Letters of the week

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Birmingham Stage merits mention

Can I draw attention to a serious omission in your winners schedule (The Stage 100 Awards, January 3, page 16)? Although, reading your judging criteria, perhaps I am remiss in not having made a nomination.

In their 21st year, surely Neal Foster and Phil Compton of Birmingham Stage Company deserve inclusion. Birmingham Stage routinely tours with new and updated productions year on year, both here and abroad, with multiple titles targeted at schools and families playing to many thousands, all highly regarded by the critics.

The company currently has two shows playing in London – at the Garrick and Bloomsbury theatres – with another playing a 12-week Christmas season in Birmingham.

This is surely serious theatre business by anyone’s measure.

Roger Edwards
Email address supplied

Editor’s note: For a discussion of The Stage 100 list that accompanies The Stage 100 Awards, see www.thestage.co.uk/columns/editors-blog


Mr Oglesby asks too much

Could Michael Oglesby be a bit more specific (‘Arts must make better case for private cash’, December 13, 2012, page 4)? This sounds like specialised management, outside the field of theatre. There is no money to create another post, particularly the small 300 to 500-seat theatres, which will not have a big enough draw to make a difference in large towns.

Only big shows in a 1,200-seater have had an impact in Peterborough.

M Lightfoot
Gladstone Street

EBacc plans will stifle the young

I have taught drama and acting for 40 years at all levels and ages. The removal of drama from the primary curriculum key stages 1 and 2 deprives many children from speaking and listening in a creative way. The absence of performing arts subjects from the forthcoming baccalaureate examinations impoverishes the cultural education of young people.

If you agree, I urge you to sign the e-petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43254

Kevin Dowsett
Artistic director
International Theatre Exchange
Theydon Grove

(editor's note - the above petition was rejected on the grounds that there are already available petitions covering the subject - Restoring arts subjects to English Baccalaureate and Teaching of the Arts in Schools)

Equity’s changes lack mandate 

From the Equity figures quoted in your report on the recent referendum (News, December 6, 2012, page 4), the massive changes in Equity’s structure about to take place have been approved by only 3.5% of the membership. That is absurd.

Before the changes, walk-ons, both stage and TV, had both a specialist committee and two specialist councillors. All will disappear under the changes. Clearly walk-ons will no longer be getting value for money for their membership fees. So unless this is reduced by, say, two-thirds, it will be time to find another union.

Alan Schneider
Email address supplied


Venue’s true tale of enterprise

We thought we’d write – as married partners – to partly amend, but also illuminate, the ‘family history’ regarding the Phoenix Theatre that Oliver, currently in Goodnight Mr Tom there, mentioned in his recent interview with Al Senter (History man, November 22, 2012, page 20).

The Phoenix was built by my (Jenifer’s) grandfather, Victor Luxemburg, in partnership with Sidney Bernstein and Bovis in the late 1920s. Victor had bought the vacant site from the London County Council. It had previously had a library on it, owned by the LCC. It was the county council who sold it on, only on the proviso that the site be redeveloped for a “cultural” purpose, which was why the Phoenix came about.

At about the same time, my great uncle, Lucien Sammett, owned and ran a place called the Alcazar, which was a sort of Palace of Varieties, with booths with magicians and other entertainers. At the back of the block [housing] the Phoenix is the Alcazar flats. So I think it likely that Lucien’s Alcazar formed part of the block back then, probably fronting onto Charing Cross Road, but now replaced by shops and flats.

On looking round the Phoenix recently – the beautiful interior designed by the remarkable stage designer Komisarjevsky – I felt enormous pride in what my grandfather, with others, achieved. He was an immensely energetic and determined man, who had come to this country with his brother – they were aged just 12 and 14 – escaping pogroms in Poland. He built up a life as a successful man in business, having started out as a salesman.

My own going into theatre and becoming an actress was not connected with my grandfather, who, although he built the Phoenix, was not otherwise involved in the theatre world.

Jenifer Armitage and Oliver Ford Davies
Email address supplied


No contempt for familiarity

I don’t think avid theatregoers quibble at all about long-running plays ‘gumming up’ theatres. In fact, I think the opposite is probably true, especially when there’s been a cast change or an improvisation of some kind. People become intrigued and want to see if the new crew measures up to the original casting.

I know many people who have seen plays such as Phantom of the Opera and ‘Les Mis’ literally dozens of times.

It’s rather reassuring to have a backbone of quality plays running in the West End, in much the same way that one finds comfort in an old pair of slippers. If one has enjoyed a play the first time around, then surely the expectation of enjoyment is already 75% in the bag, and money well spent on future viewings?

I can recall seeing a play starring Albert Finney, and another starring Adam Faith, both of which were taken off after merely a few weeks, so surely the ‘long haul’ plays balance out the failed ones.

Harriet Blackbury
Email address supplied


June’s tales will be sadly missed

Sadly, my agent June Epstein died recently. I had been with her for just under 20 years.

She had worked in television before becoming an agent and had many a good story to tell about her working life. She was never afraid to let one know what she thought on any subject, and this was one of her most endearing qualities.

Her cat was often the subject of our talk before we got on to discussing work. At Christmas 2011 there was a delightful gathering of all her clients over a buffet lunch at her home in north London. A very pleasant occasion to remember.

May she rest in peace.

Frank Dunne
Dinan Way