Women have been running West End theatres longer than you can remember (your views, February 1)
Just following up on the letters about the first woman to artistically lead or manage a London theatre (Letters, January 25). In 1907 Lena Ashwell became the actor/manager of the Kingsway Theatre. Margaret Leask’s biography of Ashwell was reviewed in The Stage when it was published in 2012 and was the Society for Theatre Research’s book of the year.
But even further back (and I hope someone else has written to you with an even earlier suggestion) in 1806, there was Jane Scott at the Sans Pareil theatre (now the Adelphi). Scholars describe her as the theatre manager and “her theatre on the Strand is a foundation stone for the modern West End”.
So why do we forget these women? The Official London Theatre guide’s history of the Adelphi Theatre perhaps offers an answer: “The first theatre on the site was opened in 1806 as the Sans Pareil and run by John Scott and his daughter Jane. Jane Scott wrote more than 50 stage pieces.” It is clear the artistic director/producer was Jane Scott, and John put up the money to build the theatre. And yet the Society of London Theatre’s website records his name first as the one who ran it. And, as we all know, billing order matters.
Without wishing to detract from the achievements of Gladys Cooper and Lilian Baylis, they were far from the first women to run theatres in central London.
Madame Vestris (1797-1856) ran the Olympic from 1830 to 1839, Covent Garden from 1839 to 1842 and the Lyceum from 1847 to 1853. Marie Wilton (1839-1921) took on the Prince of Wales Theatre in Tottenham Street in 1865. She married one of her actors, Sidney Bancroft, and they managed the theatre until 1880, then the Haymarket from 1880 to 1885. Sidney Bancroft made no secret of the fact his wife was the driving force in the partnership.
Both of these women made important contributions to theatre management, both in terms of their repertoire (Madame Vestris staged the first production of Love’s Labour’s Lost since Shakespeare’s day) and in their front-of-house arrangements.
Theatres need to suit audiences
I write with regard to the article by Richard Jordan (Must a West End musical run for 15 years to be deemed a success?). Some important factors have been missed – location and audience.
A large percentage of the audience, don’t live or work in London and travel a considerable distance to get there.
Stomp appealed to a much younger audience and so suited school groups. It was right in the centre of London, being on the Strand and then West Street. These were easy locations for coach companies to drop off and pick up.
An American in Paris was at the Dominion and appealed to an older audience. The Dominion has been surrounded by road works for months and is not exactly an ideal place to wander around and eat.
I have been bringing groups to London by coach since 1989 and I know my customers.
I have to drop on Shaftesbury Avenue for the Dominion – it is okay when we arrive, but after the show it’s dark, busy and sometimes audiences exit the theatre through a different door, causing chaos. So I have to take that into account. It is much easier to go to 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which appeals to the same audience.
I enjoyed all three shows, so when choosing the theatre for a new production, don’t just think of the content, think of your audience and how easy it will be for them to get there.
No such thing as a bad review
In 30 years of publicising theatre shows, I never took exception to a critical review, even when I thought the comments unreasonable (Cirque’s attempt to silence this critic made them look like clowns, January 18).
There is no such thing as bad publicity and it is better to be thought worth reviewing than to be ignored. Five-star raves only have value because there is the possibility of a one-star demolition.
Quotes of the week
“Over the years, I’ve staged plays by Shakespeare that seemed to speak about the Iraq war, the 2008 financial crisis and the power of the surveillance state, among many other contemporary preoccupations. I’ve never before staged a play that has said so much about our present, or warned of such a terrible future.”
Nicholas Hytner on Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre (Guardian)
“I haven’t spoken about this before. It was my first film and I didn’t feel directed by him at all. I didn’t have any kind of relationship with him. And that was fine but bizarre. It was a great opportunity, so I did the best I could and left. I didn’t know back then what I know now. Would I work with him now? No.”
Hayley Atwell on working with Woody Allen (Observer)
“Let’s hope there’s some real structural change to come out of this – that women who don’t have huge platforms on Twitter, who are nurses or office workers, feel that they can talk to their bosses if this is happening to them.”
Rachel Weisz on the #MeToo movement (ES magazine)
“As an audience member I know how often I have to turn off my patriarchy or my misogyny klaxon, to enjoy quite a lot of the stories that I see on stage. And that all goes towards normalising a society where people feel entitled to bully and abuse their power, and are entitled to women’s bodies.”
Performer Abbi Greenland (Guardian)
“You just want to play people who are real and flawed. I’ve worked on things before where I’ve tried to inject it with some flaws and realities and edges. And I’ve been told, without any qualms, that audiences don’t like it when they don’t like the woman. You have to like her.”
Carey Mulligan (Sunday Times)
“I’m satisfied with none of my roles. Nothing I do is ever as good as it was in my head.”
Jeremy Irons (Telegraph)
“Finding out the reasons why there is a lack of diversity might be a useful endeavour. I have an inkling that somewhere people underestimate audiences. I think people are far more open and willing than the people who are trying to make money assume they are.”
Actor Nina Sosanya (Evening Standard)
“I saw Benedict and Andrew’s Hamlets. They were both very different, I loved them both. I’d quite like to do a bit of Shakespeare because I’ve done very little of that, perhaps I can do an old Hamlet next.”
Actor and director Rupert Graves (WhatsOnStage)
What you said on Facebook
I will be delighted when the toilets are increased. This applies to every theatre in London. Why the facilities for ladies were and are so inadequate I haven’t a clue, but I dread needing a pee at a show in London.
About our poll: Should more musicals hold open auditions?
There are plenty of talented people who didn’t go to drama school. It’s snobbery to deny them the opportunity to shine.
Charlotte Elizabeth Aston
Why not also hold open auditions for plays?
I want a good writer. Gender isn’t important, it’s the standard of work that should matter.
Internal bias is a powerful deciding factor in programming and the statistics speak for themselves – women writers are woefully underrepresented.
About Green Room asking: Is theatre in the UK too centred on London?
Other major cities may have one, possibly two big theatres but nothing like London.
It’s true not just of theatre but all arts provision.