Our regular up-to-date selection of recently published books as well as new or re-released plays and musicals, many of which are now available for amateur performance. As a result of the pandemic
some licensors are now offering special online- performance arrangements, so please get in touch with the appropriate company to find out more.
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THE BOY WHO KICKED PIGS by Tom Baker, Clem Garritty, Natasha Hodgson, Zoe Roberts, Oliver Jones, David Cumming
Full-length dark comedy | F2, M2 | 978 0 573 13251 3 | £7.99 paperback
13-year-old Robert Caligari is a nasty piece of work. But today is the day he gets his comeuppance. Today is the day he’s going to die.
When Robert kicks his sister’s beloved piggy bank Trevor out of the window, he sets in motion a chain of events that results in the unexpected demise of a local fishmonger. Having developed a taste for blood and sick to death of sneering imbecilic adults, Robert sets about becoming the real murderer he has always dreamed of being, all the while egged on by the newly-talking Trevor. Meanwhile, in the mind-numbingly boring offices of local paper The Kent Clarion, work experience student Philip Bottering wishes for something, anything, to report on – preferably a juicy disaster.
Based on the book by Doctor Who’s Tom Baker, this madly-hilarious, frenetic scream of a show, which includes shark-mauling beach-goers, burning vicars and even waltzing rats, is a multi-roling masterpiece that tells the gloriously grisly tale of one scoundrel’s attempt at infamy.
HAMMERED: A THOR & LOKI PLAY (MARVEL SPOTLIGHT) by Christian Borle
Full-length play | Earth, The Cosmic Void, Asgard | 978 0 573 70817 6 | £8.79 paperback
One is the Norse God of Thunder, Master of the Storm, Lord of the Living Lightning, and heir to the throne of eternal Asgard. The other born of a Frost Giant, but now the Norse God of Mischief. Yet they are brothers, and together they are… The Mighty Thor and Loki.
As Thor struggles with the stress of final exams, his brother Loki finds himself under a different sort of pressure. Neither are beneath pranks in the endless competition for their parents’ favor. But underneath all the thunder and mischief, these two Princes of Asgard discover a bond that will last millennia.
MIRROR OF MOST VALUE: A MS. MARVEL PLAY (MARVEL SPOTLIGHT) by Masi Asare
Full-length play | Kamala’s bedroom; the streets of Jersey City; a physics classroom and a hallway at Coles Academic High School | 978 0 573 70818 3 | £8.79 paperback
When a strange Terrigen Mist descended upon Jersey City, Kamala Khan was imbued with polymorphic powers. Her life was changed forever and so were the lives of her family and friends. Using her newfound abilities to fight evil and protect Jersey City, she became the all new MS. MARVEL!
Kamala attempts to boost Ms. Marvel’s fledgling super hero profile by writing her own fan fiction. But when hobby turns to obsession, Kamala’s schoolwork and relationships begin to suffer. Before Jersey City truly can embrace Ms. Marvel, Kamala must learn to accept herself just as she is – imperfections and all.
SQUIRREL GIRL GOES TO COLLEGE: A SQUIRREL GIRL PLAY (MARVEL SPOTLIGHT) by Karen Zacarías
Full-length play | Empire State University | 978 0 573 70819 0 | £8.79 paperback
Doreen Green secretly possesses the powers of squirrel…and girl! She uses her amazing abilities to fight crime and be as awesome as possible You know her as the Unbeatable SQUIRREL GIRL!
Doreen arrives at Empire Stage University determined to make new human friends – and protect them from super villains – by keeping her super hero identity a secret. But when a beloved computer science professor suddenly disappears, can Doreen trust her friends with her inner squirrel so she can save the day?
RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN
RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S CAROUSEL by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Ferenc Molnar, Benjamin F. Glazer, Agnes de Mille
Full Length Musical, Drama | F5, M5 | 19th Century | DIGLIB0000007 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
In a Maine coastal village toward the end of the 19th Century, the swaggering, carefree carnival barker, Billy Bigelow, captivates and marries the gentle millworker, Julie Jordan. Billy loses his job just as he learns that Julie is pregnant and, desperately intent upon providing a decent life for his family, he is coerced into being an accomplice to a robbery. Caught in the act and facing the certainty of prison, he takes his own life and is sent ‘up there.’ Billy is allowed to return to earth for one day fifteen years later, and he encounters the daughter he never knew. She is a lonely, friendless teenager, her father’s reputation as a thief and bully having haunted her throughout her young life. How Billy instills in both the child and her mother a sense of hope and dignity is a dramatic testimony to the power of love.
RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA (Broadway) by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Douglas Carter Beane
Full Length Musical, Comedy | F5, M4 | 16th Century | DIGLIB0000009 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
Amateur licensing for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is currently available for schools productions only in the UK and Eire.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is the new Broadway adaptation of the classic musical. This contemporary take on the classic tale features Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most beloved songs, including ‘In My Own Little Corner,’ ‘Impossible/It’s Possible’ and ‘Ten Minutes Ago,’ alongside an up-to-date, hilarious and romantic libretto by Tony Award-nominee Douglas Carter Beane.
RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S FLOWER DRUM SONG by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Joseph Fields, C.Y. Lee
Full Length Musical, Comedy | F6, M4, Boy(s) 1 | San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1958 | DIGLIB0000011 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
Mei Li has come from China to San Francisco to marry nightclub owner Sammy Fong. But Sammy loves Linda Low, a dancer at his establishment. His friend Wang Ta is urged to marry Mei Li, even though he is promised to Linda. After farcical trifles, a torn Wang Ta eventually realizes it is Mei Li whom he loves after all, and they happily marry.
RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S STATE FAIR by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Tom Briggs, Louis Mattioli, Phil Stong
Full Length Musical, Comedy | F7, M9, Girl(s) 1 | Five days in late August of 1946 on the Frake farm in Brunswick, Iowa and at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. | DIGLIB0000278 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s only musical written directly for the screen is now a stage musical that’s had critics raving from coast to coast. Set against the colourful backdrop of an American heartland tradition, State Fair travels with the Frake family as they leave behind the routine of the farm for three days of adventure at the annual Iowa State Fair. Mom and Pop have their hearts set on blue ribbons while their daughter and son find romance and heartbreak on the midway. Set to the mgic of an Academy Award-winning score and augmented by other titles from the Rodgers & Hammerstein songbook.
42ND STREET by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, Michael Stewart, Mark Bramble, Bradford Ropes, Gower Champion
Full Length Musical, Drama | F7, M6 | New York City and Philadelphia. 1933. | DIGLIB0000081 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
Come along and listen to the lullaby of Broadway! 42nd Street celebrates Broadway, Times Square and the magic of show biz with wit, humor and pizzazz. At the height of the Great Depression, aspiring chorus girl Peggy Sawyer comes to the big city from Allentown PA, and soon lands her first big job in the ensemble of a glitzy new Broadway show. But just before opening night, the leading lady breaks her ankle. Will Peggy be able to step in and become a star? The score is chock-full of Broadway standards, including ‘You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,’ ‘Dames,’ ‘We’re in the Money,’ ‘Lullaby of Broadway,’ ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ and ‘Forty-Second Street.’
DREAMGIRLS by Henry Krieger, Tom Eyen
Full Length Musical, Drama | F4, M4 | Various cities in the U.S in 1970s and 1960s | DIGLIB0000139 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
Through gospel, R&B, smooth pop, disco and more, Dreamgirls explores themes of ambition, hope and betrayal, all set in the glamorous and competitive world of the entertainment industry.
“Dreamgirls is a show about a time in American musical history when rhythm and blues blended with other styles of popular music creating a new American sound. Act One is set in the fabulous sixties – a time when we were still screaming at Elvis and listening to the Beatles, but were dancing to the new beat of countless girl and boy groups like The Supremes, The Marvelettes, The Temptations and The Shirelles. Dreamgirls is not just about the singing and the dancing and the performing. The play is also about the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry – the business part of show business that made possible this cultural phenomenon. Act Two shows the creation and the arrival of disco – though the word is never used in the script. The subject matter of this play deals with a musical contribution to America of such importance that only now – decades later – are we beginning to understand.” Michael Bennett
GYPSY by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, Gypsy Rose Lee
Full Length Musical, Comedy | F6, M2 | Early 1920s – early 1930s, | various cities in the USA. | DIGLIB0000066 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
Regarded by many theatre professionals as the finest musical ever created, Gypsy is the ultimate tale of an ambitious stage mother fighting for her daughters’ success – while secretly yearning for her own. Set all across America in the 20s and 30s, when vaudeville was dying and burlesque was born, Arthur Laurents’ landmark show explores the world of two-bit show business with brass, humour, heart, and sophistication.
The celebrated score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim boasts one glorious hit after another, including: ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses,’ ‘Let Me Entertain You,’ ‘Some People,’ ‘You’ll Never Get Away from Me,’ ‘If Momma Was Married,’ ‘All I Need is the Girl,’ ‘You Gotta Get A Gimmick,’ ‘Small World,’ and ‘Together Wherever We Go.’
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Joe DiPietro, Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse
Full Length Musical, Comedy | F5, M5 | The Winter family’s ritzy Long Island Beach house, 1927. | DIGLIB0000223 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
This hilarious screwball comedy pokes fun at the Prohibition era in a clash of elegant socialites and boorish bootleggers, all set to the glorious songs of George and Ira Gershwin. Highlights from the score include: ‘Fascinating Rhythm,’ ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,’ ‘Someone to Watch Over Me,’ ‘Sweet and Low Down,’ and ‘Delishious’.
YOUNG ACTORS & HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
A CHORUS LINE HIGH SCHOOL EDITION by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch, Edward Kleban
Full Length Musical, Drama | F10, M9 | A Broadway theatre, 1975. | DIGLIB0000042 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
A full-length version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, adapted for performance by students with family audiences. Every aspect of the show has been developed specifically for young performers: dialogue and content are age-appropriate, dance sequences are of a length befitting young dancers, and allowances are made to feature actors of any race or ethnicity. The materials have been prepared – with the authors’ approval – to help your school or organisation mount the best possible production and to give your students an exciting and rewarding experience.
A Chorus Line is a stunning concept musical capturing the spirit and tension of a Broadway chorus audition. Exploring the inner lives and poignant ambitions of professional Broadway performers, the show features one powerhouse number after another. Memorable musical numbers include: ‘What I Did for Love,’ ‘One,’ ‘I Can Do That,’ ‘At the Ballet,’ ‘The Music and the Mirror,’ and ‘I Hope I Get It.’
CRAZY FOR YOU YOUNG PERFORMERS’ EDITION by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Ken Ludwig, Mike Ockrent, Guy Bolton, John McGowan
Full Length Musical, Comedy | F5, M4 | New York City and Deadrock, Nevada, in the early 1930s. | DIGLIB0000075 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
This Young Performers’ Edition is a one-hour adaptation of Crazy For You®, specially tailored for elementary and middle school-aged actors. The materials have been prepared to help your school or organisation mount the best possible production and to give your young cast and crew an exciting and rewarding experience.
A zany rich-boy-meets-hometown-girl romantic comedy, Crazy For You® tells the story of young New York banker Bobby Child, who is sent to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a rundown theatre. In Deadrock, Bobby falls for spunky Polly Baker, the theatre owner’s daughter. But Polly takes an instant dislike to the city slicker, so Bobby vows – through cunning, razzmatazz, and a hilarious case of mistaken identity – to win Polly’s heart and save the theatre. Memorable Gershwin tunes from the score include: ‘I Got Rhythm,’ ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me,’ ‘Embraceable You,’ ‘Nice Work if You Can Get It’ and ‘Someone to Watch Over Me.’
GREASE SCHOOL VERSION by Warren Casey, Jim Jacobs
Full Length Musical | Ensemble cast, roles for teens | 1950s | 978 0 573 60180 4 | £8.79 paperback
This version retains the fun-loving spirit and immortal songs of the blockbuster show, but removes any profanity, lewd behavior, and Rizzo’s pregnancy scare. The song ‘There are Worst Things I Could Do’ is also deleted from this edition. It is approximately fifteen minutes shorter than the standard version of Grease.
Additionally, some songs have undergone lyric changes for the School Version with the remainder edited for time, with some verses deleted.
HEATHERS THE MUSICAL HIGH SCHOOL EDITION by Laurence O’Keefe, Kevin Murphy
Full Length Musical, Comedy | 1980s | DIG0000000143 | £0 (Digital Libretto Perusal)
This title is not currently available for performance. To be informed as soon as it becomes available in the future, please submit a license application.
The darkly delicious story of Veronica Sawyer, a brainy, beautiful teenage misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers. But before she can get comfortable atop the high school food chain, …Veronica falls in love with the dangerously handsome new kid J.D. When Heather Chandler, the Almighty, kicks her out of the group, Veronica decides to bite the bullet and kiss Heather’s aerobicized butt… but J.D. has another plan for that bullet.
Brought to you by the award-winning creative team of Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness, Desperate Housewives), Laurence O’Keefe (Bat Boy, Legally Blonde) and director Andy Fickman (Reefer Madness, She’s the Man), Heathers The Musical (High School Edition) is a hilarious, heartfelt and homicidal new show based on the greatest teen comedy of all time.
In this version various curse words as well as onstage smoking, drinking and R-rated sexual scenes have either been removed or altered accordingly (note: there are still PG-13 sexual scenes).
Bloomsbury – Methuen Drama
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Actors’ and Performers’ Yearbook 2021 Essential contacts for stage, screen and radio – Foreword by Rob Ostlere
Theatre book | 978 1 350 15947 1 | £11.89 (incl. 30% discount)
This well-established and respected directory supports actors in their training and search for work on stage, screen and radio. It is the only directory to provide detailed information for each listing and specific advice on how to approach companies and individuals, saving hours of further research. From agents and casting directors to producing theatres, showreel companies, photographers and much more, this essential reference book editorially selects only the most relevant and reputable contacts for the actor.
With several new articles and commentaries, Actors’ and Performers’ Yearbook 2021 features aspects of the profession not previously covered, as well as continuing to provide valuable insight into auditions, interviews and securing work alongside a casting calendar and financial issues. This is a valuable professional tool in an industry where contacts and networking are key to career survival.
All listings have been updated alongside fresh advice from industry experts.
Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore
Full-length play | 978 1 350 14613 6 | £9.89 (incl. 10% discount)
Aged eighteen, three women join forces. Life is fun. Living is intense. Together they feel unassailable. Di and Viv and Rose charts the steady but sometimes chaotic progression of these three women’s lives, from the highs to the lows, the problems that force them apart and their ultimately enduring bonds.
A humorous and thoughtful exploration of friendship’s impact on life and life’s impact on friendship, this bittersweet comedy premiered at the Hampstead Theatre, London, in 2013.
This new Modern Classics edition features an introduction by Professor Elizabeth Kuti.
NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn
Full-length comedy | 978 1 350 18485 5 | £9.89 (incl. 10% discount)
We couldn’t let an issue go by without flagging up a new edition of the play that inspired our name. You can read our interview with Michael Frayn – where he talks about the inspiration behind writing Noises Off – from our very first issue on our new website.
A play-within-a-play following a touring theatre company who are rehearsing and performing a comedy called Nothing On, results in a riotous double-bill of comedic craft and dramatic skill.
Hurtling along at breakneck speed it shows the backstage antics as they stumble through the dress-rehearsal at Weston-super-Mare, then on to a disastrous matinee at Ashton-under-Lyne, followed by a total meltdown in Stockton-on-Tees.
Michael Frayn’s irresistible, multi-award-winning backstage farce has been enjoyed by millions of people worldwide since it premiered in 1982 at the Lyric Hammersmith and has been hailed as one of the greatest farces ever written (google ‘funniest farce ever written’).
Winner of both Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Comedy.
This edition features a new introduction by Michael Blakemore.
Music Theatre International (Europe)
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DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID by Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater. Book by Doug Wright. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story and the Disney film that was produced by Howard Ashman & John Musker. Originally Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions.
Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories and the classic animated film, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages. With music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and a compelling book by Doug Wright, this fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs including ‘Under the Sea,’ ‘Kiss the Girl,’ and ‘Part of Your World.’
Ariel, King Triton’s youngest daughter, wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above and bargains with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to trade her tail for legs. But the bargain is not what it seems and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends Flounder the fish, Scuttle the seagull, and Sebastian the crab to restore order under the sea.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid offers a fantastic creative opportunity for rich costumes and sets, and the chance to perform some of the best-known songs from the past thirty years.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Book by Peter Parnell
Based on the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney animated feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame showcases the film’s Academy Award-nominated score, as well as new songs by Menken and Schwartz. Peter Parnell’s new book embraces story theatre and features verbatim passages from Hugo’s gothic novel.
The musical begins as the bells of Notre Dame sound through the famed cathedral in fifteenth-century Paris. Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer who longs to be ‘Out There,’ observes all of Paris reveling in the Feast of Fools. Held captive by his devious caretaker, the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, he escapes for the day and joins the boisterous crowd, only to be treated cruelly by all but the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. Quasimodo isn’t the only one captivated by her free spirit, though – the handsome Captain Phoebus and Frollo are equally enthralled. As the three vie for her attention, Frollo embarks on a mission to destroy the gypsies – and it’s up to Quasimodo to save them all.
A sweeping score and powerful story make The Hunchback of Notre Dame an instant classic. Audiences will be swept away by the magic of this truly unforgettable musical.
Nativity! The Musical by Book by Debbie Isitt, Music and Lyrics by Debbie Isitt, Nicky Ager
Your favourite festive film is now a major new musical adapted for the stage by the creator of the much-loved films.
Oliver! JR by Book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart.
Consider yourself at home with the Broadway Junior version of Lionel Bart’s classic musical based on Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist. The Tony and Olivier Award- winning show is one of the few musicals to win an Academy Award for Best Picture and is widely hailed as a true theatrical masterpiece by actors and audience members alike.
The streets of Victorian England come to life as Oliver, a malnourished orphan in a workhouse, becomes the neglected apprentice of an undertaker. Oliver escapes to London and finds acceptance amongst a group of petty thieves and pickpockets led by the elderly Fagin. When Oliver is captured for a theft that he did not commit, the benevolent victim, Mr. Brownlow takes him in. Fearing the safety of his hideout, Fagin employs the sinister Bill Sikes and the sympathetic Nancy to kidnap him back, threatening Oliver’s chances of discovering the true love of a family.
Oliver! JR. is full of classic songs like ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Food Glorious Food’, and ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’, and perfectly showcases the talents of a large ensemble cast.
Theatrical Rights Worldwide
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Million Dollar Quartet by Colin Escott, Floyd Mutrux
Full Length Musical | F1, M7 | 1950s | Memphis, Tennessee, USA | Rock and Roll
Inspired by ELVIS PRESLEY, JOHNNY CASH, JERRY LEE LEWIS and CARL PERKINS
The Tony® Award-nominated musical is set on December 4, 1956, when an extraordinary twist of fate brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley together at Sun Records in Memphis for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions ever. MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET brings that legendary December night to life with an irresistible tale of broken promises, secrets, betrayal and celebrations that is both poignant and funny. Relive the era with the smash-hit sensation featuring an incredible score of rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, R&B and country hits, performed live onstage by world-class actors and musicians. Showcased numbers include ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ ‘Fever,’ ‘Walk the Line,’ ‘Sixteen Tons,’ ‘Who Do You Love?,’ ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,’ ‘Hound Dog,’ and more.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical by Stephan Elliott, Allan Scott
Full Length Musical | F7, M9, Boy(s)1 | 1990s | Australia | Pop Rock, Comedy
Based on the popular 1994 film of the same name, Priscilla Queen of the Desert follows two drag queens and a transsexual who buy a run-down old bus (they call it Priscilla) and set out on a road trip across the Australian Outback when one of them, Tick, is invited by his ex-wife to perform his drag show at her far-away resort. However, Tick is hesitant to tell his friends, Bernadette (a former performing icon whose best days are behind her) and Adam (a rambunctious young troublemaker), his own personal reasons for taking the trip.
During their journey, the trio encounters an array of Australian citizens.
Nick Hern Books
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DAUGHTERHOOD by Charley Miles
Full-length Play | 2f 1m (male actor plays multiple roles) | Contemporary, simple staging | 978 1 848 42883 6 | £9.99 (£7.99 direct from the publisher)
One sister stayed at home to care for Dad. The other set out to ‘make a difference’. Reunited under their childhood roof, Pauline and Rachel unearth more than the ten years between them. It’s a huge gap. Almost insurmountable. And each is determined to let the other know exactly who has done things right. A beautiful, ferocious play about the bonds that tie us, and how we sometimes need to break them, first
produced in 2019 by Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd on a nationwide tour, including a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
‘Each character is beautifully drawn in this witty, realistic script’ BritishTheatre.com
DRIP by Tom Wells
Full-length Play | M1 | Contemporary, simple staging | 978 1 848 42809 6 | £9.99 (£7.99 direct from the publisher)
Liam is fifteen and he’s just signed up for Bev Road Baths’ first ever synchronised swimming team. It’s for his best mate Caz really. She needs to get a team together to win the annual Project Prize at school. She tries every year. She always loses. But Liam’s an optimist, he’s determined to help. There’s just one problem. Liam can’t swim… A one-man musical comedy by award-winning duo Tom Wells (writer of popular amateur-theatre hits like The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts) and Matthew Robins, as seen at Edinburgh Fringe, the Bush Theatre, London, and on tour around the UK.
‘Feels like Victoria Wood for a new generation’ The Stage
ENOUGH by Stef Smith
Full-length Play | f2 | Contemporary, various locations (can be simply staged) | 978 1 848 42845 4 | £9.99 (£7.99 direct from the publisher)
Poetic, unpredictable and explosive, Stef Smith’s play Enough is a fragmentary and intense journey into female friendship, and unearths what happens when you can no longer be the woman people want. Jane and Toni are immaculate, iconic, accommodating flight attendants. They’re here for your safety, your comfort and your pleasure. Or so you think. But 30,000 feet below them their seemingly perfect lives are rapidly unravelling. In the sky, over the sea and in cheap hotel rooms around the world, they can feel the ground shake beneath them. Something is rising up, something which cannot be ignored. And it’s calling out for them. If they’re going to survive what’s coming, something needs to change. Winner of a Fringe First Award at Edinburgh Fringe 2019.
‘A terrific and terrifying stage poem… there’s huge lightness, humour and energy in Smith’s writing’ Scotsman
YOU STUPID DARKNESS! by Sam Steiner
Full-length Play | f2, M2 | Single interior (shabby office) | 978 1 848 42832 4 | £9.99 (£7.99 direct from the publisher)
In a cramped, crumbling office, four volunteers spend a few hours every Tuesday night on the phone telling strangers that everything is going to be okay.
As the outside world disintegrates, they teeter on the edge of their own personal catastrophes. Their hopes and fears become entangled as they try, desperately, to connect with the callers and with each other.
Sam Steiner’s You Stupid Darkness! is an urgent play about the struggle for optimism and community amid the chaos of a world falling apart. It was first seen at Theatre Royal Plymouth in February 2019, in a co-production between Paines Plough and Theatre Royal Plymouth.
‘A play to laugh along to as well as silently weep with… Steiner’s play is timeless – it transcends any specific period and paints a picture of a potential apocalypse that seems inevitable in the current political climate’ WhatsOnStage
THE HOES by Ifeyinwa Frederick
Full-length Play | f3 | Contemporary, single location (hotel room with en suite bathroom) | 978 1 848 42799 0 | £9.99 (£7.99 direct from the publisher)
A riotous celebration of sisterhood, showing that while life may throw up unexpected turbulence, friendships will last the course. Bim, Alex and J have been best friends since school. Loud, funny, inseparable – they are the epitome of girls who just want to have fun. But now they’re twenty-five, life is starting to get in the way. Careers, relationships, expectations… What better way to escape than a trip to Ibiza for a week of sun, sea and selfies? But there’s trouble in paradise when reality catches up with them, threatening to derail their holiday as they are forced to accept no amount of partying will let them escape themselves.
‘A brutally honest, devilishly funny account of millennial sisterhood and female sexuality with the power to make you laugh, cry and cringe’ British Theatre Guide
NORA: A DOLL’S HOUSE by Stef Smith after Henrik Ibsen
Full-length Play | f3-6, M3 | Three time periods, single location (a living room) | 978 1 848 42844 7 | £9.99 (£7.99 direct from the publisher)
Nora is the perfect wife and mother. She is dutiful, beautiful and everything is always in its right place. But when a secret from her past comes back to haunt her, her life rapidly unravels. Over the course of three days, Nora must fight to protect herself and her family or risk losing everything. Henrik Ibsen’s brutal portrayal of womanhood caused outrage when it was first performed in 1879. This bold new version by Stef Smith reframes the drama in three different time periods. The fight for women’s suffrage, the Swinging Sixties and the modern day intertwine in this urgent, poetic play that asks how far have we really come in the past hundred years? As seen at Tramway, Glasgow (produced by the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow) and at the Young Vic, London.
‘A provocation infused with Ibsen’s radical spirit’ Guardian
THE WELKIN by Lucy Kirkwood
Full-length Play | f13-16, M2-4 | England, 1759, various locations (can be simply staged) | 978 1 848 42921 5 | £9.99 (£7.99 direct from the publisher)
Rural Suffolk, 1759. As the country waits for Halley’s Comet, Sally Poppy is sentenced to hang for a heinous murder. When she claims to be pregnant, a jury of twelve matrons are taken from their housework to decide whether she’s telling the truth, or simply trying to escape the noose. With only midwife Lizzy Luke prepared to defend the girl, and a mob baying for blood outside, the matrons wrestle with their new authority, and the devil in their midst. First seen at the National Theatre, London, in January 2020, this acclaimed historical drama, in the vein of The Crucible and Twelve Angry Men, offers a large cast with lots of great roles for women across a variety of ages.
‘A mighty play: magnificent in its scope, depth and intricacy… a wise, funny, richly intelligent and generously ambitious play that asks, as all good history plays do, how far have we really come?’ Financial Times
Cressrelles Publishing Company Limited
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Download for free from www.cressrelles.co.uk and let Simon know if you would like to read any of our other plays. At the moment, Cressrelles are not charging to use their plays in digital or physical readings to keep your society’s hands in during this pandemic.
Christmas Crackers by Sam Bate
A Christmas comedy for an all-women cast from the prolific pen of Sam Bate. The caterwauling from next door ruins Mrs Jones’s Christmas preparations and she calls the RSPCA. But no ordinary cat is making the ear-splitting noise.
This comedy for six women has a running time of approximately 40 minutes.
A Bit on the Other Side by Jack Booth
Cuthbert Ball, wealthy industrialist and prospective MP for The Moral Equity Party, puts his foot down. Nephew Eric’s profligate lifestyle must cease, together with his brother Ernest’s involvement with Cuthbert’s adopted daughter. But, having discovered Cuthbert’s youthful indiscretion in France, Eric attempts moral blackmail by hiring a stripper to pose as the illegitimate daughter. Complications and mistaken identities ensue, followed by the arrival of the real ‘bit on the other side’!
A farcical comedy in one act for three men and five women. The running time is approximately 45 minutes.
Bricks and Clay by Eileen Brandon
Bricks and Clay is a thought-provoking drama by the author of The Paradox. Ruth has cared for her brain-damaged sister for many years. A rare visit from their social-climbing sister clashes with a deputation of concerned neighbours and a well-meaning social worker. A glimpse of sunshine on an otherwise bleak day is proffered by Rosie, a compassionate neighbour. But the day ends in tragedy. Sensitively written with a moving curtain.
Ideal for festivals, this all-women play for a cast of 9 women, has a running time of approximately 35 minutes.
Surviving Lockdown by Claire Hogan
Short-length comedy collection | 12 minutes each
The great pleasure of these four short plays is that their humour derives – as the best humour almost always does – from character. And the characters we find in Surviving Lockdown are real and identifiable. We laugh along with Gwen, Maggie and Bernie because we feel we know them; they are instantly recognisable.
Claire Hogan has achieved this through detailed observation and an ear for the way people talk to each other, and these two things – the details and the dialogue – make the situations we find here both familiar and fresh. Take, for example, Bernie’s comment about avocados: “For a wedding yes … but not for every day.” In one neat line we learn a huge amount about Bernie, and the world she inhabits.
Of course, Surviving Lockdown also provides three good actresses with the chance to shine and that’s always a good thing. We warm to these women because they’re survivors, and what helps them survive is their unshakeable friendship.
The Staycation by Claire Hogan
Wendy and Rob could not afford a honeymoon when they got married and decided to push the boat out to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. It feels like Deja Vu as their dream holiday of a Caribbean cruise is snatched away due to Coronavirus. Their holiday time booked off and they are faced with two weeks at home.
All is not well as we join them at the start of their staycation. Despite Wendy’s attempts to spice things up by recreating a Caribbean experience at home. It would seem that no amount of Amazon deliveries can lift the mood. But when an irate Rob goes to answer the door, it is not a package but Portia and Marcus suitcases in tow and ready for their weekend away.
Not only did Rob not tell Wendy that he had put their house on Airbnb for a bit of holiday money; when things changed he forgot to cancel the booking.
Portia and Marcus are tired, bemused and have no intention of leaving. With apparently little in common; they look to make the best of a bad situation. As the evening progresses we are left wondering if this will turn into Wish You Were Here or Holidays from Hell?
F: www.cressrelles.co.uk | E: email@example.com
Lady Bracknell’s Return by Peter Harrison
Short-length comedy | 30 minutes | F2, M2
It’s now just over 120 years since an actress first strode onstage from the wings of the St James’s Theatre in London, on 14 February 1895, and into theatrical history, playing the aristocratic Lady Bracknell in Irish genius Oscar Wilde’s comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest.
Now the fearsome Lady Bracknell has been resurrected for the first time in a one-act tribute drama, Lady Bracknell’s Return, written by Peter Harrison who took the precaution of first submitting his pastiche to the Oscar Wilde Society to see if any attempt to emulate the style of the Irish genius would be regarded as heresy.
A couple of lines from the play will give the flavour of the thing. Lady Bracknell observes: “My dear child, with eligible men in society proving so elusive, for your parents to have one daughter who is married may be regarded as good fortune. To have all four married looks rather tactless.”
The response from the Oscar Wilde Society Peter describes as gratifying. Vanessa Heron of the Society described the new work as “unusual, and witty and very visual. “And promised the society would promote any production of it through their 8,000 followers.
The play is being produced and directed by Jen Leahey-Hopwood, a graduate of the Italia Conti school who also has a part. She says “Being approached to work with Peter Harrison was an honour in the first instance. However after reading the script I was ‘all in’ immediately. This quirky story full of charm, wit and substance, dominated by the appearance of the ever-powerful and formidable Lady B., creates the perfect vehicle to pay homage to the late great Oscar Wilde with a modern audience in mind.”
The Crowood Press
W: crowood.com | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
F: TheCrowoodPress | T: @crowoodpress
Storytelling for Directors From Script to Screen by Bren Simson
Theatre book | 978 1 785 00729 3 | £15.19
Storytelling for Directors will develop the communicative power of your storytelling, whether for the big or small screen, in long or short form. Without being prescriptive, the chapters explore the creative potential in every aspect of the filmmaking process, giving directors the skills to put their ideas into practice.
- Analysing the script to find the character action
- Building the story world
- Deciding each element within the frame
- Shaping the actors’ performances
- Telling the story with the camera
- Working the schedule, budget and rehearsals
- Shaping the film in the edit
Bren Simson has been a filmmaker and a TV drama director for over twenty-five years. From being one of the first directors on Brookside (C4), she went on to a career in television series including The Bill (ITV), Making Out (BBC) and Medics (ITV). She was Head of Directing at the MetFilm School, Ealing Studios, and more recently, Senior Lecturer (Directing) at Bournemouth Film School Arts University.
W: www.derekwebb.co.uk | E: email@example.com
F: PintSizedPlays | T: @derekwebbplays
Baroque ‘n’ Roll by Derek Webb
Full-length comedy | 120 minutes | F1, M3
A comedy romp through the larger-than-life lives – and glorious music – of three of the most celebrated composers of all time: Handel, Bach and Scarlatti, all born the same year, 1685, and who grew to become undisputed giants of baroque music.
Throughout the play we trace the lives and development of the three composers, played by the three leads – with all other parts, by and large comedy turns – played by a versatile mature women actor who is everything from an Irish waitress to a fortune teller, a scientist to a nurse, music critic to stage manager! Much of the music will be very familiar to audiences even if they couldn’t name the composers. The play puts the lives of these giants of Baroque music into context in a very funny and wildly entertainingly way.
The play opens with Handel’s funeral. We are listening to a Bach Solo Organ. The tone is quiet and sombre when suddenly the coffin lid flies off and Handel stands up declaring “Bach, bah! Bach knew nothing! This is music!” and the music changes to the Hallelujah Chorus played very loud with swirling rock concert lights. That sets the tone for the play: irreverent, fun, with glorious music throughout.
All the music is available as mp3 or WAV files, already edited and covered by PRS/PPL.
Free perusal script available to download on request.
The Invisible Man by HG Wells, Derek Webb
Full-length comedy | 120 minutes | M3
Derek Webb’s comedy adaptation of the HG Wells’ classic story The Invisible Man earnt four and five star reviews when it played for three weeks at London’s Jack Studio Theatre before Covid struck.
This fast-moving, very funny adaptation has all parts from a vicar, to a pub landlady to a tramp and to the Invisible Man himself – fifteen characters in total – played by just three actors, and that, in itself, is the source of a great deal of fun. A must-see comedy in every way!
Free perusal script available to download on request.
One in the Eye by Derek Webb
Short-length play | 50 minutes | F2, M3
Horatio Nelson was arguably the greatest hero that Great Britain has ever seen. Throughout the world his name is revered, his exploits remembered with awe. What is not so well known is that Horatio had a brother called Maurice… Maurice (as you may have gathered) was not nearly as famous as Horatio. The closest he got to the sea was the Navy Department where he worked. He was in fact a civil servant.
Free perusal script available to download on request.
Sardines’ Editors, Paul and Fariba, pause to take in the latest developments of 2020’s ongoing Coronavirus saga.
Latest Survey Results
At the beginning of November we set you nine questions focused on reopening our theatres. Your extra comments make fascinating reading.
Am-dram Versus Covid – cover story
Dave Hollander takes a look at the amateur theatre sector’s reaction to dealing with the pandemic.
Theatre’s New Normal
A look at what theatre might be like on the other side of lockdown. Could a new world of social distancing be awaiting us?
Lockdown… What Lockdown?
Paul Johnson throws the spotlight on the Isle of Man where there has been no lockdown or social distancing since the summer.
Safety in Meetings
Paul Z Jackson, improvisation expert, looks at how to put people at ease and to get the best out of them either meeting online or face to face.
Pantomime Left in Tiers!
The latest Government restrictions may have taken us out of lockdown but the new tiering system means some Christmas shows cannot go ahead.
Who Let the Dogs Out!?
It’s time to put our tongues in our cheeks as we bring you a feast of animal-filled musicals from Adolphin Theatre – courtesy of TLC Creative.
We take a quick but entertaining look at the best-selling authors in the UK and how much they have earned foe each word written.
Keeping in Touch With…
…your Audience During a Global Pandemic. The heart and soul of theatre, if the audience didn’t like the performance the curtain wouldn’t rise.
One Step Beyond! – The Stables Theatre
Nick Smurthwaite takes a look at how this theatre in Hastings, a member of the Little Theatre Guild, is overcoming the Coronavirus odds.
News stories relevant to amateur theatremakers around the country. Some stories are about amateur theatre, some professional and some youth.
YOUR NEWS: YOUTH, STUDENT, GRADUATE NEWS
Paul Johnson interviews a pair of professional lighting technicians who found success in diversifying their skills while furloughed.
The spotlight falls on Denise Sutton-Gosney, Founder and MD of Razzamataz Theatre Schools, who has just been recognised by the franchising industry.
Book Review – Break a Leg
Nick Smurthwaite reviews Jenny Landreth’s new book that is a “Memoir, Manifesto and Celebration of Amateur Theatre.”
Chairman of Greater Manchester’s Chads Theatre, Steve Pratt, talks about the best ways to fundraise, including involvement with ‘Your Theatre Lottery’.
Strike Up the Band!
Several musical productions are being publicised to reopen either as we come out of lockdown or for later in the spring. The details are here.
Plays, Books & Musicals
New and re-released titles now available for amateur performance. Includes both major publishers and licensors as well as smaller independent set-ups.
Click on an advertiser to open up their advert…
As the UK Government brings England out of lockdown tomorrow (2 Dec), the population has been given a new tougher set of restrictions (tiers) of which 99% of us have been put into the top two most stringent categories. Of course Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own set of rules which only succeed in adding more and more confusion to understanding how this affects the theatre sector.
At Sardines we really do try to keep politics out of our news but, as the pandemic continues to squeeze the life out of all of us, we are finding that this becomes extremely difficult with the daily updates directly affecting how we can or cannot operate.
From an amateur theatre perspective it would seem that nearly every non-professional theatre society, company and charity have now given up even trying to perform this side of the New Year. In fact, both amateur and professionals allocated to the highest (third) tier in England cannot perform indoors by law. This means that half of the previously announced pantos, some cancelled and then reinstated and being produced by Qdos (Birmingham, Newcastle, Stoke-on-Trent, Sheffield and Notts) thanks to the National Lottery stepping in to add a financial rescue plan, cannot now go ahead either (see page 23).
Following a similar pattern, with the amateur theatre market still in hibernation, this issue of Sardines is another online-only edition. This means that the very fact that you’re reading this foreword must mean you have digital access to read and/or download the magazine.
If you think that others who you know might benefit from reading some of the things we have to say then please do email them a link to our website so they too can register and possibly subscribe.
Meanwhile, you’ll notice we haven’t featured a star name on our cover this time. Instead, a ghost light is seen in an empty auditorium – signifying the waiting for all this to be over. With the growing news of vaccines and increased testing capacities filling the airways, perhaps this will be sooner rather than later.
Not surprisingly, much of this second online-only edition features articles on dealing with the affects of Covid-19. Not least of all the latest results of our recent survey (see page 4), where the final, and open, question drew some fascinating comments.
Dave Hollander also writes a major piece titled Am-dram Versus Covid. This champions the non-professional sector’s resilience to the situation of not being able to perform for much of 2020.
Another article focuses on the unique position the Isle of Man finds itself in (page 18). With its own government and positioned just 191 miles from the english mainland, the Isle of Man is once more enjoying playing to full houses (social distancing has not been a requirement since the summer!). We, in the rest of the UK, can only dream of returning to such times.
Our regular Your News section – featuring all kinds of stories from both amateur and professional companies as well as news about youth, students and graduates – is a bumper 24-page special this time around. See page 30 to read this.
Lastly, but definitely not least, may we wish you all a merry Christmas as we prepare to wave goodbye to the worst year in most of our lifetimes. As we do, let’s hope that the New Year does indeed bring us a renewed hope that we can kick this virus into touch for good. Then, perhaps… just perhaps, we can all get back to doing what we love so much.
Stay safe, stay well, we WILL be back!
Paul & Fariba
Your Latest Thoughts…
It’s been a while since we asked for your thoughts on how the latest Covid-19 / Coronavirus restrictions have been affecting the theatre sector, and how you see us getting out of this mess.
So, about a month ago we posed nine questions ranging from social distancing and the possibility of reopening to possible vaccines and getting back to normal.
We ended our longest-ever survey by asking for your personal (and anonymous) thoughts on the whole sorry situation; the result of which threw up some intelligent, emotional and fascinating opinions.
You’ll see we have included the entire list of results over the next six pages – including your opinions from question no.9. These independent opinions are shown in white text against purple backgrounds.
Those of you who also read The Stage newspaper might have seen the recent article on amateur theatre written by Dave Hollander titled: Amateur dramatics and Covid: ‘We keep going against the odds’ (Dave has also written a similar piece inside this edition of Sardines on page 10). Well, the article not only quotes Sardines’ Editor, Paul Johnson, it also uses some of the data from this very survey.
The bottom line is that as we all wait with bated breath for an end to this year’s horrendous nightmare, we should appreciate that as ‘hobbyists’ (as we are often referred to – even though it feels like much more than that to most of us, most of the time), on an amateur theatre footing, nearly all of us will eventually be able to resume where we left off in one form or another.
In comparison, imagine if we relied on making theatre to keep our very careers alive! Ignoring the fact that at Sardines we’re in both camps; the amateur theatre sector and trying to keep our theatre-related careers afloat, many industry professionals, both backstage and in the spotlight, are freelancing self-employed workers who haven’t worked or been paid since March 2020.
Additional independent and anonymous comments from Q.9.
‘HAVE YOU ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD?’ Here is a selection:
- I am sure diehard supporters will return, though our audience isn’t getting any younger. Pantomime will return to popularity but a socially distanced audience isn’t viable for us, unless we really trim our budget, which would detract from the spectacle.
- Treating amateur and professional theatre differently seems illogical, just like the varying lockdown rules. I understand the rules – they’re just illogical.
- Our Theatre is comparatively small (150 seats) and putting on performances with social distancing would be very difficult. We have produced two 30 minute plays which were filmed and will be going out to our members shortly. We are also working on some short radio plays for transmission to our members.
- Most of our cast and crew are over 60. This also includes people with health conditions and so forth. Added to this, most of our audience are 70 plus with the younger ones being family, friends, work colleagues of the cast/crew. So whichever way you look at it, many groups which fall into this category are struggling to keep going. We have quizzes via Zoom each week since July time but at beginning of lockdown, everything was cancelled. We have been keeping in …touch via social media too but this is not something that all our members use. The Agm was held via zoom and was probably last time all if not most of the society were together on screen. We are now doing readings etc and have attempted a play reading on zoom just within our society. Everyone is trying to keep positive. Some of us are busy still working but for the retired members, amdram is a lifeline and important social activity. Zoom is fine but sometimes it’s not enough and we cannot form bubbles to meet up either. Sheffield is now in tier 3 so everyone is remote and activities as normal may not resume for sometime. Sadly one of our members suddenly passed on this month. It’s a huge shock. How the group moves on now is very fragile and with care to the bereaving family. Amdram is family for many people so we wait and see what happens.
- With no vaccine, we will all have to accept the risk of covid and get on with life. Social distancing is impossible in theatres.
- Strictly follow the advice from the Government and stay safe. It is the quickest way out of this crisis.
- I miss performing.
- Further advice is needed for amateur theatres and youth workshops in Wales. Lack of help from local authority.
- Question 8 needs another option. No – but the government now needs to create a clear, countrywide fixed timetable of alternate lockdown and new normalcy.
- By day I work for the NHS. We are running to standstill. It will take us many years to recover from the lockdown earlier this year and if we want to prevent a USA healthcare system coming, we need to protect our NHS.
- We need to get theatre moving again.
- Have been meeting regularly as a theatre on line, nearly 60% of members have been involved in some capacity – quizzes, play Reading, zoom games, etc but no performance.
- I think amateur companies will be a key driver in getting audiences back into the theatre and enable professional companies to gauge when it is safe to invest in their own productions. Amateurs don’t have the overheads of professional companies so it is less financially risky for us to get a show ready that we may not ultimately be able to perform in the booked slot if we have a local lockdown, for example, or we end up performing to reduced numbers. As for the audience members …themselves, it is less risky to spend £10 – £20 on ticket for a local amateur production that you don’t get to see (because you suddenly have to quarantine, maybe) rather than lose £80+ on a ticket to a professional show. Once we are at a point that amateur companies have been successfully putting on shows to decent size audiences for a while I think the pro market will take heart and burst back to life. With this in mind, it would REALLY HELP if licence holders offered incentives to amateur companies to take a risk on shows that are most likely to appeal to larger audiences as this is probably not the time for experimentation. As an example, one of the things that regularly frustrates me with licence holder T&Cs is around promotional material, having to pay extra for authorised logos and graphics then work your way through reams of fineprint over how credits should be presented / comparative font size etc. It would be SO MUCH EASIER if licence holders created templates with all of the authorised graphics / logos and required credits in place that amateur companies could adapt with the details of their own local productions.
- I’m full of admiration for both prof. and amateur theatres for their initiative during this very difficult time. Governments (not only this one) have never fully understood the vital importance of Theatre (and the Arts in general) for the happiness and wellbeing of us all. If they did they would help the Arts Sector a lot more …and in turn would help us.
- It is a very real situation and a game changer which will take years to resolve.
- Of the choirs that I am one has started meeting in a ‘Covid safe’ environment. This one is a charity and 27 people have sung together in person. Another is a business run by the conductor which has met as above but with fewer people. An outdoor concert is planned. The other choir is in the British Museum and may be allowed to restart in Jan 2021. In other groups I have performed with there have been play readings, quizzes and various Zoom meetings eg AGMs.
- Why have Non professionals with their own theatres to run been treated differently to Professionals?
- Theatre will survive, theatres shutdown during plague years in Shakespeare’s day and WW2 shutdown many.
- The Government’s approach to the whole pandemic has been confusing, complicated and contradictory. Amateur theatre should be allowed to operate in the same way as professional theatre is, and indeed as other local community activities (such as sports) are. There is greater risk from keeping us closed down than from allowing us to open with sensible precautions in place.
- I sincerely hope that either a vaccine or medication will be found which will mean that this virus is not the killer that it has been over the past 8 months.
- In addition to being an active member of a local group, I run youth theatres both professionally and as a volunteer. We have continued to run both sets of youth theatre throughout the pandemic, but I am not sure how the government expects hobbyists to continue to make good use of their conflicting guidance, it is frustrating enough when I have the support of colleagues and salary to spend time going through it all.
- I think the government has mismanaged the whole Coronavirus pandemic. I also think they have dismissed the needs of freelance artists – both professional and amateur. This is shortsighted as the creative and performing arts generate over £10 billion in yearly revenue and that sum will be lost if the performing arts industry is allowed to collapse. In terms of amateur companies, many of them rely on income from audiences to maintain their theatres so I totally feel for them too. And everyone involved in the arts is suffering from not being able to do their job and perform. It’s so sad and I feel so heartbroken for all performers, directors, writers and crew.
- There should be more uniformity among restrictions for example why are people allowed to sit near one another on planes with face masks but not in theatres?
- Getting advice that specifically relates to amateur societies has been extremely difficult and has just got worse with the ‘tiers’.
- Until everyone feels safe and secure I cannot see audiences returning to the theatre that quickly. I think that we have to see the back broken of this virus before we see any going back to how it was before. I think we have a long stretch ahead of pure uncertainty.
- We have put on weekly talks, via zoom, from current and past members to keep in touch with our membership.
- Still angry and confused about why airlines can carry people sitting next to strangers but theatres can’t.
- To justify my answer to Q9. Mask-wearing (audiences) Testing (cast) Would make theatre close to 100% safe.
- Whilst I sympathise with the professionals in theatre, spare a thought for the amateur societies which were due to put on an expensive production just a week after lockdown. Money has already been paid out. Most of us do not have our own rehearsal space let alone our own theatre and are therefore at the mercy of not only covid 19 but also those venues which are currently denied to us. None of this has been taken into consideration. Whilst as amateurs we are not paid, our scenery provider, lighting crew, sound crew, orchestra, venue, etc., are professionals have to be paid. Some money up front, the rest is waiting for when we are able to put on a spectacular “Shrek, the Musical.”
- Here on Isle of Man we have no Covid and live theatre is live and well after the initial lockdown which finished in June/July.
- The anti culture stance from Government erodes public respect for the arts. All the while as they depend upon the. To make life worth living. We’re not cyber. We just don’t know it yet.
- Amateurs must look to the professional theatre as a yardstick.
- Let’s hope we can get back asap. We are planning for an open air production in May 2021 hopefully we can succeed!!!
- People need to stop repeatedly postponing dates forward and accept that nothing will happen again until we all get the green light It is safe to do so.
- There should be more support from MPs for the amateur theatre groups/societies. These are as valuable as professional ones.
- Still not enough being done for the arts sector.
- Theatre company may not recover from this virus, we are talking with the company for a neighbouring town about joining together in future, both companies have an ageing active members list and some are not going to return to perform on stage again.
- Lack of support for the theatre industry has been disgusting. Comments about non-viable jobs is ludicrous.
- This pandemic has absolutely ruined my business – stage scenery and props – I have earned £600 since March.
- The quick turn round test is the answer and then we can all get back. There will always be some risk but that is life in general.
- If cinemas can operate, and flights continue to all four corners of the earth, why can’t theatres open? We were due to perform in March 2020, but lockdown shut us down. We have continued to rehearse online, and were due to perform (with half an audience, socially distanced) in October, but cancelled again by the venue (government). As an amateur actor and theatre-goer myself, I haven’t booked to go anywhere since March 2020, as the government keep ‘pulling the plug’ overnight. Lockdown = lethargy, and reluctance to do anything because we can’t. So sorry for professional theatre, who are doing their best to restart, but are thwarted at every turn.
- Thanks to a very loyal membership we have continued weekly meetings via Zoom and have a production in the final stages of preparation. As soon as we can access a space to rehearse face to face and the venue which we usually use for performances is available for high, we hope to put the production on. In the meantime we are preparing some videoed material to put on youtube.
- It is really sad what has happened to our theatres. I hope that things will get better soon.
- It is difficult to see both professional and amateur productions returning to anything like it was prior to Covid. A lot of freelancers are struggling, a number of equipment hire companies are folding as no doubt will some theatres and performance venues. l can foresee a number of amateur groups disbanding or possibly merging. 60 I am not scared to come back to theatre. But it would have to be something good. Most of what is around or coming is what was on before lockdown. We need new shows, as I have seen most of them. Would have gone to see Kathy Burke interviewed but tickets sold fast. More events like this that don’t cost much would be a good start to get people back.
- Missing theatre so much at the moment. Worried that so many amateur societies have gone.
- The Government, lmho, has not given enough support to theatre and music. It seems that pubs and restaurants are more important. Amateur theatre is classed as a hobby which is not essential.
- As well as being an acting member of my group, I also help run our associated Youth Group. The regulations relating to Youth Groups is very confusing, especially as our group rehearse in a town on the border between Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire, with each county having different rules. Our youth members & helpers/production team live on both sides of that border & that means everything & everyone are under different rules. It’s a nightmare trying to wade through the regulations to see if we have to exclude anyone from our physical rehearsals. At the time of writing we believe that we can continue as we are (both our areas having recently come into line & are now in Tier 2), but it’s looking increasingly likely that our part of Nottinghamshire are going into Tier 3 next week, but with the rehearsal rooms & some members being in Derbyshire (& likely to stay in Tier 2) there will be more regulations to look through & try to interpret for our situation. Like most people & businesses, the regulations “one size fits all” rules do not help us at all.
- Being a small company using a village hall we cannot put on our annual pantomime, the first time in over thirty years but we have to protect our members and audience.
- Although local government guidelines are clear in general the restrictions for amateur performance are tricky to pin down. This includes choirs and musical performance.
- Missing live performance massively – both as performer and audience. Total tragedy but life and health is more important.
- The fight to get amateur theatre information from the minister was extremely frustrating. We were very lucky to have LTG fighting for us and keeping us updated at every stage.
- Organisations could do more to lobby the government about the need for all types of theatre, both professional and amateur, in order to promote well-being.
- I think both professional and amateur theatre are crucial to people’s wellbeing. However, I think amateur theatre groups need to be responsible at this time and not detract from professional theatre’s attempts to survive.
- COVID-19 has made things very difficult and different. Our full-scale musical productions will be unviable for the time being with social distancing but it has given us an opportunity to embrace technology which we had been resistant to before. We celebrated our centenary last year and other than two years during WW2 we have always offered something for our membership. So far we’ve done Zoom choir rehearsals, socially-distanced performances from a front garden, youtube social pub quizzes, Zoom play readings, online poetry evenings, and have resumed socially-distanced rehearsals for our auditioned and community choir. We’re looking at staging online/ socially-distanced performances for Christmas.
- It will be interesting to look back at the death numbers from the virus compared to average deaths from the flu, etc from past years. We may discover that the whole thing was “much ado about nothing.
- We who keep theatre going at our own expense and for pure love of our art form, deserve support. But we wont get it, financially or otherwise, from the government. However, we are upholding the proud tradition of Burbage and Shakespeare, and that alone justifies our activity.
Image: People’s Theatre Newcastle | Bard in Byker | Photo: Tim Swinton
by Dave Hollander
From 3,000-seater arenas to the tiniest fringe venues, theatres across the UK have been embattled throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. But since the four-month total shutdown from March, the ever-changing rules have not stopped theatremakers across both professional and amateur sectors finding creative ways to serve their communities and produce innovative work.
Some have reluctantly decided to suspend all in-person productions, while others have staged outdoor shows and socially distanced indoor performances when local restrictions have allowed. But a key change for everyone has been a huge rise in online activities: staying in touch via video-conferencing apps, fundraising and social events, as well as recorded and live-streamed performances.
When The Stage asked me to speak to a range of amateur theatremakers across the UK in early October, the situation was rather different from now. Having already produced open-air productions, many in England who were not subject to local lockdowns had already adopted Covid-safe measures to ensure indoor shows could go ahead. Sardines’ surveys suggested about 20% of amateur groups had staged some kind of online or live performance since March, while others were waiting for social distancing to be relaxed.
Yet within weeks, a second, month-long lockdown was imposed, alongside similarly restrictive regulations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And now it seems that under the latest regulations relatively few companies, professional or amateur, will be able to produce festive shows for a live audience – at least on a scale that is financially viable. Panto season may be all but cancelled, but with an indomitable spirit many are determined to put something on. And importantly, recent reports of successful vaccine trials suggest there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: 2021 may be the year we all meet again to make and watch theatre in person.
Rather than trying to predict exactly when this might happen, it’s important to recognise what amateur societies have achieved over the past nine months, not only by putting on fantastic shows, but also embracing new ways of doing things, reaching out to their members and engaging with their communities.
Immediately after the first lockdown, the Little Theatre Guild became a central point of information for its one hundred-plus member societies. National Liaison Officer Eddie Redfern was tasked with securing clarity on the rules from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport before communicating this to the guild’s members. But, as LTG Chair Jo Matthews explains: “Early on there was confusion, because the rules were drawn up without considering whether there were any differences between amateur and professional. We got caught up in the middle of all that and eventually got the issues ironed out.”
LTG Southern Regional Secretary Anne Gilmour adds: “We’ve been very aware as we’re passing on information given by the government bodies that it’s not our organisation saying this. Some members will turn round and say: ‘This is what the LTG advises.’ But we say: “No, this is what the government advises, this is what DCMS is saying, this is what the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre are recommending – follow their rules.’ So we walk a bit of a tightrope there and we’re very keen to get the balance right. The members appreciate that and recognise that we’re not going to give any advice that is offkey.”
With more than two thousand member companies, the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) has also been pushing for clarity on the rules, as well as recognition of amateur theatre’s vital role in the country’s cultural life. Chief Operating Officer Dale Freeman sent members an open letter about the importance of amateur theatre to culture and wellbeing, urging them to share it with the local press. But he remains frustrated by the lack of clarity whenever new measures are announced: “It’s completely ambiguous, to the point where two members of our committee can read the same legislation and come up with a different set of rules.”
When I spoke to the LTG committee in October, Public Relations officer Kevin Spence – an active member of Doncaster Little Theatre – said: “The current lockdown has caused a bit of a north-south divide among our theatres, as it has across England in other areas of life. I’m sure a lot of our members in the north of England would like to be more active but can for obvious reasons.” Unfortunately, the latest post-lockdown tier system in England makes the situation even more complicated, and further clarification will need to be sought.
Adding that it has been no easier to interpret the rules north of the border, NODA Scotland’s regional councillor Stuart McCue-Dick explains how operations quickly moved online: “We shared a series of newsletters via email and on our Facebook page. These have updated members on a range of issues locally and nationally including online training opportunities, funding support and guidance updates, as well as details about the lobbying being carried out as part of the Amateur Theatre Matters campaign to highlight the importance of amateur theatre and its interconnection with professional theatre.”
NODA Scotland’s network of eleven regional reps have kept in touch via Zoom meetings allowing local members to share news and offer help and support to each other, and this year’s conference, in October, was held virtually for the first time. The event normally attracts more than 250 attendees at Peebles Hydro, but thanks to its online platform, up to 1,500 viewed sessions or took part over the weekend.
In fact, amateur groups everywhere have kept creative online. NODA Marketing and Publishing Executive Rob Williams says: “We launched a national online training system, with videos and live Zoom sessions on subjects from performing to technical to costume, to mask-making.”
Meanwhile, many LTG members have also launched online social meet-ups, training and performances. Anne-marie Greene, artistic director of Coventry’s Criterion Theatre, says: “Covid has forced us to learn how to adapt quickly and flexibly and we’re determined to continue to be a hub for theatre arts in Coventry, however difficult that may be, upholding our name by setting the bar high for the types of activities we engage in.”
Between March and October, the Criterion put on thirteen virtual play readings, social activities including quizzes and virtual bar nights, as well as a live-streamed performance of David Haig’s Pressure before becoming one of the first amateur companies in the country to resume live indoor performances with Queers on 29 September. While its venue was shut, the company took the opportunity to make repairs and redecorate, installed a new lighting rig and developed a range of Covid sanitisation, cleaning and safety protocols in preparation for reopening.
Southport Dramatic Club has also used this period for reflection and planning. With no current shows its members shared photographs and anecdotes online and Jennifer Corcoran wrote a weekly newspaper column. Via weekly Zoom presentations, “stalwarts of our club have offered unique insights into how times change, and the professionals who learned their craft with us have returned to share their gratitude”, Corcoran explains.
Unable to prepare a show over the summer, SDC’s youth members led by Harry Gascoigne devised and performed a socially distanced, live-streamed cabaret evening. And until more stringent lockdown measures were reimposed, the Southport Little Theatre bar was able to open, with social distancing in place. Corcoran says: “This was a very welcome opportunity for members to see one another in person, visit our beautiful theatre and support the continued running of the club.”
At Highbury Theatre, Sutton Coldfield, members contributed radio plays to its YouTube channel Highbury Stories and the short film Rubbish was produced in its studio. Chairman Steve Bowyer explains the logistics of reopening as restrictions started …to ease in September and the building initially opened to show films: “Our auditorium only holds one hundred and forty people so, with social-distancing measures in place, we can only hold sixteen single households – a total of up to thirty.”
The theatre went on to produce live performances of sketches written mainly by members before the second lockdown and worked with local playwright David Tristram on the play Lockdown in Little Grimley.
Some non-professional venues have produced an even more extensive programme. The Abbey Theatre, St Albans launched its competition The Corona Monologues, inviting the local community to submit short films, which were judged by film director Mike Newell. By June – a month before the Government announced that outdoor performances could resume – theatre manager Tina Swain had asked the production team to research live-streaming and the venue invested in equipment and training. This strategy paid off, she says: “In September, we offered two experimental live-stream performances, and in October socially distanced in-theatre audiences watched the performance of Robert Shenkkan’s Building the Wall as it was live-streamed to others in their homes.”
Swain adds: “I think our unique selling point is our hybrid production model, in which live-stream audiences watch a performance at the same time as the audience seated in the auditorium. We’ve had amazing feedback, especially the thrill several people have mentioned of knowing that the actors are onstage at that moment. Friends and relations have logged in from all over the country and, in some cases, all over the world to watch.”
South London Theatre kept in touch with its members from the start, as the chair of its building preservation trust Charlotte Benstead says: “When we went into lockdown it was obvious members would be affected. Twice-nightly Zoom check-ins were up and running within three weeks. These have been especially important to older members nervous about leaving their homes.”
SLT’s Jennifer Nettles set up a weekly play-reading group “to keep our actors in shape – like a gym,” she explains. The sessions have continued through the summer and subsequent lockdown, with an extremely varied programme of plays. While classical drama and 20th Century works do feature, Nettles is keen to showcase pieces that people might not have had the chance to read before, including obscure older works and vibrant contemporary writing. The current series of readings includes John Lyly’s 1588 court entertainment Galatea, Danusia Iwaszko’s heart-rending 2004 study of relationships One Glass Wall, William Inge’s drama Bus Stop (1955) and Philip Ridley’s Ghost from a Perfect Place, first produced at Hampstead Theatre in 1994.
Nettles prepares detailed spreadsheets to break the play down for each session and works out how roles will be distributed. She explains what makes a good choice for a Zoom reading: The main thing is that it has to have a good story to it. Because if you don’t have all the props and costumes and lighting changes, it’s very difficult to do over Zoom. Everything has to be spoken. I read all the stage directions so that anyone listening can understand what’s going on. But this means some plays are too complicated to read on Zoom compared with a physical space, where it would be easier to understand visually. I choose plays that have very strong dialogue and don’t rely on physical comedy, props or things that aren’t spoken.”
While SLT would normally be involved in local arts festival Fest Norwood in August, indoor performances were not possible at the time, so director Bryon Fear organised a promenade performance in the nearby West Norwood Cemetery. “It was the perfect place, because we could monitor how many people were coming in. We presented vignettes with small casts that could rehearse on their own. It was quite cathartic to re-engage with people. We gained a lot of experience from putting on a festival during a pandemic because it made us be more creative.”
The UK’s largest community theatre, Titchfield Festival Theatre, was quick off the mark once the government gave the green light to outdoor performances in July. Following rehearsals over Zoom, TFT opened an open-air venue two days after the announcement with sold-out productions of A Chorus Line, The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth.
When it reopened for indoor performances in September, all patrons and staff were temperature-checked on entry, sanitising stations were widely available and a one-way system was in operation. Drinks were delivered to audience members’ seats from the bar. The venue was sanitised using ozone generators between shows. Like other theatres, TFT has invested heavily in technical equipment: £70,000 on 4K HD cameras and sound-and-vision mixing facilities to live-stream shows.
TFT artistic director Kevin Fraser says: “This has been a trying time, but TFT has risen to the challenge ensuring we have continued to keep our members well informed and rehearsing wherever possible. We were one of the first theatres in the UK to get back up and running and is a testament to the rigorous anti-Covid measures in place.”
While many amateur societies and community theatres have benefited from local business grants and charitable donations, seven of LTG’s members received substantial support via the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, a move that the LTG’s Kevin Spence says suggests a change in policy: “As amateurs we don’t normally get much from the Arts Council, but the goalposts seem to have shifted.”
Added to this, those amateur companies that employ theatre managers or other staff have also been able to take advantage of Government schemes, as the LTG’s Jo Matthews points out: “Thank goodness for the furlough scheme – some of our members have started slowly employing people. No-one is doing anything that would endanger their amateur status, such as employing actors, but there have always been cleaners and now sometimes there’s a theatre manager or a technician, especially if the venue’s available for hire. As far as we’re aware all of our theatres that employ people have either furloughed them or been able to afford to keep them on.”
The biggest LTG beneficiary from the Culture Recovery Fund was the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, which received £215,000. It runs a healthy hire operation alongside the resident amateur theatre company. “This meant that not only did we have to re-schedule all our own productions but also all the many hirers who use the theatre,” says the Crescent’s LTG rep Jackie Blackwood. “This was a mammoth task and took weeks to resolve. This was complicated by an ever-changing question of when we might be able to open again.”
Blackwood stresses the importance of how volunteer workers helped the theatre continue to operate: “We furloughed our staff, but we were fortunate that, as a membership theatre, we could rely on the support of our members to assist.”
Detailing the Crescent’s artistic activity in lockdown, she adds: “We’ve hosted Folkin’ Digital – a virtual festival featuring some of the best acoustic musicians in the UK. We also undertook a film project of the play Foxfinder, presented by the Crescent Theatre …company. We have also featured some successful cinema evenings, which is an area that we are further developing. We are now a Covid-secure venue and know we are not alone in the challenges we have faced over the past few months or in the months to come.”
Online training and performances, followed by live outdoor events and – where possible – socially distanced indoor shows seem to be a recurring pattern across England. Tracey Mackenzie, Theatre Manager at Lincolnshire’s Louth Riverhead Theatre says: “We started by asking our community to send us their Lockdown Creations, then commissioned a digital performance, The Heron’s Song, by Barmpot Theatre. Our youth summer workshop was delivered on Zoom by John Hewer and his team, resulting in the filmed production Murder at Biddlestone Manor, and volunteer Phil Ball is running socially distanced free tech classes and hopefully building our tech volunteers by doing so.”
Mackenzie and assistant Fran Brindle organised a pop-up festival in the venue’s car park. “There were twenty-one performances on a lorry stage, with craft stalls and food vendors,” she says. “It was a huge success, which was due to having a wonderful team of volunteers who worked together, managing social distancing, taking temperatures on arrival and ensuring Covid-safety measures were observed.
“We have been extremely grateful that Arts Council England has supported us, which has enabled us to continue to achieve a cultural delivery at the most difficult time. It has encouraged us to literally think outside the box and we as a team have achieved a huge amount in our small, rural Lincolnshire town.”
Among the groups staging outdoor shows over the summer, the People’s Theatre in Newcastle presented The Bard in Byker in the grounds of a church in Byker Heights. Director Tony Childs says: “A dozen or so actors, including two from our thriving youth theatre, came along to perform monologues or duologues from Shakespeare (or anything else they fancied). We did not charge for this, but asked for donations for the church. We’ve also had a series of online events for members and displayed art about lockdown from local primary schools in our theatre windows during the summer months.”
Though the People’s Theatre did not benefit from the CRF, it has kept in business through other means. “We received a £25,000 small business grant at the beginning of lockdown,” Childs says. “But we’ve had nothing else from the government or local authority, though our three employees have been furloughed. We have a strong community presence, and have received about £60,000 in donations as a result of appeals and members’ fundraising efforts, and remain viable, at least in the short term.”
Having spent most of the period since March in lockdown, Ilkley Playhouse in West Yorkshire has filmed a series of short ‘kitchen-sink dramas’, which were posted on its Facebook page. “We also ran a short play competition which attracted eighty-four entries,” says Artistic Director Jay Cundell Walker.
The playhouse produced lottery-funded open-air Shakespeare show Bard in the Yard in partnership with a local Jacobean museum. Cundell Walker quotes the experience of a young participant: “Doing Bard in the Yard during the pandemic meant a lot to me. It is the first Shakespeare I’ve ever performed and I hope to do more in the future. The director was helpful and encouraging which helped build my confidence. My first performance with Ilkley Playhouse was a positive one.”
Having received several thousand pounds in private donations following appeals on its website, Ilkley Playhouse applied for a grant from in the Arts Council-administered CRF, as Cundell Walker explains: “We were turned down, but we reapplied in round two and were awarded £60,000. From our local authority, Bradford, we have received the £10,000 initial grant and a rates rebate. We are normally a self-funded theatre so this has been a very welcome lifeline.”
Outside England, different lockdowns have made indoor shows impossible, but the creative spirit has kept flowing. NODA Scotland’s Stuart McCue-Dick says: “One club – Dunblane’s Rubber Chicken Theatre – managed an outdoor production of Into the Woods in the woods. Another was able to live-stream a series of short plays via Zoom while others have recorded virtual concerts to fill what would have been their normal show week. All have been achieved while keeping within the ever-changing guidelines.”
And while fundraising remained a vital way of staying afloat, he says: “We made our members aware of the Small Business Support Scheme for those who owned club rooms, rehearsal premises or storage facilities. Clubs were able to secure £10,000 or £25,000, depending on the size of the premises.”
The situation in Wales has similarly been tighter than in England, with most societies restricting themselves to online activities and building up resources for the time when fully fledged productions can resume.
Cardiff’s Rhiwbina Amateur Theatrical Society last staged live theatre in January 2020 – its production of Joseph and the Amazing Techinicolor Dreamcoat – but it has kept in touch with its members throughout the year.
Chair Dan Collier-Roberts says: “Our patrons, who come to all our shows, have told us to keep the money they would spend on tickets to cover some of our overheads. We’ve just done a patrons’ murder mystery, which is an audio play. Headed by membership secretary Lucy Chipling, we’ve also performed two audio plays – Under Milk Wood and Alice in Wonderland – and we’re now working on A Christmas Carol. One of the local hospital radio stations has broadcast the recordings to patients.”
Based in the local memorial hall, RATS has received support from the Arts Council of Wales to keep it afloat and plan future productions. Collier-Roberts says that his committee was initially surprised that the society was eligible for funding: “Our treasurer works for the Riverfront Theatre in Newport. She is always looking for fundraising opportunities and said we should apply to the Arts Council of Wales scheme. We found out about it in early October and they released the funding two weeks later.
“We were very lucky to have someone who works in the professional theatre world. We had to say what we would use the money for – to pay our fees for the hall we use, even though we’re not in it. So it’s not just benefiting us: the money’s enabling the hall to stay open because it’s used by other people.”
He reflects on a turbulent period for theatre and wider society: “I’ve got so many friends who think this is ridiculous, but we haven’t seen anything like this in our lifetime. The conflicting messaging is what causes the confusion. We were hoping to open the hall back up again, but then the lockdown came back in. If we hadn’t done Joseph and made a bit of a profit on it, we would have been in a much worse position.”
The LTG’s Kevin Spence says that one unexpected benefit of the Covid crisis is that it has allowed everyone to take stock. He says. “I’m sure all our member theatres have painted and renovated and got rid of stuff. It’s given people a chance to think about policies and enacting initiatives we might not have had time to think about under normal circumstances. At the moment on our national committee we’re very exercised about what’s happening to young people who are being starved of theatre and how we can help with that. I suspect a lot of stuff’s not happening in schools like it was before.
“The other thing is that it’s given us a chance to address the diversity and inclusion agenda, which some of our theatres are brilliant at and some less so – like most theatres. The LTG is there to do some big-picture thinking.”
Chads Theatre in Cheadle Hulme, Greater Manchester, was due to celebrate its centenary in 2020. Chairman Steve Pratt explains how the building has been spruced up: “A small team of dedicated members have transformed the outside of the theatre. Plants were donated by the public and the end result has been much appreciated by the local community.”
Financial support has come from our members in the form of interest-free loans, he says, adding: “We have received grants totalling £11,600 from Stockport Council and are taking part in the #SaveOurTheatres campaign with the Theatres Trust and Crowdfunder, which has raised nearly £8,000.”
In terms of policy, the Criterion Theatre’s Anne-marie Greene says the lockdown has provided an opportunity to reflect on its relationship to society, with the wider Black Lives Matter movement providing a particular catalyst. She says: “As Artistic Director, I am spearheading a campaign of action, fully supported by the board of trustees, including our Anti-Racism Reflective Statement. This is not only a provocation to ourselves, but is also a set of aspirations and a call to action to make real change and progress on equality, diversity and inclusion within our theatre.”
Stuart McCue-Dick believes amateur theatre clubs will become more business-like in their operation. “This may be a hobby for us,” he says, “but we need to be business-like to ensure we can survive. Indeed, NODA Scotland has been running a series of workshops called the Business of Amateur Theatre to help clubs with this.”
But he adds that theatre means much more than staying financially viable: “For all of us, theatre is a passion, but it is also about friendship and community. Nothing beats the thrill of opening night or the audience applause at the end of a performance. None of that can really be experienced online so I do believe we will return but we just need to be patient until the time is right and it is safe to do so.”
Anne Gilmour agrees: “The pandemic has given people new artistic ways of doing things – including online and audio plays – and I see no reason why that won’t continue. But when possible, I’d have thought most people will want to return to the way they’ve done things before: putting on plays to an audience and trying new and different things.”
Kevin Spence believes that not all audiences are necessarily engaged by digital productions. “Like a lot of theatre, we have a very strong senior contingent in our audience and membership,” he says. “Surveys have indicated that many of these people don’t want to be in theatres until things have gone back to normal. So that’s a pretty compelling reason for trying to get back to where we were.”
There can be no doubt that all theatres in the UK have faced an extremely challenging year, from small amateur societies and community venues to large professional venues in cities nationwide. But people’s remarkable determination to keep creative has reaffirmed the importance of amateur theatre in the cultural life of the country – and if 2020 can tell us anything, it’s that even in the darkest moments, the show must go on somehow.
There’s every reason to remain cautiously optimistic about 2021, so while we might not be able to sit in a packed theatre yelling “He’s behind you!” this Christmas, let’s look forward to the prospect of entertaining, inspiring and innovative productions ahead.
Dave Hollander is deputy production editor of The Stage and a long-standing member of South London Theatre. He was deputy chair of SLT from 2013 to 2020.
Image: A theatre with social distancing employed across the auditorium.
by Liza Heinrichs, Research Assistant, Dr. Sven Kuenzel, Reader, and Dr. Ewa Krolikowska-Adamczyk, Senior Lecturer, from the University of Greenwich Business School
Covid-19. Coronavirus. The global pandemic put a sudden hold on the world, and while different economies and industries are slowly firing up again trying to get back to normal business, most theatres remain closed.
In fact, theatre and other forms of live entertainment are among those industries that have suffered the most and stayed closed the longest.
But theatre is innovative, creative and eager to thrive. From prerecorded, online releases over live-streamed performances to drive-in theatre, the industry is desperate to find ways to survive until social distancing guidance allows venues to reopen to economically viable numbers of audience members.
With theatres closed from the West End to your local community venue, some artists have turned to digital or virtual platforms to continue to engage with audiences. Whether it’s plays, readings or a look behind the scenes, more and more theatres, authors and museums are making their content available online. Some theatre companies, like the National Theatre or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, have released recordings of past staged live productions made available online for free. The Old Vic recently staged a socially distanced adaptation of their recent play Lungs with Claire Foy and Matt Smith and live screened it via Zoom, with people buying tickets just as they would for a regular performance.
Artists and particularly musical theatre performers have taken to Instagram Live, Zoom or other means of online streaming to bring home concerts to their fans – some for free like #RAHome, others for a small ticket price like the Leave a Light On series organised by Lambert Jackson Productions. Inviting audiences into your home forms a new kind of relationship. It breaks down the barrier to some extent to see your favourite artists’ home decor, pictures on the wall or kids or relatives streaming into the comfort of your home. While artists and audience are not in the same space together, there is a new form of association and intimacy to be found from these streams.
Smash hit musical SIX announced its inclusion with a line-up of major artists to perform in twelve drive-in venues to a live audience who, no doubt, enjoyed the full performances of the six-strong female cast from the safety of their cars. While this format was not an option for many shows due to the nature of traditional musical theatre performances, this particular adaptation does show the forward-thinking of some producers and adaptability of performers.
The current coronavirus crisis is set to change the performing arts. The support online for the struggling arts industry through tweets, posts and petitions clearly shows that people are longing for live performances. The industry and community have shown their commitment over the past few months, sharing petitions, organising protests and raising money online for charities like Acting for Others.
Ever-emerging online concerts and streams from homes or empty venues show the urge for artists to collaborate and create. In what form this will happen in the future – who knows at this stage. Until it is safe for venues to properly reopen, the majority of performances will take place in an online scenario and audiences, as well performers, will have to adapt to a new situation. So does this mark the end of audience etiquette? There were repeated complaints from fellow audience members before lockdown of, for example, people chatting all the way through a show, people using their phones, audience members bringing in pizza during the interval… After months and months of consuming theatre in the comfort of your home, will people have forgotten how to behave in an auditorium altogether when they return? Or will the opposite happen and it will be even more special when members of the public are able to return to a live performance? Only time will tell.
While the current pandemic is a major threat to economies all over the world, theatre will have to continue to find ways to generate income. Donations can only go so far, and the (infamous) government support package came at a time when many venues had already made a lot of redundancies or closed for good. The variety of productions, from plays to musicals to immersive theatre, means there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Smaller play productions may be able to adapt to social distancing rules and reopen at a much-reduced capacity, such as The Mousetrap in London which announced its return to the stage in October. English National Opera’s plans for a socially distanced season of stripped-back productions, with a reduced number of singers and musicians and sets… all stripped back. For many venues, of course, social distancing is not financially feasible as they need 70-80% of full capacity to break even. Smaller shows (in terms of cast size) may be able to think about live-streamed performances from an empty auditorium, similar to Lungs at the Old Vic. The final two weeks of the BBC Proms season this year was also live streamed from an empty Royal Albert Hall auditorium. Does it all need to be visual? Of course not. Telling stories through podcasts, audio dramas or even written art are just as important (even if slightly less effective).
Whether we like it or not, online content, live streaming and virtual events will be with us for longer than we might think. Broadway has closed for the remainder of 2020 and some shows in the West End have also announced they will not resume until next year. Live streaming will provide performance opportunities for many artists and creatives during this time. The industry will have to adapt its thinking and work with communities and audiences on a different level. It will be music, arts and culture that are hit the hardest and… take the longest time to recover.
Being on the front foot in thinking about solutions is very important as the future of live entertainment is a key part of the sector’s recovery. Music, arts and culture are more important and valued by society than ever in times of crisis, and never more so than during the current global pandemic.
Emerging details of the latest Coronavirus restrictions throughout England, as we come out of ‘lockdown’ at midnight on 2 December, have thrown pre-announced festive productions into turmoil.
Not only does it make publishing our new issue on 1 December a nightmare, but depending on which part of England you might be in (sorry Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) your festive show or panto – which may well have already been cancelled and then reinstated – will now either be going ahead, cancelled or be in the process of being moved.
This means that despite articles like this attempting to bring you the latest news, you must double and triple-check the status of any production by visiting respective websites before booking tickets or asking for a refund.
By the way, we should point out that this whole fiasco surrounds professional productions rather than amateur. We ‘hobbyists’ haven’t got a chance at performing live this side of the new year and it would appear that virtually all non-professional companies, societies and charities have given up on 2020 (apart from using Zoom perhaps!).
When Qdos announced, on 3 Aug, that Government restrictions (social distancing) had arguably made it financially impossible for pantomime to go ahead this year we saw productions all over the country postpone their shows by up to twelve months to this time next year.
However, when National Lottery recently stepped in and offered to pay for the restricted auditorium seats that couldn’t be used, Qdos made a late announcement that its big pantomime at the London Palladium and nine others around the UK would indeed now be going ahead.
That is until yesterday – Thursday, 26 November 2020. That’s when the UK Government announced that almost the entirety of England (except for Cornwall, The Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles) will be coming out of lockdown on 1 Dec and placed in either the first or second of the new tougher tiering system.
Any areas in Tier 3 cannot have any live theatre productions going ahead – amateur or professional – which has meant the new cancellation of shows.
While Qdos’s flagship pantomime at the London Palladium will survive (all London boroughs will be in Tier 2 meaning professional theatre can still go ahead albeit in front of a reduced, socially- distanced audience in facemasks), there are numerous productions in other areas that haven’t fared so well.
Michael Harrison, MD of Qdos has vowed to try and save half of their pantos which will be inside Tier 3 areas.
Speaking on BBC One’s The One Show on Thursday evening, Strictly judge, Craig Revel Horwood – who is to appear in Bristol’ Hippodrome’s Robin Hood from 18 Dec – 10 Jan but is also then billed to hotfoot it with the same title, and cast, to Birmingham Alexandra from 15 – 31 Jan 21) – said that the Qdos MD is even considering trying to move its Tier 3 productions into a safer Tier 2 area so they can still go up. One cannot help but wonder how much financial commitment Qdos has on the line here!
Here is a list of festive shows that are NOT allowed to open under the new Tier 3 restrictions:
(not allowed to go ahead as of: 27 Nov)
The Alexandra, Birmingham
Crucible Theatre Sheffield
Damian’s Pop-Up Panto!
Jack and the Beanstalk
Palace Theatre & Opera House Manchester
Regent Theatre Stoke on Trent
Theatre Royal Newcastle
Theatre Royal Nottingham
Note: This list shows mainstream productions only and does not include other, independent, productions – of which there will be many.
Right now there are no theatre shows on anywhere in the UK; we’re in lockdown! Both amateur and professional theatre companies cannot perform until 3 December, when lockdown officially comes to an end.
After that, numerous productions are being publicised, not least a number of pantomimes. But in addition to the great panto season there are also lots of musical shows on the cards – whether taking place for limited runs in the West End, other areas of London, national tours, concerts, live-streams or just released on a cast recording to buy or download… so let’s all hope lockdown isn’t extended!
So, as this second lockdown hasn’t officially ended yet, please do check on the show website before booking any tickets to see any of the following. But here is a selected snapshot of what the professional musical theatre industry has in store for us over the coming months.
By the way, Cameron Mackintosh is reopening the concert version of Les Mis from 5 Dec at the Sondheim Theatre but we’re yet to hear about Mary Poppins and Hamilton.
A Christmas Carol
The Dominion Theatre, London
7 Dec 2020 – 2 Jan 2021
F & T: @LondonXmasCarol
I’m a Celebrity 2019 winner Jacqueline Jossa makes her West End debut in the role of Emily and Busted star, Matt Jay-Willis will play Bob Cratchit alongside Brian Conley, who takes on the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge in Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent’s festive show.
Lucie Jones, Sandra Marvin and Martyn Ellis also feature. London Musical Theatre Orchestra will accompany.
Note: this is a staged concert production.
BACK TO THE FUTURE THE MUSICAL
Adelphi Theatre, London
From 14 May – 26 Sep 2021 (current booking end)
F & T: BTTFmusical
The iconic story of Marty McFly will transfer to the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End following its out-of-town opening at Manchester Opera House in March, where it was enthusiastically received by critics and the public alike (mind you, it only played for 10 days!).
Stepping into Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd’s shoes are Roger Bart and Olly Dobson who will reprise the roles of ‘Dr Emmett Brown’ and ‘Marty McFly’ respectively.
Also returning are Hugh Coles, Rosanna Hyland, Cedric Neal, Aidan Cutler and Courtney-Mae Briggs.
Marty McFly is a rock ‘n’ roll teenager accidentally transported back to 1955 in a time-travelling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr Emmett Brown.
But before he can return to 1985, Marty must make sure his high school-aged parents fall in love in order to save his own existence.
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Ldn.
16 Dec 2020 – 24 Jan 2021
F: UpstairsAtTheGatehouse | T: @GatehouseLondon
Francis, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky loved to sing. They all met in high school around 1956 when the friends dreamed of emulating their idols, The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen and The Crew Cuts. Rehearsing in the basement of Smudge’s family’s plumbing supply company, it was here they became Forever Plaid. As their sound developed, they sang at family gatherings, fundraisers and eventually graduated to supermarket openings and local hops…
Gillian Lynne Theatre, Ldn.
30 Apr 2021 – 13 Feb 2022 (currently)
F: ALWCinderella | T: @alwcinderella
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical comedy starring Carrie Hope Fletcher, is set to “completely reinvent the world’s best-loved fairy tale when it opens in London’s West End in spring 2021.” The brand-new score by the good Lord has lyrics by Oscar-nominated David Zippel, with a script from Killing Eve’s Emerald Fennell.
“Cinderella… like you’ve never seen her before.”
THE PRINCE OF EGYPT
Dominion Theatre, London. | 11 Feb 2021 – 4 Sep 2021 (current booking end)
W: www.theprinceofegyptmusical.com | F & T: @PrinceOfEgyptUK
The London cast recording is now avaliable from Ghostlight Records as the actual production prepares to reopen in February …pending UK Government advice relating to COVID-19 (as with all of these shows).
It’s the biblical story of Moses, found as a baby in a basket floating on the Nile River.
The show follows him through Ancient Egypt as two young men, raised together as brothers in a kingdom of privilege, find themselves suddenly divided by a secret past. One must rule as Pharaoh, the other must rise up and free his true people; both face a destiny that will change history forever.
The production (and cast recording) includes the hit song, When You Believe, which was a global hit for Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
Barbican Theatre, London. | 8 May 2021 – 22 Aug 2021
W: AnythingGoesMusical.co.uk | F: AnythingGoesUK | T: @AnythingGUK
Cole Porter’s multi-award-winning musical – so popular with amateur theatre companies all over the country – will star award winner, Megan Mullally (Will & Grace), in her West End musical debut as Reno Sweeney, and Tony, Olivier & BAFTA Award winner, Robert Lindsay, as Moonface Martin.
Based on P.G. Wodehouse’s classic tale, this new production will be directed and choreographed by three-time Tony Award Winner, Kathleen Marshall. All-time favourite tunes include I Get a Kick Out of You, Anything Goes, You’re the Top and It’s De-Lovely.
SHOUT! the Mod Musical
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London.
10 Mar 2021 – 18 Apr 2021
W: upstairsatthegatehouse.com | F & T: @ShoutMusicalUK
Journey back to the liberating days of 1960s’ London and explore the infectious anthems that made household names of stars such as Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Lulu and Shirley Bassey.
The show tracks the lives of five women as they “come of age in this psychedelic, eye-popping, fun-filled musical comedy which will make you want to throw your head back and Shout!” A real feel good jukebox musical. Iconic numbers include: You’re My World, Son of a Preacher Man, I Only Wanna be with You, Those Were the Days, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Downtown, Goldfinger, These Boots are Made for Walking and, of course, Shout.
Trafalgar Theatre, London. | 14 Apr 2021 – 31 May 2021
W: www.jerseyboyslondon.com | F: JerseyBoysLondon | T: @JerseyBoysUK
The Tony, Grammy and Olivier Award-winning smash hit musical returns to London’s West End, opening at the new multi-million pound reinstated Trafalgar Theatre, with a new, larger auditorium and stage (formerly known as Trafalgar Studios).
The story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons includes a multitude of hits: Sherry, Walk Like A Man, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back to You, are a mere snippet.
CINDERELLA: A SOCIALLY DISTANCED BALL
The Turbine Theatre, London. | 3 – 23 Dec 2020
W: www.theturbinetheatre.com | F & T: @TurbineTheatre
The Turbine Theatre’s first-ever adult pantomime has been co-written by Jodie Prenger and Neil Hurst and stars Oscar Conlon-Morrey, Rufus Hound, Debbie Kurup, Scott Paige, Sean Parkins and Daisy Wood Davis.
The marketing push says: “Prepare to have your Christmas socks blown off with this all-star cast, celebrating theatre at its naughtiest. Glittery anti-bac will be at hand, and we promise to get home before midnight.” Sounds like fun?
Just heed the warning that also sits at the bottom of the PR editorial: “Please note: This is not for the faint hearted or those easily offended by smut.” Well, I wonder what they can possibly mean?
Beauty and the Beast
Touring the UK & Ireland from 25 May 2021
F: beautyandthebeastthemusical | T: BeautyMusical
With this new production from Disney Theatrical Productions we are promised “Spectacular new designs and state-of-the-art technology to fuse with the classic story.” The shoe reunites the original Broadway creative team that brought us the iconic songs: Be Our Guest and Beauty and the Beast. In 2021 the show will visit Leicester, Dublin, Bristol, Liverpool and Edinburgh – with more venues still to be announced.
THE OSMONDS: A New Musical
Touring the UK & Ireland from 28 Aug 2021
F: theosmondsmusical | T: @OsmondsMusical
It was only a matter of time! This new show will receive its world premiere at London’s New Wimbledon Theatre next August. With a story written by Jay Osmond, this production “tells the true story of the five brothers from Utah who were pushed into the spotlight as children and went on to create smash hits, decade after decade.”
Charting their star residency on The Andy Williams Show from ’62 to ’69, to pop stars and ‘Osmondmania’ from 1971 to 1975, to the arrival of The Donny & Marie Show from ’76 to ’79, recording chart-topping albums and selling out vast arena concerts – until one bad decision cost them everything.
Rocky Horror Show
Touring the UK from 1 Mar 2021
W: www.rockyhorror.co.uk | F: rockyhorrorshow | T: @rockyhorroruk
“Since it first opened in London in June 1973 at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs, Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show has become the world’s favourite rock ‘n’ roll musical, having been performed worldwide for over forty-five years in more than thirty countries and translated into twenty languages. This critically-acclaimed production is now back by huge public demand.”
That says it really. While we await casting, iconic songs include: Sweet Transvestite, Science Fiction/Double Feature, Dammit Janet and, of course, The Time-Warp.
Grease The Musical
Touring the UK & Ireland from 22 Jan 2021
F: GreaseUkTour | T: @greaseuktour
Whatever your personal views are, this celebrated musical literally has legendary status. Labelled on the website as “The world’s best-loved musical”, to those of us who were just teenagers when John Travolta and Olivia Newton John virtually filled the entire top-10 at the end of the ’70s, this musical is full of nostalgia… and what’s more… the stage show is arguably better.
Summer Nights, Greased Lightnin’, Hopelessly Devoted to You and You’re the One That I Want… the list goes on and on. Looking at the other shows on this spread, this production is in good company. Directed by Nikolai Foster, Peter Andre stars as Teen Angel (at certain venues).
ROCK OF AGES
Touring the UK & Ireland from 8 May 2021
F: rockofagesthemusical | T: rockofagesuk
This is avery silly LA love story, lavished with over twenty-five classic rock anthems superbly played by the onstage band. The website asks us to “Lose yourself in a city and a time where the dreams are as big as the hair, and yes, they can come true!”
The musical comedy features the songs: We Built This City, The Final Countdown, Here I Go Again, Can’t Fight this Feeling and I Want To Know What Love Is… among others.
Ferris & Milnes – Christmas Cracker!
>>> CONCERTS <<< Riverside Studios, London
12 & 13 Dec 2020
W: www.ferrisandmilnes.com | F & T: ferrisandmilnes
Dominic Ferris and Martin Milnes, will bring their festive extravaganza to audiences who can “expect the unexpected” before Christmas.
Described as “the most exciting musical theatre double act to be discovered in years” (West End Frame), the pair are a unique combination. Dominic is a pianist extraordinaire; Martin has ‘two voices’. Together they combine comedy, music and vocals in a dynamic cocktail of explosive Broadway glamour and fun!
Social distancing measures will be in operation at Riverside Studios, with audiences being seated in households and will be required to wear a face covering throughout.
Monday Night at the Apollo
Apollo Theatre, London >>> CONCERTS <<<
11 & 25 Jan and 8 Feb 2021
F: NimaxTheatresLondon | T: @NimaxTheatres
This is a brand-new concert series taking place in front of a socially distanced audience at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.
The ‘intimate evening’ of conversation and song will see some of the West End’s best-known performers sing an eclectic mix of music from their favourite genres. Performers will share their most cherished memories and experiences from their careers, alongside performances of music which is personal to them, in a relaxed and informal theatrical celebration.
The full line-up for the first concert will be Rosalie Craig, Arthur Darvil, Hadley Fraser, Lucie Jones and Cedric Neal.
Hair the Musical (in Concert)
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton: 14-15 Jan ’21 & London Palladium, London: 16 Jan ’21
W: www.theturbinetheatre.com | www.mayflower.org.uk
F: TurbineTheatre, mayflowertheatre | T: @TurbineTheatre, @mayflower
Following a sell-out run as part of The Turbine on the Jetty season, Hair The Musical (In Concert) is directed by Arlene Phillips and will feature Aimie Atkinson, Matt Croke, Lucie Jones, Luke Bayer, Jordan Luke Gage, Grace Mouat, Nicole Raquel Dennis and Layton Williams.
REUNITED (STREAMED CONCERT SERIES)
COVID-secure London venues – streamed on 3, 10, 17 and 21 Dec 2020
W: thespie.com/news/reunited-series-concerts-announced | F: thespie | T: @thespie
Four filmed concerts to bring together some of the UK’s top musical theatre artists.
FLOWERS FOR MRS HARRIS CAST ALBUM
Released on 3 Dec 2020
F: chichesterfestivaltheatre | T: chichesterft
The cast album of the hugely acclaimed musical, recorded by the Chichester Festival Theatre company, will be released on 3 December. With a book by Rachel Wagstaff and music and lyrics by Richard Taylor, the show captures the glowing humanity of the novel by Paul Gallico on which it is based.
This is the story of Ada Harris, a charlady in post-war London whose drab life of dusting and scrubbing is transformed when she glimpses a Christian Dior dress in one of her client’s wardrobes and sets her heart on going to Paris to buy one for herself.
Together at Christmas
F: MichaelBallOfficial, alfieboe | T: mrmichaelball, AlfieBoe
It states on the pair’s website: “They are back! And just in time for the festive season!” You can’t say fairer than that.
Michael Ball and Alfie Boe will no doubt make up for the 2020 lockdowns with a guaranteed payday on the back of this Christmas album, and who can blame them.
They’ve even publicised a live tour (not until Nov/Dec 2021) to celebrate the release of the album… although in twelve months we’ll probably be talking about the release of ‘Together Again at Christmas’. All we need now is an ITV special featuring all the tunes on the CD.
Mary Poppins – Cast Recording
W: marypoppins.lnk.to/2020LiveCastRecording | www.Marypoppinsonstage.co.uk
F & T: @MaryPoppins
The West End production of Mary Poppins is still closed due to Covid and the associated Government restrictions, so this new CD/download will go some way to keeping fans happy.
The show returned to its original home in the Prince Edward Theatre in October 2019 and, as you might expect, is full of Disney’s glitz, glamour and star-quality.
Les Misérables – The Staged Concert
W: lesmiserables.lnk.to/TheStagedConcert | www.Lesmis.com
F & T: @lesmisofficial
Recorded live at the Gielgud Theatre last year with an all-star cast including Michael Ball, Alfie Boe, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Matt Lucas, Rob Houchen, Bradley Jaden, Katy Secombe, Shan Ako and Lily Kerhoas, plus a sixty-five piece orchestra. The legendary score includes I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own, Stars, Bring Him Home, Do You Hear the People Sing?, One Day More, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, Master of the House.
The show is still closed for now.
The Rushen Players’ sellout November production. Peter Gordon’s Death by Fatal Murder. Photo: Ged Power | www.rushenplayers.org
As the UK prepares to leave its second period of lockdown and enter into the dreaded tier system, think if you will, about the little island in the Irish Sea positioned just 191 miles from the Lancashire coastline. The Isle of Man hasn’t only avoided a second lockdown; it dispensed with facemasks and social distancing in June! Sardines takes up the story of the new normal…
Vanessa Montgomery Williams and husband, Jamie Montgomery, travelled to the Isle of Man with their infant son, Evan, back in August (Vanessa grew up on the island) to stay with Vanessa’s mum. The couple applied for ‘compassionate exemption’ to support Vanessa’s mother in helping care for Vanessa’s dad after six months of her mother carrying on without respite (he’s ninety-four and bed-bound). Vanessa’s mum hadn’t seen Evan since spending a week in Hertfordshire after he was born nine months ago and her dad had never met him!
The couple’s plan was to go over in August, stay for a month and then travel back to the Home Counties. However, when the situation in the UK became more apparent, the consensus was to stay on the Isle of Man until the New Year. With Vanessa still on maternity leave and a freelancing Jamie not doing much this year as a lighting technician in the film and television industry, the family were able to spend the time away from the UK (of which the self-governing Isle of Man is independent, in fact islanders usually refer to the United Kingdom as the ‘mainland’).
Until fairly recently a committed Vanessa used to run the press and PR for MADF (Manx Amateur Drama Federation). “They did the one-act play festival in February, just before things developed – mostly featuring groups from the island,” she informs. “They called off 2020’s Easter festival of full-length plays – and I’ve heard they’ve already called off next year’s too – because it can’t be guaranteed that groups will be able to come over next spring.” The Easter festival usually sees a number of groups from all over the UK come to the IOM to take part.
I asked Vanessa about the Isle of Man’s unique position – one that the rest of us can only dream of. Back at the beginning of the summer the Isle of Man “went 120 days without a single case,” Vanessa tells me. “It’s very strict over here; as I said we had to apply to be able to cross the border. I found out recently that they declined a third of compassionate exemption requests, so we were very lucky.”
Vanessa continues: “They’ve also instituted two weeks of isolation for anybody returning to the island. Initially, they gave people five-days’ warning of the lockdown and anybody who didn’t make it back had to stay in Heysham [coastal town in Lancashire with a ferry port which goes to the Isle of Man].”
“They were bringing twenty people back at a time and putting them in a hotel out in the sticks,” the new mother tells me. It’s not easy to keep theatre and politics away from each other when one controls the other so directly. Vanessa carries on describing how the IOM has managed to shake off the burden of the pandemic: “Probably similar to being in prison; people weren’t allowed to leave their hotel room except for a single walk around the grounds each day. They did have lockdown here from March to June and if there was another outbreak they’d do the same again, but it would be a lot quicker to get on top of things over here. We’ve had twenty-four deaths in total – eighteen of which were in a single care home, which is what happens when a member of staff is allowed back to work straight after returning from a holiday!
“Apart from that incident there have only been six Covid-19 deaths. Contact tracing is the most important thing really and that’s quite easy to do on an island of just 80,000 people. After a while they did go down to a seven-day isolation, or you could opt for a £50 test. But they’ve since decided that’s still too risky. When we arrived we had to isolate in two separate rooms for a fortnight, with my mum leaving us food on a tray outside the door.”
Jed Power and Ron Beswick both live on the Isle of Man and are heavily involved in amateur theatre with a seventy-year-old society – and one of the oldest on the island – called the Rushen Players. In the second half of November the group performed Peter Gordon’s Death by Fatal Murder in front of a soldout run of audiences, all shoulder-to-shoulder without social distancing or wearing facemasks.
Ged tells me about the group’s business-as-usual approach: “We’re proceeding as normal. That’s the way it is. If you take away travel and getting on and off the island, life is pretty much back to normal for most people.”
Ron agrees. “We’ve had our borders closed since it first hit and I think it’s only residents who are allowed to come into the island now. As far as the Rushen Players go, we have been carrying on as normal. We can also travel across to the UK, but we would need to self-isolate for fourteen days if we came back. Apart from that, as I’ve said, the borders are essentially closed.”
Ron continues to chat about the IOM Government’s strict policy to protect its way of life: “We just haven’t got people visiting the island at the moment; the airport is hardly operative. But going to pubs, sports, any ‘crowd’ situations… nobody wears facemasks and the only reported cases might be from a couple of emergency workers who came over and brought it with them. So at the moment we’re not in the thrust and chaos of the pandemic that you are.”
“I saw the flyer go out for the Rushen Players’ production for Death by Fatal Murder,” Vanessa tells me. “I thought ‘That’ll be well-attended.’ People are keen to get out and support something that’s going on.” And she’s not wrong there. I ask her if she puts it down to the sheer hunger for theatre?
“It’s easy to think that this is something that’s happening only in the UK,” she tells me. “There’s very much a community-feel here with that feeling that everybody knows everybody. The majority of people do love living on the island and playing their part in the community just to keep our way of life safe. People have even being going on ‘staycations’ just to help the hotels and restaurants survive.”
At the end of August, the first theatre show on the island took place at the beautiful Gaiety Theatre in Douglas. “Shortly before we came over,” mentions Vanessa, “they did a production of Calendar Girls, and the turnout was fantastic because people were just desperate to see something again.”
Ron Beswick also sings the praises of Tim Firth’s village hall blockbuster: “The Legion Players’ production of Calendar Girls at the Gaiety was an inspired choice! Stephanie Gray, the Players’ president thought, ‘Well, we’ve got nothing to lose; let’s apply for it.’ After a couple of toings and froings they managed to get a license. However, they did the run as a charity event and raised £30,000! And that was the first real, live theatre that came back on to the island. An amateur show.”
Mind you the island’s jewell-in-the-crown, a beautiful Frank Matcham design, plays host to plenty of professional shows too including a festive pantomime… although not this year, as Vanessa points out. “The Isle of Man government gave a contract to a company from Liverpool to do the pantomime here for three years, and this was meant to be their final year.”
I can feel an ‘Oops!’ coming on! “They applied to see if they could still bring over their cast, director and sets – but they’ve been told they can’t. Instead, somebody else is going to direct the pantomime which will, this year, feature an all-local cast so it can still go ahead.”
Ron explains further: “It’s going to be done with amateur actors from the island and a professional UK director working over Zoom. It really is only key workers who can come across; healthcare workers, transport etc. The North West of England was a real infection hotspot leading up to the second lockdown which is why the Manx government is wary about relaxing the border restrictions.”
“Meanwhile, the company in Liverpool has been given a year’s extension to come back in twelve months and finish their contract,” adds Vanessa. “It’s a bit of a shame because there are local [amateur] groups here that put on a good show, but the difficulty is the powers that be do want professional productions to come across and draw people out. It does obviously mean that the local groups will usually lose that opportunity to perform at the Gaiety Theatre.”
Historically, the Isle of Man, and the Gaiety Theatre in particular, has played host to a number of top-flight productions that UK amateur groups wouldn’t usually get the chance to perform due to the withdrawal of rights. Such titles include The Phantom of the Opera (2015), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2017) as well as the aforementioned Calendar Girls (2020).
However, this isn’t always the case as Ron Beswick has recently discovered: “Last year I tried to get the license for An Inspector Calls and they wouldn’t do it because a big national tour was going on. I tried again this Autumn and they told me it was still blocked. There are obviously no tours going on at the moment, so I don’t think that people like French’s [now part of Concord Theatricals] really understand the situation.”
“Maybe they’re simply not aware that places such as the Isle of Man are willing and able to take on these plays and shows,” interjects Ged.
“Just picking up on something Ron mentioned,” continues Ged. “Because these licenses aren’t being used anywhere in the UK, the Isle of Man might be able to pick up a production that would normally be beyond our reach.”
Are you listening, rights holders? There are amateur companies on the Isle of Man that would be up for taking the odd license off your hands and, what’s more, it would count as an international performance rather than a UK production which might otherwise be difficult to grant.
“The only other place without any social distancing, that I know of, is probably Guernsey,” says Ged getting back on to the subject of the Isle of Man’s Covid-free status. “We have quite a lot to do with the island and actually had an air-bridge with them. I think they sent over about five thousand tourists throughout August and September. Jersey is a different kettle of fish and could probably go either way regarding lockdowns, but Guernsey is quite similar to us. I think Jersey has had quite an open approach to managing their border and they definitely have a few more cases.”
“I think Guernsey had half a dozen cases and, as a result, we’ve now shut the air-bridge with the island – temporarily I hope,” adds Ron. “We brought back any IOM residents on holiday out there so they could quarantine, but the point is we’re such small places that we can do these things. The Manx government has really done a superb job aided by the fact that we could close the borders… being a little rock in the middle of the Irish Sea.”
“It’s only the water around the island that’s keeping us safe really,” Vanessa throws in. “We’d be in exactly the same boat as the UK if we were part of the mainland or joined to Ireland.”
The Isle of Man’s biggest attraction is of course the annual TT Races, when the island’s roads become scorched with the smell of rubber. “The TT Races, which are such a big thing on the island, were cancelled this year,” reports Vanessa. “Tourism has obviously taken a massive hit everywhere, and I just can’t see it getting back to normal again; it’s going to be so expensive to travel anywhere for a start. With the airline industry recouping its losses, the potential for things like flying going back to being something only the super-rich do is both scary and sad. Over this summer the tourism industry has relied on people having smaller holidays around the UK so, moving forward, communities are going to have to rely on people supporting from within their own communities. The lack of jobs and financial ramifications are going to hurt people as much as the virus does.”
Back to theatre and I ask about the IOM’s new normal (after all this could be the UK in six months’ time). “The Service Players have just started a production of The Wind in the Willows at the Gaiety…” which is another amateur production.
“They’ll get about five hundred to come and see that…” adds Ged instantly.
“MADF is planning its one-act play festival in March,” continues Ron. “Although I very much doubt it’ll be part of the AETF Finals this year; I can’t see how that could possibly run. But we’re definitely hoping it’ll be four full nights [three per night] of one-act plays, and completely island-based of course. That’ll be the first MADF event but of course, meanwhile, each society will also be doing their own thing.”
People like Samantha Barks who grew up on the island and left seeking fame and fortune in London’s West End… are now stuck waiting to open in Frozen for instance. She might end up coming back to the island! “Ha ha!,” laughs Ron. “The trouble is, once they’ve left the island it’s not so easy to get back… even for somebody like Sam Barks – although they might make an exception for her.”
“I’m doing some work with two people who have just graduated from theatre schools in the UK,” continues Ron. “With Lockdown in place they came back home and formed their own company called ‘Hello Little People’ and they’re doing children’s theatre, which includes a week-long pantomime over Christmas.”
Panto at Christmas! Suddenly everything makes perfect sense once again.