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Letters of the week

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Summer forecast was too gloomy

The outlook for the 2013 summer show season is slightly brighter than that painted by Mark Ritchie (Onshore wind of change, June 20, page 31). Admittedly, the number of active pier theatres has diminished to just five, spearheaded by the admirable SeaSide Special at Cromer, but the National Piers Society has also identified traditional shows at Babbacombe – where the season opened at the beginning of May and runs until October 23 – Clacton, Eastbourne, Gorleston, Hunstanton, Paignton, Weston-super-Mare and the Spa Theatre at Scarborough.

Admittedly, some of these run for just two or three nights a week during July and August, and employ dancers from local stage schools to reduce costs. But the fact that ventriloquist Steve Hewlett, who headlined at Cromer two years ago, came fourth on Britain’s Got Talent seems to indicate that there is still an audience for these kinds of shows.

It would, of course, be useful if The Stage reviewed and included them in its weekly listings.

Anthony Wills
National Piers Society
Address supplied


E-petition to back the bard

If you happened to be passing by Downing Street on Monday, June 24 at midday, you would have witnessed an extraordinary scene outside the gates. The world’s loudest town crier, Alan Myatt, in full regalia and ‘Mr William Shakespeare’ were in attendance to help present a petition requesting “that Her Majesty’s government institute Shakespeare Day on April 23, 2015, and annually thereafter, to celebrate Britain’s national Bard, William Shakespeare”.

The petition itself, with some 500 signatures, was then handed in at No 10 by actor Samuel West, accompanied by five colleagues representing different branches of the entertainment industry.

The time is overdue for Shakespeare to be honoured with a date in the nation’s calendar. His actual date of birth is unknown, but from baptism records we know he was born on or near April 23, 1564 – St George’s Day. The town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and many educational institutions already recognise this as the date.

Next year sees the 450th anniversary of the bard’s birth, and 2016 will mark the 400th anniversary of his death, when commemorative events will take place around the country.

The purpose of the petition is to kick-start an e-petition. Once 100,000 signatures have been received, a Commons debate would have to be held. The target date is 2015 – in good time for the 400th anniversary.

Declared supporters include Michael and Sandra Howard, Roy Strong, Eton College headmaster Anthony Little, Jo Brand, Stephen Fry, Sally Farmiloe, Nadhim Zawahi and Michael Gove.

Pending the prime minister’s reply, full details of the Shakespeare Day e-petition will be posted on the Equity website, www.equity.org.uk

Annie Bright
National Shakespeare Day petition
Email address supplied


It seems tickets are no guarantee

We have 94 useless tickets for Spamalot at 3pm on July 10.

They are for a group of 88 students and eight teachers from a school in Essex that we have been working with to arrange a London theatre day, which included workshops as well as tickets for the show.

Trouble is, while we have the tickets, the show isn’t happening.

The producers have decided to cancel Wednesday matinees and move them to 6pm on Fridays. The difficult job of letting us know was given to one of the staff at Ambassador Theatre Group Tickets. There was no call from the producers who made the decision. No old-fashioned, written letter. No explanation. No apology. Nothing.

What does this arrogant attitude say to the 88 teenagers who have saved up, paid and were looking forward to their day enjoying London theatre? What kind of message does it give to 88 families – apart from they are being taken for granted? What support does it provide for the teachers, who obviously believe that young people should be encouraged to experience theatre? All we’ve learned is that you can buy a ticket but it doesn’t mean you’ll see the show.

The people at ATG have been extremely helpful and arranged workshops to help save the day. The producers say the group could go to the Friday performance, but it’s not that easy. The Wednesday is planned as an annual ‘activities day’ and the coaches are booked.

All we and the school are trying to do is to encourage the next generation of West End theatre-goers. A pity it’s being made difficult to do so by anonymous, misguided West End producers.

Allan Stronach
London Theatre Tours
Church Hill
London N21


Understudies are overpriced

Since retirement, I have, as a regular theatregoer, embraced the matinee culture. I recently booked a day seat for Once at the Phoenix Theatre, but on buying a programme was handed the dreaded white slip to indicate that understudies would be replacing both the leads and another company member.

This is becoming too commonplace at matinees. Although in this case the understudies produced a very good performance and were well received, they were not the actors that faced critics on press night and garnered the reviews. If producers wish to give their understudies a matinee ‘run out’ instead of a rehearsal, why not reduce ticket prices accordingly?

Michael Wilkinson
Endell Street
London WC2


Cinema showings a plus for theatre

I was interested to read Honour Bayes’ article, Is onscreen theatre still second best? (June 6, page 10). I think screen productions of theatre performances are great for educational purposes, but for me they will never replace the experience of seeing a show in person.

But as someone passionate about attracting new audiences to theatre, I think cinema screenings are a good thing. People who are not regular theatregoers might see a filmed play and then want to experience the live version and buy a theatre ticket. The tale of the man from Hong Kong who saw Digital Theatre’s recording of David Suchet in All My Sons – and was so moved he flew to London to see Suchet perform in person in Long Day’s Journey into Night – is a great story, and a testament to this.

As someone who lives in the north, I thoroughly enjoyed National Theatre Live’s screening of The Audience on June 13. It was a great opportunity for me to see a show I wanted to see for some time, but did not have the chance when in London. It was also great to see interesting behind the scenes footage and a special interview with writer Peter Morgan during the interval, plus shots from the theatre in London – a mirror reflecting one audience to another.

Hopefully modern technology can be an asset to the beauty of live theatre, and help to build on the number of people who love going to the theatre. However, it doesn’t beat being there in person, and that will be a pleasure we can continue to enjoy if everyone – members of the public and local government – realises the benefits of local and national theatre.

Tony Lawton
Email address supplied


Hear me out, I need to cha-cha

Can any of your readers help me by sending any spare or unwanted CDs or cassettes of ballroom/Latin dance music played by a band or organ?

I just love listening to this music and get so much pleasure and enjoyment from it, but as a pensioner I find it quite difficult to find it nowadays.

Geoff Dickinson
Quarry Brow


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