Free theatre talk online on 22nd April

The site mirthy.co.uk is offering a free online talk about London theatres on Thursday, 22nd April at 4.00pm UK time. Presented by Andrew Warde.

The site’s description of the event reads as follows:

Explore the evolution of the theatre in London with a talk illustrating histories of playhouses and stories about actors who have graced them. We discover the West End theatres and go backstage to see how the wonderful shows are made. As Alfred Hitchcock said, “Drama is Life with the dull bits cut out.” Presented by Andrew Warde. Talk length – 42 minutes.

Whilst I know nothing of the presenter or the talk’s contents, anyone sorely missing our wonderful West End theatres might find this a comforting 42 minutes to enjoy, until we can see them again in person.

You will need to register for the talk to receive a joining link in an email. The website says that places are limited, so if you do want to join, it might be best to book early. You can register here


Watch Now: You can now watch all five entertaining Brixton Music Hall talks for free!

Music Hall artistes waiting to go on at the Royal Music Hall. Undated photo from the arthurlloyd.co.uk website

The month of September welcomed Music Hall Wednesdays (part of Lambeth Heritage Festival’s first totally ‘online’ season) which gave an entertaining look at Brixton and Lambeth’s Music Hall history from a number of viewpoints.

The organisers have now loaded all five talks to their YouTube channel (Music Hall Brixton and Beyond). So if you missed out on a talk, or enjoyed them so much you want to go back and see them again, they are all now available online for you to enjoy at your leisure.

Here’s a quick reminder about each talk:


COME ROUND ANY OLD TIME – BRIXTON’S MUSIC HALL COMMUNITY, where Sue McKenzie looks at how and why Brixton was home to so many people from music hall, early cinema and variety in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She also tells the stories of some of the performers in what was a precarious and unpredictable world. Link to Sue’s talk here


THE EMPRESS THEATRE OF VARIETIES, where Bill Linskey talks about the history of The Empress Theatre of Varieties, now long-demolished. Opened in 1898 it quickly became one of Brixton’s best-known venues; described as ‘one of the finest of London’s suburban music halls’. Link to Bill’s talk here

RESEARCHING BRIXTON’S MUSIC HALL CONNECTIONS, where Christine Beddoe and Tracey Gregory share stories of music hall people associated with the legendary address Glenshaw Mansions on Brixton Road and reveal some of the sources they have used to uncover the stories. Link to Christine and Tracey’s talk here


MUSIC HALL JUGGLERS OF LAMBETH, Charlie Holland’s talk on music hall jugglers features original props, posters, programmes and photographs, and draws you into the globe-trotting lives of Paul Cinquevalli, the Mongadors, and Hanvarr & Lee. Link to Charlie’s talk here.


INTERNATIONAL MUSIC HALL is an interesting panel discussion on how music hall linked Brixton to the world, and how changing performance names and personas disguised true identities. Featuring Alison Young (a solicitor who has turned her research skills to exploring the lives of her paternal family of music hall performers); Steve Martin, (Brixton based historian and author specialising in Black British history); Amy Matthewson, (Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London). Link to the panel discussion here

In addition to the talks, the Music Hall Brixton and Beyond collection on the fascinating historical website Layers of London continues to grow. They now have over 50 short histories of music hall people in and around Brixton. You can explore street by street.
It’s well worth a visit, and all praise to the contributors for the ingenious way it has been created and the detail which is available. You can find LAYERS OF LONDON by clicking here

The group have been delighted by the large online attendance for each of these events and are consequently planning more talks and possibly walks live or virtual.

Please do share the links to the talks and the Layers of London music hall collection with anyone you think might be interested. They’re all well worth a look!


Enjoy A HISTORY OF DISRUPTION – a free online talk from the National Theatre Archive

DAYTIME EVENT – Fri 18th September at 14:30 BST

This unusual and intriguing online talk will take you through periods of disruption in the National Theatre’s history, from the very movement that founded the theatre, right up to the present day’s unprecedented closure. It will also highlight a variety of ways in which anyone can access and enjoy National Theatre content from home.

The event is expected to last about 30 minutes, with time for audience questions at the end.

This event is hosted by the National Theatre Archive and is part of Lambeth Heritage Festival 2020.

Book here to request access to this talk


Enjoy an online journey through Streatham’s Theatre History

Foyer of Streatham Hill Theatre. Photo courtesy Tim Hatcher

When entertainment was not readily available or affordable, Streatham-ites have always made it themselves. The first building constructed with theatre in mind was opened in 1888, and within 40 years, the entertainment on offer in Streatham rivalled that of the West End. This online talk reflects the way in which professional and amateur theatre have complemented each other through the ages, and shows how talented amateurs became stars of the West End stage.

This comprehensive online talk is on Tuesday 15th September 7.00-8.30pm BST and will be given by Liz Burton of the Streatham Society, Streatham Theatre Company and Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre

Book here to request a place and enter “Theatre” in the subject

This event is hosted by the Streatham Society. Part of Lambeth Heritage Festival 2020.

You may also be interested to read my comprehensive and fully-illustrated article about the jewel in Streatham’s theatrical crown, the 2800-seater Streatham Hill Theatre (which has just celebrated its 92nd birthday). Read the article here


After The Final Curtain – America’s Abandoned Theatres

Matt Lambros is an American movie location scout and photographer of abandoned entertainment buildings. On Saturday February 22nd the Cinema Theatre Association hosted Matt in London to talk about his new book “After The Final Curtain – America’s Abandoned Theaters”, featuring his photographs of scores of abandoned theatres across America. In a talk illustrated with generous amounts of his original photography, Matt took us with him on his travels across America to find forgotten delights.

Matt does what we would all love to do- if we had the time and energy. He travels the country photographing these abandoned gems in whatever state he finds them. His stories about gaining access are often tortuous, but Matt’s perseverance is boundless – and he comes up with the goods.

Getting in is one challenge; what he finds inside is quite another. He describes swarms of rats (he has regular tetanus shots), crumbling masonry, asbestos, water and even sheet ice, all in an often pitch-black environment (no electricity!). Matt relies on his LED camera light packs to give him the illumination he needs, both for navigation and for photography. And the results of this limited lighting, as seen in his many photographs, are pretty breathtaking.

Covering America from coast to coast, the theatres that Matt presented in his talk were mostly built between 1915 and 1925, the majority as vaudeville houses. Pretty soon, cinema took the place of vaudeville, and many of the theatres became movie houses before changing hands in the 70s and 80s through a succession of short-term owners whose interest in the buildings declined with their lack of viability as money-makers. Mostly left to rot, these decaying beauties simply sat and succumbed to the ravages of neglect. Many now plainly past saving, Matt’s photos are a vital (in some cases perhaps the only) record of these once important public amenities.

Along the journey, Matt shared with us some oddities, such as the State Theatre in South Bend, Indiana which eschewed the traditional balcony for small stepped boxes along the upper side walls of the auditorium with a shallow gallery high up at the back- making both an odd-looking auditorium and losing several hundred potential prime balcony seats in the process!

Apparently the Americans have not yet compiled a register of theatres at risk, (which the Theatres Trust do within the UK), so it appears that, worryingly, no-one is keeping a watchful eye over these fading gems.

Matt told us that he also tried to photograph each theatre’s usually ornately decorated fire curtain; he often attempted to lower these heavy steel curtains. However, with these decaying, unmaintained buildings he had to bear in mind that they might not go back up.

If all this dereliction sounds rather bleak, Matt recognised this and provided us with a most welcome “happy ending”, highlighting several theatres which have been rescued, restored and returned to live use, saving until last the Fischer Theatre in Darwin, Illinois which took less than a year to renovate from start to finish, which Matt reckons may well be a record.

Many thanks to Matt for his five-star presentation, and here’s to more happy endings for these American forgotten beauties.

Many of Matt’s photos can be found at his Instagram address here

You can buy Matt’s book “After The Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters” here

You can find out more about the Cinema Theatre Association here