafalgar Studios

September 14th – THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY closes at the Menier Chocolate Factory

September 21st – EVITA closes at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park

September 28th – THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at the Noel Coward Theatre

Exhibitions and events with a theatre theme to enjoy across the UK – now and soon!

COUNTRY-WIDE From 13 to 22 September, there are over 100 theatre-related events going on across the country during Heritage Open Days. Most likely a theatre near you will be opening its doors to offer tours of the buildings. Intrigued? Then take a look at their website here where you can search what’s happening near you.


LONDONV&A – Discover the creative process behind designing for performance, from costume to set design at Staging Places, which celebrates the diversity of British performance design across spaces and genres. This display, in collaboration with the Society of British Theatre Designers, presents costumes, set designs, models, photos, drawings and puppets that reveal the creative process behind designing for performance. And best of all, its free! Running now until 29 March 2020. More information here


Stockton Globe

STOCKTON ON TEES – Preston Park Museum – A fascinating exhibition about the life -and rebirth- of Stockton’s magnificent Globe is now on. The building has had a splendid history. Opened as a 2400-seater cinema in December 1935, the building closed in 1996 and has lain empty for over 20 years, falling into terrible disrepair. Thankfully Stockton Council have saved the building and it is undergoing extensive modernisation works, with a planned reopening in Spring 2020. Explore the story of the Globe and its restoration in this fascinating exhibition.  Find out about the famous acts – including Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elton John – who played at the venue. Plus, discover the exciting future for the newly restored Globe. The exhibition is on now until October 6th at the Preston Park Museum. Admission into the museum is paid but the Globe exhibition is presented at no extra cost. More information here. And to find out more about the reborn Globe, see their new website here.


Collins’s Music Hall on Islington Green – sadly long gone!

LONDON – ISLINGTON MUSEUM – “Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-De-Ay!” is an exhibition about Islington’s many popular Music Halls. For over 100 years, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the borough’s many music halls and variety theatres entertained generations of Islingtonians. Each venue promised a unique evening’s entertainment and local residents and visitors would drop in to see their favourite ‘turns’. Explore a time when variety was definitely the spice of life. The exhibition is free and a range of attached talks, shows and walks have been curated to further visitors’ enjoyment. On until 22 October. More details here