Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Albert Parker is 58 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
Dale McKenna is 25. He trained at Laine Theatre Arts, has performed in West End musicals and is currently touring the UK
Victor Winstanley is 42. His career has encompassed the National, West End, touring and regional work. He writes extensively for radio and TV
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured national and internationally
Jenny Talbot is 39 and has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre
Victor I’m gutted to hear that French’s is closing. It was tremendously useful as a one-stop shop. I’d always leave with more stuff than I’d intended to buy.
Jenny I may have contributed to its decline as, in all honesty, I have never set foot in there.
Dale I’ve been in once or twice.
Beryl To my shame, I only ever went there once, so I can’t say it will really affect me.
Thomas There would you go to buy theatre books? Or do you not buy them?
Jenny My theatre book sanctuary used to be the National bookshop. It’s become a bit commercialised, but it’s still good.
Victor I’ll use the NT Bookshop, although it doesn’t sell musical scores like French’s does.
Dale The big Foyles is pretty decent for scripts, but I get scripts online, generally.
Albert Foyles is dreadful. Somebody once went in and asked “Where can I find Oscar Wilde?” and the assistant said “I’m afraid he’s not working today.”
Jenny I miss Dress Circle for music books and CDs.
Dale I loved Dress Circle.
Albert The best thing about French’s was when you had no money, you could sit in the shop and browse scripts. It didn’t help them business-wise, but it was a great resource.
Thomas Extending this discussion to include Dress Circle, does the closure of these specialist shops leave a gap, or is it just the way of the world? What do the specialists provide that large bookshops and online retailers can’t?
Albert As a teenager in Yorkshire, French’s was the best way to get scripts. I sent off a postal order and they used to return the script in a nice brown envelope a week later.
Dale There’s a homeliness and a community feel to French’s.
Albert Before the internet, Samuel French’s free guide to selecting plays was indispensable.
Jenny It was a place for the community to feel their interests were held in high regard by like-minded people.
Thomas I did the same as Albert when I was growing up in the Midlands. They’d send me a catalogue every couple of months. Of course, that side of the business is still going strong.
Albert But you can’t touch the books. You can’t flick through them. I’m a great fan of e-books, but sometimes you want to flick through scripts before buying them. With monologue audition books for young actors, you need to look at the material before deciding whether to spend your money.
Jenny If I had time to kill, I used to go to Dress Circle and get lost in their merchandise. Now I just sit in a cafe looking at Facebook.
Dale It’s a sign of the times. Lots of small businesses are being priced out of London.
Victor Beyond the loss of a useful shop, the closure of French’s poses questions about what we want our streets to look like. The huge jump in business rates is good news for chains and estate agents only.
Albert The shop was also holding some discussion evenings and ‘meet the writer’ sessions. Perhaps it was too little, too late.
Jenny I’ll definitely go now – it sounds like I’ve missed out.
Albert erhaps it’s just the money-grabbing landlord, who doesn’t appreciate the pull and the power of little independent shops. What’s it going to be? Another Starbucks?
Thomas There is probably a place for all that French’s offered. Someone suggested that one of the theatres could house French’s front of house. Is the Theatre Cafe still going? Maybe it could take on some of French’s events?
Albert I’m sad about it. Samuel French has been part of my life for ages. Imagine the thrill when somebody sent me a photo of one of my books on display in the window. I won’t get quite the same kick when somebody sends me a screen grab of my book on Amazon.
Dale Yes, the Theatre Cafe is still open.
Albert I went there once for coffee, but the service was dreadful and the atmosphere was about as inviting as a non-refurbished fringe theatre in Edmonton. The members of staff seemed to have trained at the General Pinochet school of charm.
Jenny I need to acquaint myself with the Theatre Cafe as I think it may have taken over where Dress Circle left off. I’ve often thought that theatres could utilise their front-of-house spaces better during the day, with coffee shops and specialist shops. Cinemas have done a similar thing – I bet it’s added to their income.
Thomas That’s especially true for some commercial venues. They could learn from how the NT works in the day, or the Royal Court. Somewhere like the Theatre Royal Drury Lane is empty most of the time but is in an incredible location – and is an incredible location.
Jenny It does great backstage tours, but why not give the tourists a place to sit down and have a cuppa after? They can meet the ghosts.
Albert Some events do take place there. The Actors Centre holds chat sessions in that amazing Grand Saloon. I’ve been to one and they are great, but they could do a lot more.