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Letters of the week

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ATG is looking out for its staff and customers

I believe that Ambassador Theatre Group and the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham were unfairly and misleadingly represented by your anonymous correspondent (Stage Talk, March 14, page 8).

Firstly, with regards to the restructure, the writer claims that the concerns of staff members were not adequately considered. In fact, there has been ongoing consultation with all affected members of staff – within the constraints of what is a formal process – to ensure they are fully informed, have an opportunity to input and are adequately supported throughout. The restructure follows a detailed review and is squarely aimed at ensuring we have the right structures in place to meet the needs of visiting producers, artists, theatre staff and our customers.

Secondly, the writer claims that ATG is attempting to bring the venue “to its knees”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since ATG’s acquisition of the New Alexandra, we have been working towards revitalising and improving the venue by significantly developing the programme and delivering increased investment across a range of areas. Clearly, these shifts take time, but we are pleased to report that over the past three years:

  • Average annual capacity has increased by 11%.
  • The number of ‘new’ attendees at performances is frequently above 40%.
  • The number of Theatre Card holders, ATG’s group-wide membership scheme, has grown at the venue from fewer than 150 to almost 3,000.
  • Audience research shows that customer satisfaction levels have increased and continue to climb.

These results are positive news for the city, the venue and the industry as a whole. Increased attendances and more regular larger-scale performances – and therefore casts, crew, etc – in particular bring substantial economic benefits to other businesses as well as to the venue itself.

Among the major productions ATG has co-produced and brought to the New Alexandra in this time are South Pacific, Spamalot, Legally Blonde, Rocky Horror, Maurice’s Jubilee, Blue/Orange and Dandy Dick – demonstrating our commitment. Other producers have been active in supporting us with hit shows such as the sold-out One Man, Two Guvnors, Grease and American Idiot to name but three.

ATG’s co-production of Priscilla – Queen of the Desert is currently playing to packed houses on its first visit to Birmingham, and we have just announced the West End and Broadway hit Ghost – another ATG co-production – will be at the New Alexandra over Christmas, with the internationally acclaimed ATG co-production of West Side Story following next Spring.

ATG has invested more than £150,000 at the New Alexandra on venue improvements and refurbishment projects such as new exterior signage, upgrade of electrical installation, auditorium seating refurbishments, dressing room improvements, window repairs, re-roofing, new emergency lighting, new stalls carpet, new ladder bars for the flying system and upgrades to the heating system.

As part of our ongoing improvement works at venues throughout the UK, plans are also underway to upgrade the two key bars at the New Alexandra Theatre, alongside introducing an Ambassador Lounge – a luxurious, elegant and sophisticated VIP area for the use of customers and visiting producers.

In addition, the New Alexandra is one of our venues pioneering the ‘Be a Star’ training programme – modular, bespoke training that is currently being rolled out to all front of house staff with plans to include other departments in the near future. ‘Be a Star’ is designed in part to improve the working environment for staff as well as customers.

While accepting that there is much still to be done, we firmly believe the New Alexandra has the opportunity to re-establish its position within Birmingham. This is something ATG is fully committed to, and we look forward to taking this vision forwards with the team in place at the venue.

We would very much like to reassure your correspondent that there is nothing to be concerned about, and once again extend an invitation for that person to engage with us and openly discuss the progress being made at the venue.

I trust this sets the record straight.

Nick Potter 
Managing director
Email address supplied


European power is plane to see

Your leader (March 21, page 8) raises some important points about the instruments on planes campaign. It is worth noting, however, that the campaign actually started as early as 2005. The Musicians’ Union reached an agreement with the Department for Transport in 2006, but it quickly became apparent that this issue could be successfully tackled only at a European and international level, as the problem was much broader than just UK airlines.

It was therefore the International Federation of Musicians’ petition, with its 40,000 signatures, that made the real difference and convinced the European Parliament to put forward this proposal. The success of this lobby demonstrates the importance of fighting on a European, as well as a national, level.

John Smith
General secretary
Musicians’ Union
Clapham Road
London SW9


If you ask me, they’re all guilty

I enjoyed Harry Venning’s review of Mayday and Broadchurch (March 14, page 32). These so-called thrillers are now totally formulaic, and one assumes their makers are trying to emulate Scandinavian noir.

A moody-looking, handsome male detective and/or a moody-looking, pretty female detective roam around the chosen location, among a set of moody-looking and suspicious characters – so suspicious, in fact, that discovering who’s guilty won’t be any kind of a surprise. Surely these people would make some attempt to at least appear normal to avoid suspicion?

This made me think how poorly these shows compare with that genius of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Francis Durbridge. His characters all seemed to be nice, normal people – so when something shocking happened it was genuinely so. The hero was a nice, normal man, so when a body was found in his flat at the end of episode one we were all shocked. And when, in episode two, his nice, normal wife was seen to be somewhere she shouldn’t be, we were hooked. For the remaining four episodes, Britain closed down for half an hour every week. And when the guilty party was unmasked, we were truly amazed.

In a Durbridge serial, everyone bust a gut trying to appear nice and normal – as we would all endeavour to do in their position – until they were proved to be otherwise.

We know all those long, dark nights affect the Scandinavians, but in Durbridge-land the sun always shone through the window of the hero’s flat, glinting all the more brightly on the dagger in the victim’s back.

Howard Kay
Email address supplied


‘Actress’ is a fine word – so use it

Please, please do not let The Stage go down the path of calling actresses ‘actors’, as you have in the otherwise excellent obituary for Sybil Christopher (March 21, page 45). The vast majority of actresses I have spoken to do not like being referred to as the male practitioners of their craft, and always refer to themselves as ‘actresses’ and are proud of it.

Actresses get to play parts actors cannot, and vice versa, and to allow this idiotic misuse of the English language will result in the most confusing presentations at forthcoming awards: “The award for best actor goes to Sir…” and, “The award for best actor goes to Dame…”

Marc Sinden
Email address supplied


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