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Call the Midwife’s Helen George… In our regular series of coffee-break interviews, Helen George swaps her regular midwife scrubs to appear in The King and I.
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Lesley Joseph is not far off eighty years old and can still give women half her age the runaround. She’s now back in Sister Act.
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Sir Matthew Bourne OBE is the head of New Adventures and his direction and choreograohy is legendary… from Swan Lake to The Red Shoes.
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Ashley Shaw & Andrew Monaghan are currently starring in MB’s tenth anniversary tour of Sleeping Beauty as Aurora and her true love, Leo.
Tears in Rain – The Art of Archiving
Patrick Neylan tells how he’s been archiving his local society’s history, The Chelsfied Players, based in Kent.
Tamara von Werthern
Nick Hern Books’ Performing Rights Manager looks at how amateur theatre is surviving the current financial squeeze.
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The 2023 Panto Special
Interviews, info, advice and laughs… all in the name of panto.
Birmingham Histories, Walliams and West End – BSC’s Neal Foster
Paul Johnson catches up with Birmingham Stage Company’s boss who tells him about adapting David Walliams’ stories for young people to watch onstage. He also works with Horrible Histories and its creator, Terry Deary, too.
Strike Up the Band!
What the professional musical theatre industry has in store for us over the coming weeks and months.
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Left Image: The costume and the smile are similar but Brian Conley as Buttons in 2018 (see below) at the Bristol Hippodrome looks a lot younger than his grey version did in Woking this year.
It made his infatuation with Cinderella slightly creepy… so it’s lucky this is panto! Photo: Ian Olsson
In panto you’re given a free pass to be in love with Cinderella when you’re actually old enough to be her grandfather… something I did mention to the master of mirth.
Brian Paul Conley – actor, comedian, singer and TV presenter – is the real deal. Most young people would know him as Rocky in EastEnders, but he hasn’t always been peddling doom and gloom in Albert Square. He is actually one of the most sought after pantomime performers in the business.
We sit doen and I ask him how many pantomimes Last December makes but the answer is a vague one. “It’s so many I can’t even remember,” the multi-talented performer tells me. “I suppose it’s got to be about forty. I definitely started when I was say twenty-one and now I’m sixty-one. There is only one year when I haven’t done pantomime and that’s because I was filming a movie over the Christmas period – and I did miss it that year, by the way.” I, for one, believe him. He genuinely lives to perform.
And let’s face it, Rocky is a far cry from facing thousands of screaming children night after night. Imagine comparing filming TV to the thrill of live panto! “That’s why miss it so much. You can’t beat ‘live’,” is the reponse I was expecting. “It’s the biggest buzz in the world and there’s a commitment there; I don’t drink, for me I don’t have to. That’s my drug. Getting out there; I belong out there. I’ll go on holiday and, much to the annoyance of my family, if there’s a band – even if it’s in a foreign country and nobody speaks English – and they’re playing a song in my key, I will get up and sing! My family say, ‘Don’t, don’t!’ But, it’s not being big-headed, it’s more akin to Tourette’s. I’ve just got to do it. Then I’ll sit down afterwards all happy as if I’ve got it out of my system. But that’s how I started my career, as a live performer, I love musicals and the danger of performing live. And that’s what I say to the audience at the end of the show. I say, ‘You know what, you’ll all be talking about this on the way home tonight because you’ve done something as a family, without your mobile phones, the kids aren’t up in their bedrooms, you’ve watched something together as a family and that is so important in this day and age.”
The last time I spoke with Brian was at New Wimbledon Theatre back in 2014 when he was touring as PT Barnham with Linzi Hately. I remember asking him if he was doing pantomime again at Christmas. He said: ‘Yep! And so would you if you knew were they paid me.’ I recalled this nugget to him recently when he replied: “Ha ha! That’s very me; always going for the comedy jugular. Ha ha!” he even went on to talk about that tour. “I loved that show, I hope you enjoyed it. I remember in that show I had to walk the high wire, which I won’t be doing in the pantomime at Woking this year.”
“If you make it look too easy then it doesn’t work,” he tells me, after I mentioned seeing him leap from the high-wire in 2014 only to start the whole routine again. “I learned that very quickly. If you fall off a couple of times then the audience don’t know if you’re going to make it or not, ‘Oh my God. I don’t know. Is he gonna make it.’ Then, when you do make it you get the biggest cheer.”
But all jokes aside, this man deserves the big bucks. Having ‘Brian Conley’ at the top of your cast-list is a guaranteed sell-out. “Absolutely! I do love it and look forward to it. When wardrobe, come up to me in rehearsals and, early on, they might say, ‘We haven’t got any costumes yet!’ I say to them, ‘Don’t worry I’ve got all the costumes, I’ve got all the props. I take everything. In fact I always deliver the biggest prop you’ve ever seen which is a huge portaloo that I sit in and make all kinds of hilarious and disgusting sound effects. I love it.”
Brian also compared pantomime with ‘doing’ musicals: “In a musical like Barnum you’re locked into your dialogue and any business whereas in panto you are freed up and the public and kids want to see us having fun up there. That actually one of the things I enjoy the most; the freedom that panto gives you.”
You might remember that Woking’s star last year was Gok Wan as The Man in the Mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Well, who do you think Gok paid tribute to in our interview twelve months ago? There’s only one Brian Conley! “Well, he is a liar. Ha ha!” laughs Brian. “Seriously though I love Gok and I’ve done about five pantomimes with him now. He’s been my fairy Gok-mother and is genuinely my closest friend in the business probably. We see each other at birthdays and other things too. But that’s very kind of him I have to say and it does mean that at another time I’ll have to pay him.”
Not surprisingly, and at last, Brian performed Woking’s panto in his new ‘natural’ hair colour that he’s also been showing off in the BBC’s biggest show? “Yes! It’s me now. You know, I got to lockdown and I thought to myself, ‘Why am I still dying my hair?’ I was in 9 to 5 before so I got this look playing the boss! I’m getting old now – well, not that old, but I’m getting old-er. So I kept the look and then came EastEnders and I wangled it on there too. They rang me and said, ‘D’you want to be in EastEnders for a year?’ I said, ‘Let me just check my diary…’ Ha ha! ‘Er… Okay then!’ Ha ha! And then they said, ‘Don’t change your look,’ Of course everyone has commented on it so instead of looking like Bradley Walsh I now look like George Clooney. Ha ha! Actually, in panto I do trim the beard right back. I mean I don’t wanna look too much like Father Christmas, but everyone takes the mick out of me and that carries on through to the stage too. Sometimes I’ll pretend it’s my thirty-fourth birthday and it works really well. But I’m young at heart; in fact I’m still a big kid. So, onstage and even in things like EastEnders I’m just a cheeky teenager really. That’s probably why I’ve done so well in panto; because I’ve been able to sustain it. I really am like a little kid up there.”
The aforementioned (and cut from the same cloth) Bradley Walsh also counts Brian as a good friend. Brian has even appeared on the fellow panto performer’s Blankety Blank panel. Needless to say Brian left no stone unturned.
When you look at his grey hair, any other situation might call for the ‘dirty old man’ to be ‘cancelled’… but not in panto. In fact, it could be the only genre left where age doesn’t count. So Buttons can fall in love with Cinderella irrespective of the age difference? Brian: “Once you put the slap [make-up] on and your costume – I mean I’ve never looked in the mirror and said, ‘Who’s that guy with the grey hair?’ I’ve never felt like that. And it can be quite physical, but I just kind of glide through it. I always tell the company whether it’s a matinee or an evening performance that the public have all paid good money to see us so it’s our job now to ‘rip the arse off it!’” …and they did! Woking’s audiences loved it by the way.
Ex-EastEnder, Ricky Champ, who played Captain Hook in the Fairfield Halls, Croydon this year told me that while TV goes into you, theatre has to go out to everybody. I put this philosophical nugget to Brian: “Brilliant! Ricky did his first one last year and I gave him quite a bit of advice. He was actually quite anxious about it but again, once he caught the bug he absolutely loved it. Performing pantomime is like filling an obligation; they’ve paid their money so they deserve to be entertained and some people belong out there. When people watch you they feel comfortable with the fact that you’re onstage. No matter what happens; we had a fire last year and I’ve had three people die on me, literally, over the years. These are all things I’ve had to cope with and sort out onstage.”
And Brian is allowed to break the fourth wall. “Certain people are otherwise it could fall apart,” the panto expert says before explaining why: “Me and the Ugly Sisters have that freedom, nobody else does, and it actually makes it more comedic when you know they are on stage and they can’t break the fourth wall. The public want that, they want to see that because what other medium would you have that and that’s why they come to panto; not that it should fall apart but you’re bringing the audience into your world, the Twenty-first Century world and I think that’s what can take it to another level.”
“I’m really looking forward to this year, and I’m not punchdrunk from just coming out of a musical. I can step away from it and I have done now for a year,” Brian tells me before comparing this live comedy genre with Albert Square again: “With EastEnders you have to really rein it in, being on a little television screen, so being able to go out there and ease into fifth gear, six gear, overdrive is fantastic. Say you gave me a choice and I’m very thankful I can diversify. I wouldn’t want to any one thing for the whole of my career but the fact I can do these things keeps everything fresh.”
So there we are; the word of the day is ‘diversification’.
Cinderella really is a story like no other isn’t it? Brian with the final words: “Yes! And it’s a clothes rail to hang as much comedy on as possible. It’s not a documentary; it is some fun, plus we’ve got the palladium set and have the most incredible effects, The Twins FX, who do the magical effects are just wonderful to the extent where people say to me, ‘You know what, I bought the kids but I personally had the best night ever.’ And that’s what it’s all about.”
“Panto shouldn’t work on different levels; I’m a great believer in the whole family enjoying it and not about the kids feeling left out at certain points. You do that by being very visual. I bring Buttons into the Twenty-first Century – with Velcro. But you know you do have everything; pathos and all the other stuff so you know that you’re an integral part of the show. You’re not the person who comes on and does the odd comedy spot; you’re very much part of the story, and of course in the end you don’t get Cinderella, the Prince does… Blimey, I’m even telling the story for you!”
BEN STOCK (the tall one) plays THE DAME GAME
Ben Stock and Neil Wright played the Ugly Sisters. The Pair enjoyed lots of strong cheistry with each other as well as Brian. Photo: Ian Olsson
If you’ve bought one of Ben Stock’s CD’s, perhaps some easy-listening show tunes? Maybe you caught him playing the piano and singing in the 2018 tour of A Spoonful of Sherman, alongside Sophie-Louise Dann, among others, celebrating the songs of The Sherman Brothers with the likes of Feed the Birds, The Age of Not Believing, A Spoonful of Sugar, Step in Time, Lovely Lonely Man, Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Chim Chim Cher-ee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Me Ol’ Bamboo, Truly Scrumptious, Hushabye Mountain, That’s What Friends Are For, I Wan’na Be like You and of course Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious .
But did you know he’s also an Ugly Sister… and it not even a secret?
Anybody who’s seen you play the piano, listened to your albums, or performing onstage ‘usually’ could arguably be quite shocked to then see you in pantomime?
“All my life I’ve done Music Hall, all through my career too. That also goes for my amateur society that I grew up with, the St Mary’s players in Bristol, so pantomime was really just an extension of that. So I grew up with with performances where you have engagement with the audiences. I’ve done a few pantomimes now and my very first professional job was one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men at the Watford Palace Theatre in Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood which was written by Roy Hudd who is sadly no longer with us of course. I did a few musicals after that and was always doing Christmas shows, so pantomime didn’t come back really for a while. Although I did Puss in Boots at the Oxford Playhouse and then MD’d a pantomime – that was Mother Goose in Chorleywood. Then, I played Dandini in Cinderella for the London Bubble at the Cochrane Theatre on Holborn… and then that was it for quite a few years.
“Then I got an audition out of the blue really – now I didn’t know any of this at the time but Peter Robbins and Nigel Ellicott, who were the number-one Ugly Sisters in the UK. Peter had sadly died and Qdos [now Crossroads] were looking for two actors who could come in and play Ugly Sisters… I literally got a job like that, I auditioned for it. It wasn’t some kind of progression through the ranks for Qdos or anything like that. I auditioned for the role and got it. My first job as an ugly sister for Qdos was at the Wolverhampton Grand and I’m sorry, I only know it was a while ago because I’m not very good at identifying specific years. I know I’ve done thirteen for Qdos but, with the pandemic year off, I guess it was probably fourteen years ago. That was with The Krankies. I performed with somebody called Nathan Kiley who had never done an ugly sister before either. I remember that the Krankies were amazing! What a double-act! They are so generous and gave us lines that they thought would be funnier if we delivered them, even punchlines. I was very lucky in that pantomime to have two experts in their field to work alongside. I used to watch the Krankies do the songsheet [this is where they typically split the audience down the middle and get some children onstage near the end of each show] every single day, twice a day. It still made me laugh on the very last night. Since then of course things have developed further and in thirteen years I think I’ve had eight different sisters. For the first period of time with Qdos it was an acting job at Christmas time. I would end up working with different people all the time but the last few years I’ve been with the lovely Neal Wright and we’ve both worked with Brian Conley where we’ve essentially picked up the same show and put it in different places.
“That’s the story of how I ended up in a frock at Christmas, anyway. Ha ha!
“Neal and I were put together as Ugly Sisters by Catherine Rooney. She is now director but for a long time was a very successful principal girl [Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty etc.], she’d also worked with Brian Conley a number of times. One day she happily found herself pregnant which is why she moved into directing and then Qdos were looking for another new set of Ugly Sisters to work with Brian. Catherine had seen Neal and I separately and thought we might work well together; it’s funny because the first time I met him was on the first day of rehearsals although we had spoken on the phone beforehand. We don’t see a huge amount of each other throughout the year but are in constant touch, he’s actually a very busy theatrical agent for the rest of the year but when we do get together were like each other’s other half; he’s my shadow and I’m his, he spent Christmas Day with us in December because his family is a bit further away. My parents love him, he really is my sister both onstage and off. Neil is genuinely the loveliest human being on the planet.
“Brian is also divine. He is one of the nicest men in the business; generous to a fault; kind, funny… and if you’ve got anybody in he’s happy to meet them and will sign anything you have. He will do a video for someone’s birthday, he’s very kind to the company, generous with the company too. He is also a master at what he does which is quite handy I guess. Ha ha!
The audience love it when it looks like something has gone wrong – such as saying ‘Brian’ instead of ‘Buttons’. Do you just roll with it or is it common practise to put those moments into rehearsals?
“Very interesting. We call them fake corpses and it happens when the audience sense that something might’ve gone wrong onstage. But calling Buttons ‘Brian’ during the show is something that happens usually once and then gets rehearsed after that because it got such a big reaction at the time. By the way it wasn’t me! Gok Wan, who has performed pantomime with Brian on a number of occasions now – he’s also completely sensational too, by the way. In fact I challenge anybody who thinks that ‘reality’ people shouldn’t be doing pantomime, to just watch Gok in panto. You will soon change your mind. He was actually at Woking last year at the top of the bill in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… the year before we turn up with Cinderella. Anyway, we did a couple of years running with Brian and Gok and Gok called buttons Brian onstage once and it got such a big laugh that they’ve kept it in ever since. So often something happens by accident and it’s kept in.
“You do need to be careful though as the audience are quite clever and can sniff if something is real or not, and if that happens there can be hell to pay. In fact it can actually get a bit out of hand so sometimes we will sense it and say to each other, ‘Let’s rein that bit back in tonight.’ It can come from laughing (or corpsing) for just a Little bit too long so the audience might think, ‘hmmm… I’m not sure that this is genuine.’ But usually they do love it when something goes wrong, not when you go to a performance of Les Mis, but definitely in pantomime. It puts them into the action. You do need to rehearse things like that though and you need to know exactly who is going to do something wrong.
“It’s like If I Were Not in Pantomime or The 12 Days of Christmas. Every single person onstga knows exactly when those toilet rolls are going to fly into the audience. If everybody was doing it then it ends up being a total mess so it has to be really controlled. Some of it is for Health and Safety but, usually, if four people are onstage then only two should really be seen messing about which means the other two have to do their parts quite straight. It happens in pantomimes all over the country every year, including the Palladium where they did their version of If I Were Not in Pantomime and Julian Clary was the one messing about while everything was happening to Nigel Havers and, essentially Gary Wilmot and Paul Zerdin played it completely straight.”
Was Buttons being the big star of the show a help or hindrance when it comes to the Uglies?
“Whoever is the star of the show, it’s definitely a help because they’re the ones who have sold the tickets and I’d be out of a job otherwise. Ha ha! Actually it really doesn’t matter. Buttons is the star of Cinderella. He always has been and always will be. Even if buttons wasn’t a big name he still does 90% of the pantomime. Brian is relentless in his energy and he is just amazing.”
Did your husband, Julian, manage to catch you in panto in Woking?
“Julian [Julian Bird is the immediate ex-boss of SOLT – the Society of London Theatre] always sees every pantomime just once. Usually, he’s in my dressing room beforehand sitting down with a cup of tea. My mum, who obviously predates Julian, with my best friend, David, has sat through every single production I’ve ever done of Cinderella. All thirteen.”
Being an ugly sister isn’t easy is it?
“It’s a bit like the prostitute says, ‘It’s not the work but the stairs.’ Ha ha! “It’s not the work or time onstage, it’s the constant changing backstage that does it. An Ugly Sister or Dame never appears in the same frock twice so half my life is spent getting changed backstage. I actually have twenty-four different changes per day including wearing my own clothes home afterwards. That’s ten in each show, wearing something to the theatre then getting changed and wearing something home where I change into my PJs. Pantomime is hard work, there’s no doubt about it; it’s a huge commitment and very often you’re way from the family at Christmas… But let’s face it it’s privileged hard work and it’s not like doing a real job, anywhere probably. That goes for waiting tables, washing up, in a shop or sitting at a desk all day. We are not in A&E or in operating theatres saving lives every day. We are not patrolling the streets, we’re not being carers. So it is hard work but God, are we lucky to be doing it. It’s a wonderful, wonderful way to earn money.”
Would you ever be a single dame?
“I’ll do whatever I’m asked to do. At least I’m 99% sure I would. But I do love being Ugly Sister; evil, nasty, lazy… probably because it’s all the things that I’m not like in real life. I’m really nice, normally. Ha! Things do change though and just because I’ve played an Ugly Sister for thirteen or fourteen years it doesn’t mean I can’t go back and do a Dame again. I think the two roles are quite different and I do love being part of a double-act but at some point I’d love to do a Dame again.”
Has the whole panto experience been rinsed from your system now?
“Oh yes. Everything was packed away and sent back the day after I finished. I don’t own my costumes or anything like that. I guess the costume people will have to get already now for myself next year or whoever is going to wear it. I don’t go out between shows and I leave my make-up on so my dressing room is a real grotto of shiny plastic glittery things, mugs, kettles, coffee machines and of course my plug-in, blow-up bed – which I would not want to be without. It’s so funny, I used to look at people who had a sleep between shows and think, ‘Oh my God, you’re so old!’ And now, I am that old. I never thought it would happen to me but it has.”
Will you do panto next year?
“Who knows? I never presume works going to be on the end of the phone. I always count the chickens that have hatched not the number of eggs that have been laid. So I really don’t know if I’ll be with Brian again at the end of this year, I don’t even know if doing pantomime again, but this last five years have been a total joy to work with Brian. I have to say as well, I think I’ve been incredibly lucky. In my time with Qdos I work with some absolute pantomime legends such as The Krankies, Lesley Joseph – who I think is the top female pantomime performer in the country… She puts me to shame. I mean I’m thirty years younger than her and she has more energy than me and she’s in her seventies now. She played fairy godmother in Cinderella and she’s good even when she’s bad. I also adored working with Lynda Bellingham who was also a very dear friend and sadly only ever did two pantomimes but would definitely have gone on and on and on. Then there are people like Billy Pearce who was up in Bradford and was completely sensational, Matt Slack, Bradley Walsh, Gok Wan, Linda Robson, Louie Spence… It’s like an endless list, isn’t it? So, I have been really, really lucky. I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many panto legends my why wouldn’t I watch them from the wings working at their craft.”
Do you think ‘watching in the wings’ comes from those early non-professionals days? You don’t hear much about professionals watching each other?
“It really doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. If you’re working with someone like Brian Conley for instance, who’s the best in the business without a shadow of a doubt, why would you not want to watch them from the wings? You can think, ‘Well, why is he getting a laugh on that line?’ … Because he left that pause in, for exactly the right length. Honestly, you’d be a fool. You’d be the biggest fool in the world. I’m not saying I spend my entire time learning, in the interval I’ll go up, like everyone else, and make a cup of tea! (Mind you, I am doing ten costume changes per show and I’m getting old, so I need to sit down). But, when you are in the wings why would you not see want to see those people being stunning; there’s so much to learn from. Also, I’m not only talking about the actors, the creatives are amazing to watch too. I do bits of directing now and to watch lighting designers during the tech, and directors. Catherine is an amazing director so why wouldn’t I keep half an eye on what she’s doing, telling people what to do? Changing things and making it better? In my opinion it really is part of your job to do things like this. You can go outside for a coffee and gossip whenever you like, but when you’re in the rehearsal room or the wings with the best in the business it just comes across as incredibly foolish to decide to throw that opportunity away.”
What does the future hold for Ben Stock?
“If I’m really, really honest – and this isn’t just a cliché – but I really don’t know. The last year has been really busy for me; I directed four shows the Cunard ships I still do my Old Tyme Music Halls and so I’ve got some of those lined up a couple of Noel Coward cabaret gigs, which I also do. Bits and pieces really. And I don’t know if I’m doing pantomime next year or not, I hope so. I’d love to. It’s always a waiting game and it’s a huge puzzle for Crossroads [ex-Qdos] who have about twenty-eight pantos or something like that and they have to work out what’s going where and starring who. They probably do know where the big stars are going quite early on. But it’s always quite scary when the diary is a little blank but at the same time it’s also quite exciting because you do have the opportunity to say yes or no quite quickly. Something always turns up.”
And your amateur days?
“As a family we didn’t used to go to the pantomime at the big Bristol Hippodrome much although we did occasionally and I clearly remember seeing Gary Wilmot, Allan Stewart, The Roly Polys and Dooby Duck in Aladdin at the Bristol Hippodrome. We also came up to London in about 1987 from Bristol – because my dad used to work in London – and we saw that final Babes in the Wood pantomime at the Palladium with Cannon & Ball, Barbara Windsor and John Inman from Are You Being Served?. I can’t remember seeing another big, big pantomime. But I did always used to go and see the Warmley Players – who still do a panto, by the way. That was every January or February time and it was often an unusual title for pantomime like The Old Mother Who Lived in a Shoe – typically a nursery rhyme title or something like that. It was going to see those pantomimes where my first love of the genre first came in. I can remember it now: I used to love going to see those pantomimes, which were just done in a small community centre or church hall rather than the big splash, glitzy production up the road in Bristol. It was very much an amateur, community pantomime that made me fall in love with the genre rather than the big Hippodrome show. So, you never know who you’re watching and vice versa they never know who they might be inspiring; interesting.
“If you keep the traditions and the story at the heart of your pantomime, then it doesn’t matter if you’ve got one pound or a million pounds to put into a show, it’s going to be a success. And they can morph. There’s no reason why a ghost gag can’t become a 3-D gag in some way, they are still the traditions.”
Ben Stock and Neil Wright as the Ugly Sisters. Ben’s favourite scene is when two ‘siblings’ make Cinderella tear up her invitation to the ball. Photo: Ian Olsson
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By Tamara von Werthern
Professional theatre has it tough right now. Many venues are reporting lower ticket sales than before the pandemic, either because audience members are still wary of returning to crowded spaces, or because many simply broke the habit after two years of closed venues and easy access to TV and films at home. But they’re also facing high-energy costs (live theatre is an energy-intensive affair!) and, like the rest of us, are bearing the general brunt of the cost-of-living crisis and the higher prices that involves. And, on top of all of that, many communities around the country are now finding their funding on which they rely under threat, too.
Anyone working in theatre (or with half an ear on the news) these days will be familiar with the term ‘levelling up’. First introduced in the Conversative manifesto for the 2019 general election, the stated intention behind this government policy is to divert more funding – including arts subsidy – towards historically neglected areas of the country, to correct the overbalance towards areas like London and the South-East. In theory this is a noble ambition and should be much applauded. After all, every community around the country deserves access to brilliant culture, right?
But coupled with a general squeeze on government spending, this new approach, and
its implementation by Arts Council England (ACE), has resulted in lots of casualties. As might be expected, many of these are in London, where over £50m of spending was cut – Hampstead Theatre, the Donmar Warehouse and Camden’s Gate Theatre, for instance, have all lost every single penny of their ACE grants. But the pain was also felt around the country. The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, Berkshire, and the Oldham Coliseum are two other venerable organisations to have suffered a hundred percent reduction in public subsidy, with the latter announcing plans to close its doors at the end of March, bringing an end to a history which stretches back to 1885. This loss of local arts provision directly hits local communities, as jobs, the knock-on spending from those attending and working on shows, and access to culture are all lost.
Beyond organisations themselves, the whole ecology of professional theatre – and particularly new writing – is also being hit. With their finances squeezed, more and more venues and producers are finding themselves drawn to lower-risk bets like revivals, rather than taking a chance on smaller, emerging creatives and projects. Hampstead Theatre, for instance, responded to its one hundred percent cut by announcing it will ‘need to change direction and can no longer continue solely as a new-writing theatre’, with its future investment in developing new plays unclear. Faced with fewer opportunities for building a career in theatre, a lot of new and early-stage writers are turning to other mediums like TV and film instead (if they don’t give up altogether). Imagine all the potentially incredible new playwrights and plays which we might miss out on if this continues unchecked.
So, in these tough times for the arts, thank goodness for amateur theatre. As professional organisations are forced to cut back their activities and even close, it’s brilliant companies and venues like those run by Sardines readers which continue to offer truly local cultural provision. According to the recently published 2022-2023 Little Theatre Guild Yearbook, over eight hundred productions were performed by LTG companies between September 2021 and August 2022, from the Isle of Wight to Dumfries and Torquay to Sunderland – providing communities around the country with fantastic productions, created and performed by talented, passionate artists drawn directly from that community.
Finally, I wanted to reflect on what amateur theatre means to writers in times like these. When you license a play from a rightsholder, like Nick Hern Books, the vast majority of the fee you pay goes straight to the original playwright so, by choosing to perform that production, particularly one by someone less well-known or early on in their career, you’re directly supporting and investing in future talent. For some writers, royalties from amateur theatre can be a significant part of their income, helping them continue writing and creating great plays for you to continue enjoying years down the line. As the conduit between amateur theatre and playwrights here, in my role at NHB, I can see very clearly how much the support of amateur companies means to them, and on their behalf and our own, I want to extend a heartfelt thank-you to you all.
It’s never easy to put on a show – whether in a village hall or the heart of London’s West End. And though amateur theatres may not be feeling the fallout of arts-funding cuts, your own societies, members and audiences are facing many of the same challenges right now. So, as we push on into 2023, we just want to say: we see you, we need you, we applaud you – and please keep up the good work.
And the Most-Performed Play of 2022 is…
Speaking of good work, we’ve just revealed our Most-Performed Plays of 2022, based on the licences we issued last year – you can find the Top Ten in the rear section of this issue (pg 76), and see the full list on the Nick Hern Books website (www.nickhernbooks.co.uk).
Our statistics show we issued licences for over three hundred different plays over the twelve months, with the perennially popular Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington climbing back to the top spot. I could not be prouder of the variety of plays that have thrived on your stages in the last year. There are shows for young and old, for big main-house spaces and intimate studios, in as many genres, styles, historical and geographical settings as you can think of.
I think it’s such a cheering picture of how ambitious and resilient amateur theatre continues to be, despite all the difficulties thrown at it.
Here’s to you – and long may your successes continue!
Tamara von Werthern has been Performing Rights Manager at Nick Hern Books since 2005. She is also a playwright, screenwriter, theatre-maker and novelist.
At a glance (for a more comprehensive look please see our regular Plays, Books and Musicals pages on page 76):
10. Wendy & Peter Pan
by Ella Hickson
9. Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales
adapted for the stage by Philip Wilson
by Sophie Treadwell
7. Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons
by Sam Steiner
6. The Hound of the Baskervilles
adapted by Steven Canny & John Nicholson from the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle
5. Nell Gwynn
by Jessica Swale
by Ned Glasier, Emily Lim & Company Three
3. Around the World in 80 Days
adapted by Laura Eason from the novel by Jules Verne
2. Blue Stockings
by Jessica Swale
1. Ladies’ Day
by Amanda Whittington
By Patrick Neylan
Recovering the Lost Memories of an Amateur Theatre
“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Rutger Hauer’s words at the end of Blade Runner sum up the nature of theatre, both amateur and professional. Unlike film or television, theatre is an art form of the moment. The performance hopefully lives in the memory, but there it stays. And the day will come when the actors, director, crew and audience have all gone under the hill, and the memories are lost forever.
Yet humans crave heritage. If we have no history, we create myths: Adam & Eve, Romulus & Remus, Arthur & Guinevere, Ant & Dec (the last pair might actually have existed). Accordingly, every theatre has an archive of sorts, although some are more organised than others. Photos are taken and, more recently, videos and DVDs are recorded (if one ignores the rules of Samuel French [Concord Theatricals] and Nick Hern Books, as many do). These mementos are tucked away in drawers, on shelves and in boxes and cupboards, while digital photos are kept on hard drives… and easily lost.
Modern productions, like NSFW (2016) are better documented but digital photos are easily lost
My own society, Kent-based Chelsfield Players, is only small – maybe thirty active members – but its history is part of our social history, part of the village, part of the borough and part of amateur theatre in the UK. If we don’t know where we come from, how do we know where we’re going? We are all inheritors of our past. You probably didn’t meet any of the founders of your society, but possibly you knew someone who did know them or knew someone who did. In my first play with Chelsfield in 2005, the part of my mother was played by a lady called Ann Blatcher, whose mother-in-law, Ellen George, had been a founder member of the society in 1936.
There was a flowering of amateur theatre in the decades before and after the war and many companies that sprang up at that time are still thriving, although others are lost to history. In either case, the founders are long dead and many societies have lost touch with their roots.
Chelsfield’s website – chelsfieldplayers.org – did have a ‘Past Productions’ page, but this was where we put the publicity pages of shows once they were finished, with the pages for older shows deleted as more recent ones were added. Who had time to organise them into an online archive?
Then came lockdown…
Having retired from the theatre, Ann gave me a few boxes of memorabilia. They included Ellen’s photo albums dating back to the 1930s, as well as labelled brown envelopes stuffed with photos or, in some cases, labelled but empty in the hope that some photos would one day turn up. So I decided to start scanning.
Get it on the web
First up, how to index the archive and how to organise the pages? And how to make the archive consistent with the existing website design? Chelsfield uses Weebly, although Wix, Squarespace and WordPress also available. With over two hundred shows to catalogue, a simple list would be impossible to navigate either for the editor or the user, so I decided to make separate index pages for each decade.
And that’s where the problems began.
…The society used to print ‘Past Productions’ on the back page of its programmes, but the shows between 1939 and 1945 were undated. Ann’s papers also included Ellen’s handwritten list, but the two don’t agree. And her papers also included a programme from 1947 listing ‘Past Productions’ that not only contradicts both the previous lists but includes shows that the other lists insist came later or not at all.
The society’s very first show – 20th Century Lullaby in 1936 – isn’t included on either of the earlier lists and I could find no evidence of it. Yet it is so widely cited in society folklore that I felt compelled to include it in the archive. Another show, The Madonna (1936), was in the list of past productions on programmes during the 1980s before dropping out of the catalogue, and it isn’t included in the 1947 list. With no evidence of the production, I decided to leave it out.
Yet the 1947 list included a show not on either of the later lists: Hassan from July 1939. It seems that the society had forgotten that it ever happened, yet there were the photos and press reviews in an old photo album, and the 1947 programme boasted ‘over one hundred performers’. How was it lost?
Did it happen? And if so, when?
Ann had written a brief history of the society, based partly on Ellen’s reminiscences, stating that the society put on shows ‘while the bombs dropped’. We are not aware of anyone bombing Chelsfield after 1945, so there must have been wartime shows. Perhaps the society put on small-scale productions in members’ houses in Chelsfield Park during the war (those houses are large and later staged outdoor productions in their gardens) because wartime blackout regulations would surely have prevented conventional productions.
Maybe the society revived those shows later with fully staged productions, so that a ‘past production’ in 1947 could also be a later production from 1948-55. There’s a parallel with today: many societies, Chelsfield included, did play readings during the COVID lockdown and then staged full productions of some of those shows later. Since Chelsfield Players didn’t have a permanent home till the early 1950s, shows that were performed in people’s houses might well have been considered ‘productions.’
Tantalisingly, I found photos of a 1955 show called Elegant Edward that included pictures labelled ‘wartime production’, including the same actors looking visibly younger in what looks like a living room. If the society did one production in the six years of war, it seems logical to assume that it did others. And if it revived one of them over a decade later, it is equally logical to assume that it revived others, even if the archive shows no evidence of them. Maybe the contradictory playlists are actually all correct.
There is another consideration for the archivist. We have full sets of photos of several productions that are listed as ‘past productions’ in 1947. Could these be ‘wartime productions’? It seems unlikely because photographic film was strictly rationed during the war. Essentially, you were allowed to take one picture of your man before he went to the front but that was all. So, any show with a full set of photos must have been performed after 1945 – and there are too many for them all to have been performed between 1945 and 1947. Surely some of these shows are from the late 1940s, making them ‘past productions’ in 1947 but also future productions.
As any historian will tell you, the past remains the past but history keeps changing. It took a lot of guesswork, but I finally came up with a list of shows that seems plausible but can hardly be definitive. The facts remain elusive.
Who are you?
Sadly, the photographs of the 1940s are seldom annotated. Nobody wrote the actors’ names on the back because everyone knew who they were. Eighty years on, nobody knows who they were. We have a lovely photo of the dinner scene from And So to Bed (based on Pepys’ diaries) but the only way we can identify the actors is by recognising them from other, better recorded productions.
Despite it being a 1947 ‘past production’, those costumes seem too elaborate given the restrictions in force at the time, but amateur theatres are renowned for making the best of very little, so who knows? We know the lead actor, Bill Loraine, even if the wig makes him look very different from his other photos and he looks more like regular leading man, Teddy Hollands, while there are two women who look so similar that they must be the Westfold sisters attested from other plays, while one of the women behind looks very like Joyce Stacey whom we know was active at the time. But we can’t be sure.
Dating a show purely based on the cast is fraught with difficulty. John Gulliver acted for the society between 1967 and 1975 and then returned for one show in 2000, while Philip Lane, prolific between 1980 and 2014, made his debut in 1965 before disappearing for fifteen years.
Opening old wounds, debunking old legends
Theatre, be it amateur or professional, is a hotbed of enmities, rivalries and semi-concealed hatreds. One can see these stories developing years and even decades ago.
For about eighteen months in the late 1950s, the Chelsfield Players seem to have, well, stopped. Then a newcomer arrived: Brian Matthew. Better known as a radio DJ than as a scion of Chelsfield Players, he and his wife, Pamela, essentially took over the society for nearly ten years. By all accounts, the Matthews put on some brilliant shows, but those who had been involved since the start are seldom mentioned in the playbills of the time. One senses the resentment from the old guard. But they eventually got their revenge.
Legend has it that Brian brought in professional actors including the future David Jason, which to me was obviously nonsense. Nothing in Jason’s autobiography places him anywhere near Chelsfield at the time. Then I had to frantically rewrite the historic part of the website when I came across a programme for Rookery Nook, which listed ‘David White’ (Jason’s real name) among the cast. It transpires that he spent some of the mid-1960s at nearby Bromley Rep while his brother, Arthur White, was working closely with Brian Matthew. It seems he did appear on Chelsfield’s stage after all.
From 1958-1967, every Chelsfield show was directed by Brian Matthew with him or his wife Pamela in the lead role. He even tried to build a new theatre in Downe with money provided by his friend Brian Epstein, who had made a tidy sum from managing a popular four-piece beat combo whose name eludes me, but Bromley Council turned them down.
Even if the actors from the 30s, 40s and 50s have largely disappeared into the background at this time, they were clearly on the committee and re-emerged in 1967 when Brian and Pamela went on holiday and came back to find that their planned charity production of The Young Elizabeth had been cancelled. Articles in the local newspapers gleefully document the furious rift that followed: Brian was upset that the committee had gone behind his back, while the committee claimed that Brian had organised the performance behind their backs. Both versions are probably true.
In proper am-dram style, Brian and Pamela flounced off to make the Pilgrim Little Theatre their main theatrical endeavour and built their own theatre in the grounds of their Chelsfield Hill home. Neither had any dealings with the Chelsfield Players ever again.
From folk history to living memory
What began as a project simply to use some old photographs grew into an attempt to fully archive a society’s history and productions as far back as the 1930s and get to know the people in our shared history. People who were half-forgotten came back to life: Brian and Pamela Matthew; Teddy and Gladys Hollands; the Nash family and others – people who had dedicated decades to a drama society that was in danger of forgetting them.
Yet some of those memories are irretrievable. As with And So to Bed, we can recognise some actors but not all. Even where we have both photos and playbills, it is hard to reconcile names and faces. I was able to do this with This Happy Breed (1947) simply because we revived it in 2015 and I could recognise the scenes and so match the actors to the playbill.
One might question the value of documenting a society’s history, full of people long forgotten, but that is partly the reason we should remember them.
Like Rutger Hauer’s simulacrum, they were alive in their moment. Maybe that is all we should expect, or deserve.
Lesley Joseph is in her seventies but says she has the energy of a much younger woman
Our regular series of coffee-break interviews continues…
10 minutes with… Birds of a Feather’s Lesley Joseph
Courtesy of New Victoria Theatre, Woking
No stranger to the theatre (and TV) Lesley Joseph – now in her seventies – is a force of nature. She’s stripped off in Calendar Girls, run an orphanage in Annie and is a regular on the pantomime circuit.
You’re well known to many as Dorien Green in Birds of a Feather alongside your stage work, which includes an Olivier-nomination for Young Frankenstein. Do you have a preference between the key differences of stage and screen?
“If you asked me why I came into the business, it would be because I love theatre! I went to drama school in the 60s, and it was a very different world then. I grew up doing theatre and started first when I was seven. Theatre was always what I was destined to do and then gradually television took over. Birds of a Feather came along in 1989 and has never been off since! I love television, I love the opportunities television brings, but if I had to choose it would be ‘Theatre’ …because I love the connection with the audience.
“With television you can always do it again, whereas with theatre it’s a question of doing it that night and that’s your one chance.”
“Theatre is where my heart is. I love the atmosphere and the family you build. I love to stand in the wings and watch other people work. I also love what theatre can do to an audience. Live theatre can change people’s lives.”
Sister Act is a much-loved movie as well as a musical. Were you aware of the show before joining?
“I saw Craig Revel Horwood’s Sister Act revival with Alexandra Burke, so I was very aware of the show before I joined. The musical doesn’t have the music from the film, but it’s Alan Menken’s music – who is a genius. He’s been to see our show twice and loved it! I think people love the production because of the great music and it’s very much an audience show. You leave feeling so uplifted. We were playing in London to three thousand people per night, with every show packed full of people waving their arms in the air at the end and just having a fantastic time.”
Can you briefly summarise the plot (without spoilers), and tell us about your character, Mother Superior?
“Well, Deloris Van Cartier witnesses her boyfriend shoot someone and gets put into hiding in a convent. Mother Superior who runs the convent is a very religious person, and suddenly into her world comes this woman who is a singer, who wears short skirts, who’s full of bling and very over the top. It’s about how these two worlds combine and ultimately rub off on each other.
“Mother Superior is quite strict and holy. She provides the juxtaposition of strict religious beliefs against this entirely over the top being, which is Deloris Van Cartier. You need the two extremes to rub up against one another, and quite a lot of sparks fly.”
You appeared on ‘Pilgrimage: The Road to Rome’ and met the Pope. What was that like and were there any elements of that experience that you’ve drawn on for this show?
“Funnily enough whenever I’m in the show I do always think of this moment. I had half an hour with the Pope and I blessed him and made him laugh, and he gave me a medal to celebrate his six years in the papacy. I’ve always had a spirituality about me. I love going in churches. Whenever I go into a church I will always light a candle for both of my parents, Linda Robson’s mum and say a quiet prayer. That’s a spiritual thing more than an actual religious thing. I always find churches very healing in a way. It’s a place to sit, contemplate and meditate, and you can come out feeling a slightly better person.”
Sister Act features a fantastic score by multi award-winning Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid). How would you describe the soundtrack and do you have a favourite number to perform and/or watch?
“I think the soundtrack is amazing. I must say, the audience responses so far have made me feel like we’re doing a pop concert. My favourite song is one that Mother Superior has called Here Within These Walls where she describes what life is like in the convent, and how the outside world is full of sin, but inside you find God and you find yourself. It’s a beautiful number, but probably the most serious number in the show to an extent.
“The other number I love is when Deloris first takes over the choir and she teaches them to sing and brings out their voices. It’s called Raise Your Voice. The audience just go wild. Up …until then you’ve only heard the nuns sing very badly. It stops the show!”
What do you hope audiences take away from this new production?
“I think audiences will take away a reinvigorated love for live theatre. It’s a production that also says something about community, and that’s one thing that the lockdown showed us was important – caring about your neighbours, caring about your friends, and helping those in need.
“It’s an absolutely joyous musical! To see the audiences at the end, where they stand waving their arms and singing along, they rediscover the joy of theatre.
Is there a piece of advice you’ve received or that you would pass on to anyone hoping to go into the creative industry?
“I don’t know if you remember a man called Quentin Crisp, he was very flamboyant and wonderful, and way before his time. He was avantgarde and he was an amazing character. He always used to call me ‘Miss Joseph’. His piece of advice was, ‘Miss Joseph, believe in fate, but lean forward where fate can see you.’ I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I could give to anybody.”
- BRISTOL, Hippodrome Theatre 6 – 18 Mar 2023
- LEEDS, The Grand Theatre 21 Mar – 1 Apr 2023
- SHEFFIELD, Lyceum Theatre 4 Apr – 15 Apr 2023
- IPSWICH, Regent Theatre 17 – 22 Apr 2023
- SOUTHAMPTON, Mayflower Theatre 2 – 6 May 2023
- NOTTINGHAM, Theatre Royal 8 – 13 May 2023
- LIVERPOOL, Liverpool Empire 15 – 20 May 2023
- INVERNESS, Eden Court 30 May – 4 Jun 2023
- WOLVERHAMPTON, Grand Theatre 5 – 10 Jun 2023
- CANTERBURY, The Marlowe Theatre 12 – 17 Jun 2023
- NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, Theatre Royal 19 – 24 Jun 2023
- OXFORD, New Theatre Oxford 26 Jun – 1 Jul 2023
- SOUTHEND-ON-SEA, Cliffs Pavilion 8 – 16 Sep 2023
- STOKE-ON-TRENT, Regent Theatre 25 – 30 Sep 2023
- EDINBURGH, Festival Theatre 2 – 7 Oct 2023
- CHELTENHAM, Everyman Theatre 16 – 28 Oct 2023
- CARDIFF, WMC 13 – 18 Nov 2023
- BRADFORD, The Alhambra 20 – 25 Nov 2023
- SUNDERLAND, Empire 27 Nov – 2 Dec 23
- DERRY, MFT 22 – 27 Jan 24
- BELFAST, Grand Opera 8 – 20 Apr 2024
Above: Lesley and her fellow sisters in rehearsal for Sister Act. Photo: Manuel Harlan
BSC’s Neal Foster. Photo: Darren Bell
By Paul Johnson
Neal Foster is the founder and boss of Birmingham Stage Company but, it doesn’t stop there. He is also an adapter, Producer, Director and actor. He works with the likes of Terry Deary (Horrible Histories) and with David Walliams and has seen every single one of his four touring adaptations of Walliams’ books enjoy West End runs, Demon Dentist being the most recent. The other three are Gangsta Granny, Billionaire Boy and Awful Auntie.
With Horrible Histories Neal’s acting prowess can be seen. Over Chistmas he was at the Barbican in Horrible Christmas while Demon Dentist was at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
Sardines sat down with Neal just before Demon Dentist began its West End dates…
How is the lead up to Demon Dentist going at the West End’s Bloomsbury Theatre?
“Well I suppose the lead up is actually done now because we’re already on tour so it’s all about marketing now.”
Is David Walliams coming to see DD and has he had much involvement with your stage adaptation?
“He always reads the script very carefully and sends any notes through which he thinks might be useful. Unfortunately he was too busy to come to rehearsals so we came to the show once we’d opened this time. I am pleased to say he really loved it. He said he’s going to come again when it’s on in London at the beginning of the run.”
We last spoke to you in Horsham just before during your build up to the Awful Auntie tour. Have you used the same creative team?
“Yes we have! The team is exactly the same as for Awful Auntie except for Matthew Scott, who did the music for Awful Auntie and does all our music for Horrible Histories whereas Jack Poore who, incidentally, also does music for David Walliams anyway, has come up with a fabulous score for Demon Dentist. I think there’s a particular style when it comes to adapting David’s books for the stage, because of the type of humour and the world that he creates. I think the people I’ve got are very, very well suited to that and making everything come alive onstage. Jackie [Trousdale], our designer, has come up with another fantastic set for this show; we’ve even got a train. The other thing to remember of course is that any touring set needs to be able to be taken round the country. So every single scene needs to bear this in mind.”
How important is it for you to have a London audience (your previous tours of David Walliams’ titles have all done so)?
“It’s always great to be in London where the audiences are always very sophisticated, having the chance to see so much diversity on the stage. London has been a fabulous home to us for over ten years now. And of course when we are in London everything else that the capital has to offer is open to us so it’s really great. Plus we are on for four weeks which is the longest time will ever stop anywhere on tour.”
BSC (Birmingham Stage Company) appears to soecialise in two main lines: Adapting David Walliams and Horrible Histories?
“Yes, but it’s important to note that we are, ultimately ,a commercial company relying 100% on box office sales. We used to do a much broader range of work… Michael Morpurgo, Phillip Pullman etc… But now it’s actually becoming harder and harder to make children’s theatre work financially with lesser-known books, lesser-known titles.
For some reason people have become more attracted to the blockbuster, as it were. Not that I’m complaining of course. We have two of the most popular and bestselling titles around today. I would like to do some other plays but, as I said, it’s harder and harder to make them work financially. People are now making decisions based on how well-known things are which is actually s lot different from how it used to be. That is a very real and very genuine change. With Horrible Histories, we’re now in our seventeenth year, and we have a lot of productions planned for next year. Plus, Terry Deary is so easy to work with. It’s different to working with David Walliams; with David we are adapting his books whereas with Terry Deary there’s a lot more collaboration involved in the writing as well. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with people who have created such fantastic series.”
How do you view David Walliams’ issues with the ‘PC brigade’? It’s ironic that HH entertains by the fact that it’s politically incorrect?
“I’ve just been listening to the first Reith Lecture on BBC Radio 4 from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was just a brilliant lecture on the Freedom of Speech. Stunningly brilliant. We are entering a very puritanical age where certain people seem to have been given the right to tell other people what they can and cannot say. That in itself is a huge contradiction about everything that this country stands for, but I do agree with you; the great fun about Horrible Histories is being as irreverent as possible and we’ve had absolutely no problems at all in the past. I guess because David is a personality as much as he is a children’s author he has become a bigger target and I suppose people have the right to say what they think just the same as everybody has the right to respond how they choose. I think with Raj, who is virtually in all of David books… In fact wasn’t Awful Auntie the ONLY book that Raj didn’t appear in? It was set one hundred years ago which is probably reason enough. I did cheat a bit at the time and have a very young Raj turning up with his father at the door, But David said that it kind of defeats the object because they are supposed to be isolated in a very secluded house in the middle of nowhere. The actor we have playing him in Demon Dentist is just wonderful; Zane Abrahams. In fact this is probably the biggest role that Raj has ever taken on in one of David’s books. You can take what you want from it but I can’t think of one of David’s books that would be the same without Raj. As I remember he even wrote a letter of complaint moaning about why he wasn’t in Awful Auntie. As I say everybody is entitled to their opinion but everybody else is also entitled to ignore it should they choose to do so.”
Why did you call the company ‘Birmingham’ Stage Company?
“Quite simply because for twenty-three years we were based at the Old Rep Company in Birmingham. It’s funny because even though we had offices in London at that time we were still the resident company at the Old Rep in Birmingham. That was the original Birmingham Rep, built by Barry Jackson. The theatre’s got the most amazing history there and it was an incredible privilege to be based in Birmingham right there. That’s why our patrons are Paul Schofield and Derek Jacobi. Derek Jacobi personally came and launched my first two seasons! He’s the most wonderful man, as was Paul Schofield. He got the National Theatre to help me out with costumes and props and all sorts of things in the early days. I don’t think I could have done it without the help I received.”
What is your first rule when adapting for the stage?
“I might be wrong but I feel that when someone has read and loved a book, so much so that they then want to come and see it in a theatre, I think you owe it to the author and the audience to be as faithful as possible to the book that you are adapting. It is something that represents an experience they have had when reading the book. I recognise the limitations I’m putting into such an activity; for instance I know there are adapters who give themselves more freedom to do what they want with the material in front of them but I have always felt that duty to deliver that same experience. I do try and capture what I can and bring to life the best I can of what is happening on the page; to bring it to the stage in such a way that instils an enjoyable recognition.”
“Essentially, you’ve got to be theatrical which means that working with these two people [Walliams and Deary] is a lot easier than it might be because they both have theatrical backgrounds. David is an actor & comedian and Terry Deary used to be an actor. That means they write naturally in a very theatrical way which makes my job as an adapter much easier and simpler.”
“I also love rising to the challenge to achieve something so, when David writes that the action ends up in a mine with a train and the witch gets knocked into a cauldron only to reappear as a skeleton, I love the thrill of envisaging it onstage and having people actually see it. Being the writer, director and producer I’m literally able to think so myself, ‘Right, how are we going to do that?’ ‘How much will it cost?’ Ha ha! ‘Is it feasible?’”
“I’ve read some of David’s books and thought, ‘Well, there’s no way I could do this!’ It’s like in Bad Dad or Grandpa’s Great Escape, both of which I decided not to do because there was no way of reproducing the things that the Mini does or, equally, an aeroplane. I can’t literally make those things happen on a stage so I’d rather not try it at all – for our sake, the audience’s and the author’s. If I can’t visualise it myself then I probably can’t do it but it’s incredibly satisfying when you do pull it off.”
As you’ve done a lot of all three, do you prefer acting, writing, producing or directing?
“Absolutely acting! Fundamentally I will always be an actor, who happened to set up a theatre company in order to live in a theatrical world. That’s all I wanted to do. The writing and the directing has come after – and it’s been amazing to do – plus it might’ve broadened my experiences but, fundamentally, I remain an actor who likes getting in front of an audience. In fact while Demon Dentist was going on over Christmas at the Bloomsbury Theatre I was acting at the Barbican in Horrible Christmas.”
Got any advice for any budding writers/adapters out there?
“The most important thing in all these endeavours is just to do it. Everyone has a different style and anything creative is probably quite frightening to start with, and it’s true; the fear can actually inhibit you from starting, from doing it. You’re more worried about the results, the outcome, than the action. So my advice is always to start it, then you’ll keep going. There’s a genius in being bold and getting on with it. You don’t have to write in pencil any more, it can be done on a computer so time isn’t an issue when it comes to rewriting or editing. The most important endeavour with anything creative is just to get on with it. Just as Goethe said, ‘Providence takes over.’ All manner of things will happen after you’ve initiated the creative process; things will happen that you weren’t even expecting. Providence can only come into your life after you’ve started the activity. We let fear and anxiety and fear of failure stop us from achieving so much. It’s not all joyous, I have to say, it can even be painful but you’ve just got to get on with it!”
Helen George as Trixie Franklin in Call the Midwife. Photo: BBC
Our regular series of coffee-break interviews.
10 minutes with… Call the Midwife’s Helen George
(First of four interviews!)
By Jasper Rees. Courtesy of Amy Cooper at New Wimbledon Theatre
Following its critically acclaimed sold out season at The London Palladium, the multi award-winning Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I is kicking off its 2023 UK tour.
…And guess who’s playing Anna?
The King and I is arguably the most sumptuous musical of them all. One of the great classic musicals from the “golden age” of Broadway musicals with one of the finest scores ever written including the songs Shall We Dance and Getting to Know You.
It opens on the deck of a ship as it snakes up river at dusk, heading for a glimmering royal palace in 19th Century Siam. No production of the timeless classic by Rodgers & Hammerstein has managed to lay on a feast for the eyes quite like the one now touring the UK, following its record-breaking runs at the London Palladium and on Broadway and with an internationally renowned creative team headed by Bartlett Sher (My Fair Lady, To Kill a Mockingbird, South Pacific).
As it journeys around the World, audiences will be able to see for themselves what critics in New York and London all agree is a definitive version. “I doubt I’ll see a better production in my lifetime.” said the Wall Street Journal when it opened at the Lincoln Center in 2015. “Breathtaking. Exquisite. Remarkable.” agreed the New York Times. After winning four Tony Awards, it first arrived on these shores in 2018 to another chorus of cheers. The Daily Mail : “left the London Palladium on a bright cloud of music.” “Looks and sounds ravishing,” said the Daily Telegraph, while the Financial Times found it “simply spellbinding.”
Bartlett Sher’s acclaimed multiple award-winning production now welcomes two new stars to lead roles famously occupied by many before them. Helen George, star of Call The Midwife, returns to the stage after many years to play Anna Leonowens, a widow from Victorian England who has travelled to Bangkok to teach English to the King’s many children.
“I’d been wanting to do a musical for a while,” she says, “and I was waiting for the right one to come along and just couldn’t say no. It’s just such a classical musical theatre part.”
Though better known for bringing babies into the world on TV, her first job after drama school was in the ensemble of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White back in 2004. She has since sung at the BBC’s VE Day 75th anniversary commemoration and on the cast album of Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella.
As for dancing, she took the dancefloor by storm on Strictly in 2015, so she won’t have any trouble with Shall We Dance. In the show’s climactic song, Anna and the King dance a sweeping polka that is an ecstatic meeting of minds, hearts and, most of all, feet.
“When we do this incredible dance I wear this incredible dress,” she says. “I’m as big as a house. In the rehearsal room everybody has had to get out of the way. I lift up the skirt and drag scripts and tea cups with me along the way. It weighs ten pounds and it’s uncomfortable but this was the life of a Victorian woman.”
The role of the strutting, domineering King of Siam will always carry a trace memory of Yul Brynner, who clung to it tenaciously for thirty-four years (4,600 performances). However, returning to the role in 2023 is Broadway star Darren Lee, who has himself made the role his own since he first played it in 2016. “I started my career primarily as a dancer so early on it was not on my radar,” says Lee. “But growing up as an Asian-American performer you know that there is this role, and it sits within the top five to ten shows of classic musicals.”
It also represents a wonderful opportunity to see a parade of talented young performers dressed to the nines in beautiful costumes. The King’s large brood of cute children is played on this tour by eighteen actors ranging in age from thirteen down to only seven.
The story of a young English widow who takes a job teaching the children of the King of Siam is one of the big five from composer, Richards Rodgers, and lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II. Most will know it from the 1956 film which won five Oscars. And yet it’s in a theatre that The King and I really needs to be seen.
The King and I is a multi-generational musical, and generations of families come together to see it. That means there is a new generation who, like Helen George, won’t realise much loved songs such as I Whistle a Happy Tune and Getting to Know You belong to The King and I. “I went to see the show when I was seven or eight when I was growing up in Birmingham,” she tells me. “I haven’t gone back and watched the film because I need to find Anna myself, and I hadn’t realised how many songs she sings. I knew them but I hadn’t quite figured they were all together in this show.”
It’s an oddity of The King and I that the musical duties are shared out far from equally. Anna, the “I” of the title, gets most of the best tunes. The King has just one number on his own. Composed with Brynner’s limited singing abilities in mind, A Puzzlement is a high-speed patter song in which an absolute monarch puzzles how to reconcile tradition and modernity. Darren Lee compares it the songs written for Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) to deliver in My Fair Lady.
“The show was crafted to maximise that person’s acting ability without exposing him too much as a singer,” he says. “A Puzzlement does not melodically do a lot so you have to be able to deliver it like a monologue. But it allows you to express a large range of emotion.”
The reason he’s singing it goes to the heart of The King and I, and explains its continuing relevance. Siam, which became known as Thailand only two years before the musical’s premiere and was surrounded in the 19th Century by countries which were colonised by Britain or France.
“The King brings Anna to teach his children English because he’s concerned that being a tiny country it is very easily swallowed up by other countries,” says Darren Lee. “I would argue that it’s completely current,” agrees Helen George. “What’s
so brilliant about this progressive king is he is passionate about educating his daughters.”
The woman he chooses to teach his children is based on an intriguing figure from the mid-Victorian era. The real Anna Leonowens kept a diary of her time in Siam in the 1860s. It was published in 1870 and remains a fascinating snapshot of a hidden world emerging into the light. Three quarters of a century later, the novelist Margaret Landon fell on the journal as a rich source for a heavily fictionalised reimagination of her story entitled Anna and the King of Siam. That was instantly snapped up by Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck.
Then Rodgers & Hammerstein decided to make it into a musical. A story about Siamese royalty might have seemed unusual for a duo whose shows were all about Americans. But in South Pacific, they had tackled the issue of racism head on. The King and I was also about promoting harmony between cultures.
This is most apparent in the show-within-a-show in the second half. To impress visiting diplomats with Siam’s project to modernise, the king commands Anna to stage a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book by Harriet Beecher Stowe which, in the 1860s, was a very current commentary on slavery. It doubles as a wonderful opportunity for dazzling spectacle, courtesy of Jerome Robins’ astounding original choreography (restaged by Christopher Gattel
li), set designer Michael Yeargan and costume designer Catherine Zuber.
In Anna and the King, we see two worlds collide not just geographically and culturally but also of course in terms of gender and wealth. He is the magnificent one and she the servant. But through compromise on both sides comes genuine respect and love. The critical acclaim for Bartlett Sher’s Production is phenomenal – a captivating, sumptuous revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s production that reminds us that human nature is timeless.
With a stunning score, given the full velvet touch by a sublime orchestra, exquisite costumes, a stellar cast that discovers dark, rich and exotic layers through incredible storytelling and the most charming and endearing group of young children, you have the ultimate classical musical theatre show. It’s rare to feel such warmth and delight about a production but The King and I delivers that and so much more in abundance.
Winner of four Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Revival, The King and I has been thrilling theatre audiences for decades, and has just started its post-Christmas run, kicking off at New Wimbledon Theatre on Tuesday, 14 February 2023.
The musical theatre industry is struggling right now, struggling to get back to ‘normal’ whatever that means… probably to reflect its pre-pandemic figures. How is the non-proefessional theatre sector supposed to expect the same when we are all merely pursuing our ‘hobbies’?
It may well come down to us all supporting the professionals as much as possible at the moment. That means we all need to buy a ticket to see a professional show.
Sardines has helped by way of the following four pages by showing you a snapshot of what the professional musical theatre industry has got lined up for us over the coming weeks and months.
In addition make sure you read our interviews with some top-drawer performers from around the UK. Lesley Joseph is taking a break from filming Birds of a Feather to star in the tour of Sister Act, Helen George is also touring with The King and I, Matthew Bourne is celebrating a decade of his Sleeping Beauty while two of his top dancers, Ashley Shaw & Andrew Monaghan, also talk to us…
Back to the Future The Musical
Adelphi Theatre, London WC2R 0NS
Currently until 22 October 2023
The show will play its first ever relaxed performance at the Adelphi on Sunday, 12 March 2023.
Photo: Chris Davis Studio
Bat Out of Hell – The Musical
Peacock Theatre (Sadler’s Wells), London EC1R 4TN Until 1 APRIL 2023
then touring abroad until (Hall For Cornwall Mon 25 Sep – Sat 30 Sep 2023)
The show dedicates this tour to the memory of Jim Steinman, who sadly passed away on April 19, 2021 and Meat Loaf who passed away on 20 January 2022.
Steinman wrote the songs and Meat Loaf enjoyed all the glory of the hits with an
incredible voice. Glenn Adamson stars as Strat and Kellie Gnauck plays Raven.
Photo: Marc Brenner
CABARET AT THE KIT KAT CLUB
Playhouse Theatre, London WC2N 5DE
Currently until 16 DECEMBER 2023
Aimee Lou Wood now stars as ‘Sally Bowles’, John McCrea is ‘The Emcee’ and Nathan Ives-Moiba plays ‘Cliff Bradshaw’.
Photo: The Other Richard
THE CHOIR OF MAN
Arts Theatre, London WC2H 7JB
Currently booking until 30 JULY 2023
The show is co-created by Nic Doodson and Andrew Kay. The former told us: “It is a show all about being together and the power of community. Over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented and hard-working actors and musicians and we’re delighted to welcome Conor and Danny back into our little pub.”
Photo: Mark Senior
Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage
Dominion Theatre, London W1T 7AQ until 29 April 23 before touring 25 May – 18 November 2023
It’s the summer of 1963, 17 year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is about to learn some major lessons in life as well as a thing or two about dancing. Sardines gave thie revised version four stars on its press night.
Sondheim Theatre, London W1D 6BA
Currently booking until 30 SEPTEmber 2023
Joining the company from 27 March will be Josh Piterman as Jean Valjean, Stewart Clarke as Javert, Lucie Jones as Fantine, Claire Machin as Madame Thénardier and Harry Chandler as Enjolras. They join Gerard Carey as Thénardier, Robert Tripolino as Marius, Nathania Ong as Éponine, Lulu-Mae Pears as Cosette.
THE Lion King
Lyceum Theatre, London WC2E 7RQ
Currently booking until 15 October 2023
and touring until 11 November 2023
Owen Chaponda and Merryl Ansah will step into the iconic roles of ‘Simba’ and ‘Nala’, this spring. This will mark their return to the show, both having previously performed in the West End ensemble.
Photo: Matt Crockett
The Theatre at the Hippodrome Casino, London WC2H 7JH
Currently booking until 31 December 2023
Conceived and co-directed by Channing Tatum, this show, which has already wowed over 400,000 people in London alone and over 1,000,000 worldwide, is a large-scale, live production show based on Magic Mike & Magic Mike XXL, which opened at The Theatre at the Hippodrome Casino in London’s Leicester Square in November 2018.
Photo: Grant Walker
MAMMA MIA! THE PARTY
The O2, London SE10 0DX
Currently booking until 3 SEPTEMBER 2023
Created by Björn Ulvaeus, this is a unique and magical experience in a class of its own, bringing all ABBA’s hits to life more vividly than ever before! Over the course of four glittering hours, guests immerse themselves in a spectacular musical extravaganza, a four-course Greek feast and an ABBA disco, all in one unforgettable evening of dancing, dining and singing!
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Matilda the Musical
Cambridge Theatre, London WC2H 9HU
Currently booking until 26 May 2024
A tonic for audiences of all ages, this anarchic production about a strong and determined heroine with a vivid imagination has now won 101 international awards including 24 for Best Musical. On 27 February, the cast performed at BBC Big Night of the Musicals at Manchester’s AO Arena. The programme will be shown in a special presentation on BBC One and on BBC Radio 2.
Photo: Johan Persson
Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre HA9 0SP
Currently until 30 July 2023
Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Now booking to end of July.
Only Fools and Horses The Musical
Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1Y 4HT
Closing on 29 ApRIL 2023
Written by Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan and endorsed by the Sullivan estate, Tom Bennett plays Del Boy Trotter, Ryan Hutton is his brother, Rodney, and Paul Whitehouse, Grandad.
Photos: Multiple Credits
The Phantom of the Opera
Her Majesty’s Theatre, London SW1Y 4QL
Currently booking until 30 September 2023
Jon Robyns (bottom-left) plays ‘The Phantom’ from Monday, 3 April 2023, Holly-Anne Hull (top-right) is ‘Christine Daae’, having been the production’s alternate Christine Daaé since 2021, and Paige Blankson (top-left) is the alternate ‘Christine Daaé’ now. Until 1 April, Earl Carpenter (bottom-right) reprises his role as ‘The Phantom’.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Pretty Woman The Musical
Savoy Theatre, London WC2R 0ET and touring fom
17 October 2023 – 26 September 2024
West End show currently booking until 11 JUNE 2023
While the West End show continues a new UK and Ireland tour is to embark in the Autumn. Based on the hit film of 1990 starring Julia Robrts and Richard Gere, the musical features original music and lyrics by Grammy Award winner Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.
Photo: Hugo Glendinning
Touring from 25 February – 25 November 2023
Starring in the show – apart from everybody’s favourite young redhead – are four firm favourites as Miss Hannigan, head of the orphanage: Craig Revel Horwood, Paul O’Grady with take up the majority of the tour with Jodie Prenger and Elaine C. Smith (Scottish dates) sharing four stops evenly. It’s the same production that toured the last time around and played a run in the West End.
Cake – ‘The Marie Antoinette PLAYlist’
Touring for 18 March – 29 April 2023
I bet Marie Antoinette wishes she never said that iconic line (perhaps she didn’t), a musical is even being launched soon because of it. Zizi Strallen will transfer from the soot-filled Edwardian rooftops of London to play the last French Queen prior to the 18th Century revolution.
Morgan Lloyd Malcom (Emilia) & Tasha Taylor have co-written the book with the rap and RnB songs by Tasha Taylor Johnson & Jack McManus. Direction & choreography is provided by Drew McOnie. Paul Taylor Mills produces.
Touring from 12 – 30 March 2023
Actor and comedian, Ricky Tomlinson is to return to the stage in a new musical comedy that celebrates the best of Irish culture. It is a celebration of Irish culture, from the music to the comedy, featuring the well-known live six-piece band, The Shenanigans.
Meet landlady Annie and her regular madcap customers for a fun night out of comedy, music and mayhem, featuring original tracks written by Asa Murphy, along with your all-time favourite Irish tunes including Galway Shawl, Tell Me Ma, Dirty Old Town, Whiskey In The Jar, Danny Boy and many more.
Touring from 3 March – 3 June 2023
Simply, this is a concert featuring artists who have worn ‘the coat’ in productions of Joseph… reimagined for musical theatre fans.
The light-bulb moment came to Keith Jack who’s held a long connection to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat since his appearance on the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do.
Judy & Liza
17 Mar – 15 Apr ’23
Charting the careers and relationship between the mother & daughter.
Touring from 5 APr – 2 Sep 2023
Gareth Gates & Divina de Campo star in the UK Premiere of the show. When the citizens of Bikini Bottom discover a volcano will soon erupt and destroy their home, SpongeBob and friends must come together to save the fate of their undersea world!
Photo: Danny Kaan
TITANIC THE MUSICAL
16 March – 29 July 2023
10 years since it made its critically acclaimed debut at London’s Southwark Playhouse, the show recalls the final hours of 14th April 1912 when the the ‘unsinkable ship’ slowly… sank. 1,517 men, women and children died.
Photos: Multiple Credits
WINNIE THE POOH: The New Musical Adaptation (Disney)
Riverside Studios W6 9BN
17 Mar – 21 May 2023 &
touring 31 May – 2 Sep ’23
Dominion Theatre, London W1T 7AQ
2 June – 28 October 2023
Louise Redknapp will play Teen Angel in Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey’s iconic musical when it returns to London this summer. Producers have also announced the return of cast members Dan Partridge as Danny, Olivia Moore as Sandy and Jocasta Almgill as Rizzo. Direction comes from Nikolai Foster and choreography is by Dame Arlene Phillips.
Photo: Craig Sugden
AIN’T TOO PROUD
Prince Edward Theatre, London W1D 4HS
31 March and currently booking until 1 October 2023
FIVE MEN. ONE DREAM.
“The life and times of The Tempations.”
Southwark Playhouse Elephant, London SE11 4FL
25 March – 29 April 2023
A naughty and noisy exposé of the original perma-tanned politician told through the eyes of three women.
LIZA PULMAN – The Heart of It
The Other Palace, London SW1E 5JA – 6 & 13 March 2023
Liza Pulman – The Heart Of It
Sardines has seen one third of Fascinating Aida twice now, and this is as good as it gets. Read both 5-star reviews on our website at www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews and search for ‘The Heart of It.’
Joseph Atkins is MD and songs come from Barbra Streisand, Fats Waller, Marvin Hamlisch, Neil Diamond, Irving Berlin, Randy Newman and more.
COME FROM AWAY
Curve, Leicester W1D 6AR
1 – 9 March 2024
Winner of Best New Musical across the globe, this show shares the incredible real-life story of the 7,000 air passengers who were grounded in Canada during the wake of 9/11.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz
Now touring until 1 July 2023
Roddy Doyle has adapted his own acreen ply for the tour adding the likes of: Uptight (Everything’s Alright), Reach Out I’ll Be There, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?, You Keep Me Hangin’ On… plus many more, to get the party going.
Photo: Steve Ullathorne
Looking For Me Friend: The Music of Victoria Wood
Touring now until 20 May 2023
Written and performed by Paulus, ‘The Cabaret Geek’, who is an entertainer and educator specialising in cabaret is probably best known for his appearances on BBC1’s All Together Now as a talent judge. His celebration of the music of the late comedy genius and national treasure, is extending its tour of theatres and cabaret venues, with shows now on sale until May 2023.
Photo: Johan Persson
Sleeping Beauty – A Gothic Romance
Now touring from 21 Feb – 7 May ’23
This is another show we’ve seen recently. We gave Sleeping Beauty four stars.
If you like something a little bit different then this is the show for you… and it’s directed & choreographed by Sir M.B. OBE.
Photo: David Munn Photography
Something About George – The George Harrison Story
Touring from 23 February – 12 March 2023
An acclaimed new music show highlighting the incredible talent of the late Beatle George Harrison embarks on a UK tour, following the Liverpool premiere and a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Aspects of Love
Lyric Theatre, London W1D 7ES
Opening 12 May currently booking until 11 November 2023
34 years after having starred in the original West End production, Michael Ball returns to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s celebrated musical at the Lyric Theatre, this time playing the role of George.
Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends
Gielgud Theatre, London W1D 6AR
16 September – 6 January 2024
Devised and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, this show will open for sixteen weeks only and will not extend! The all-star cast includes Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga. Co-stars include Christine Allado, Janie Dee, Bonnie Langford and Jeremy Secomb. Joining them will be Beatrice Penny-Touré, Joanna Riding, and Jac Yarrow.
Photo: Pamela Raith
Heathers the Musical
Touring now until 21 October 2023
Produced by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills, this high octane, black comedy, rock musical based on one of the greatest cult teen films of all-time starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, is back with a bang! The musical that refuses to lie down is now touring after London runs at The Other Palace, The Turbine Theatre and Theatre Royal Haymarket. The tour opened at Bill Kenwrights theatre in Windsor befor hiiting the road on the way to a theatre near you.
The King And I
Touring now until 1 JULY 2023
Call the Midwife star, Helen George (Trixie), can sing and will be in this touring show (these days touring productions are arguably every bit as good as their fixed counterparts – even West End shows much of the time) for the long haul – well until the end of April. She stars as Anna as the multi award-winning Broadway production of R&H’s show returns to the UK, following its critically-acclaimed sold out season at The London Palladium.
Photo: The Other Richard
Rock of Ages
Touring now until 24 JUNE 2023
Billed as the ‘farewell tour’ it sters ex-Coronation Street star Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) as Dennis Dupree. To be honest it’s been doing the rounds for a few years now so it’s about time the non-professional adult companies should be allowed to tackle it. It has been available for schools and young people to take on for some time in the ‘Jr’ format. With rock anthems such as: We Built This City, The Final Countdown, Wanted Dead or Alive, Here I Go Again, and I Want To Know What Love Is among many others included, that’ll be interesting.
Photo: David Freeman
Rocky Horror Show
Now touring from 22 Feb – 30 Sep ’23
Another cult show based on a cult film. We intervied Richard O’Brien in our previous issue and he pointed out to us that the show, written in the seventies, celebrates it’s fiftieth anniversary this year! As a result it will play a six-week residency at Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre in May/June.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical
Now touring until 15 July 2023
Strictly Ballroom the Musical Tour
Dancing on Ice finalist and Coronation Street star, Faye Brookes, joins the cast of Baz Luhrmann’s show from 27 March, starring in the lead female role of Fran. She will join Kevin Clifton, who stars as Scott Hastings, in the all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza as it makes its way across the UK & Ireland as part of its huge ten-month tour. The oether bit of news is the Faye has already done plenty of musical theatre. For now it’s Maisie Smith who you’ll be watching.
Photo: Bill Cooper
Now touring until 1 April 2023
For spring 2023, ballet’s greatest love story returns in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s revival of Sir Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s glorious journey into Swan Lake, a lavish production in which the Royal Ballet Sinfonia performs Tchaikovsky’s superb music live alongside BRB’s spectacular dancers. This romantic fable of ill-fated passion has bewitched audiences for generations and will tour the country.
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Selected cinemas nationwide
15 & 19 March 2023
Flmed live at the Barbican, London in 2021, this five-star production of the classic musical comedy will sail back into cinemas this March.
The Book Thief
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry CV1 1GS
11 – 16 September 2023
and Curve Theatre, Leicester LE1 1SB
29 SEPTEMBER – 14 OCTOber 2023
Here’s an odd thing. This show played at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre in 2022. But despite this it’s still being billed as an upcoming world premiere in 2023 with last year’s show now being called a “well-received initial presentation.” ??*!
Curve Theatre, Leicester LE1 1SB
27 NOVEMBER 2023 – 13 JANUARY 2024
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical will be directed by Curve’s Artistic Director Nikolai Foster, whose recent acclaimed productions include Billy Elliot the Musical, The Wizard of Oz, A Chorus Line, West Side Story and Sunset Boulevard.
Glyndebourne Festival 2023
Glyndebourne, Lewes BN8 5UU
19 May – 27 August 2023
Glyndebourne is recognised internationally as one of the great opera houses; a reputation that stems from a passion for artistic excellence encapsulated in founder John Christie’s insistence on doing ‘not the best we can do but the best that can be done anywhere’…
Grange Park Opera
Sutton Manor Farm, Alresford SO24 0AA
8 June – 13 July 2023
Grange Park Opera’s summer season presents three of the greatest love stories in opera: Werther, Tristan & Isolde and Tosca. And Bryn Terfel Gala! You even get a free glass of a gold-medal vintage (sparkling) with every ticket booked.
Photo: Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made
Jesus Christ Superstar
Touring from 11 sep 2023 – 17 Aug 2024
A truly timless musical. Timothy Sheader directs this mesmerizing new production of the iconic global phenomenon which which tours the UK from September. Reimagined by Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, it won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival, garnering unprecedented accolades.
Photo: Ant Clausen
The Time Traveller’s Wife: THE MUSICAL
Apollo Theatre, London W1D 7EZ
From 7 October 2023 – 30 March 2024
The world premiere production, which is based on the best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger and the New Line Cinema film screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin, will open at the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End. Performances begin in London on 7 October 2023 with an official opening night on 1 November.
We Will Rock You
London Coliseum, London WC2N 4ES
Twelve weeks only! From 2 June – 27 August 2023
Twenty-one years after it first exploded into the West End, Queen and Ben Elton’s sensational smash hit show returns to London later this year for an historic, strictly limited twelve-week residency at the London Coliseum – the same iconic stage which saw Freddie Mercury’s Royal Ballet gala performance in 1979.