I join Mark Shenton in celebrating the fact that four London theatres now have people of colour as artistic directors (‘New leaders usher in an era of change in 2019’, Comment, January 10). Another name to add to his list is that of Suzann McLean , artistic director of the recently opened Peckham Theatre. Interestingly, her appointment puts the number of women ahead of men as leaders in London’s theatres led by people of colour.
Shenton reminds us of Clint Dyer’s witty comment when he became the first black British director of a West End musical, The Big Life , in 2005. He said: “The wonderful thing about being black in this country is that you have an amazing opportunity to be the first at a lot of things.”
However, despite the stream of excitedly favourable reviews he received for his direction 14 years ago, Dyer remains not only the first but also the only black British director to achieve such a breakthrough.
With his very first production, Dyer hammered a crack into that particularly tough glass ceiling, but it isn’t quite shattered yet, it seems.
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Provision of ladies’ loos
Lyn Gardner’s column on theatre toilets (‘Few venues care enough about audiences to provide decent loos’, January 10, p7) mentions the difficulty of “spending a penny at the Duchess ”.
I am unsure when she last attempted to do so, as the venue’s ladies’ toilets were considerably revamped with the addition of substantial numbers of cubicles only recently.
When the Duchess was under the ownership of Janet Holmes a Court, one of her associates approached me, as the theatre manager, to ask what the theatre required most urgently. “Ladies toilets!” was my immediate reply.
The next day, an architect visited the theatre and came up with a plan to convert the dress circle gents’ to a ladies’ room and vice versa. The following week, work began and at the opening of the next show the ladies boasted six cubicles instead of the previous two.
More recently, under the aegis of Nimax, the stalls’ ladies’ toilet was completely refurbished – again with a considerable increase in the number of cubicles.
I would say that after an audience head-count, the Duchess is something of a standard-bearer in terms of ladies’ loo provision – a factor that Gardner would do well to note.
Former manager, Duchess Theatre
Lyn Gardner speculates: “Maybe our forebears didn’t need the loo so much.” When I read your survey of London theatre toilets, I wondered facetiously whether past audiences had bigger bladders. The sad truth is that theatre architects rarely, if ever, pay more than lip service to the comforts of patrons front-of-house or performers backstage.
Historically, the subject might make an interesting thesis for a postgraduate research student. But there must surely be some ground rules about what facilities promoters are expected to provide at sporting venues and other major attractions. They could prove useful yardsticks to planning authorities considering new theatres or major refurbishments.
Les Miserables in the West End
It’s an interesting decision to replace the 1985 production of Les Mis  with the newer one (News, January 10, p3). I would have thought that playing to 95% capacity and returning a 280% annual profit after 30-something years would have indicated that audiences still want the original production – that it still works, and remains a commercial gem.
Moreover, it’s a shame to see the removal of John Napier’s remaining fingerprint on the West End. Alongside the late Maria Bjornson’s enduring legacy at Her Majesty’s [The Phantom of the Opera], his Les Miserables must be one of the most iconic and important living design projects in the history of theatre.
Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Unless it’s a marketing ploy… Could anyone be quite so cynical?
Young theatre audiences
The main reason that many younger people rarely go to the theatre (‘One in four young adults never go to the theatre, survey finds ’, News, January 10, p2) is ticket prices.
Yes, there are local theatres that are cheaper, but I believe many people assume they will be the same price as tickets for the West End.
I’m an under-30 who loves theatre. While tickets are expensive, there are schemes offering cheaper tickets for young people, which are great for people like me.
I think a lot of people just aren’t interested. A survey saying that almost a quarter of young adults never went to watch sports matches, for example, would not surprise me either.
Azalea van Luernder
Quotes of the week
“I have modified my life to fit the role. It affects how I eat, how I sleep, how I socialise – which is hardly at all, and if I do it’s somewhere quiet. I barely touch alcohol. I’m off dairy, 99%. I’m paranoid about air conditioning.” – Mamma Mia! actor Sara Poyzer on performing in a long-running show (Times)
“I always see theatre as a provocation. You’re not up there running for office, you’re asking a series of questions. Some people might be enraged, some perplexed, some people might be excited. Hopefully it’s the conversation afterwards that’s the most important.” – Actor Cate Blanchett (Guardian)
“I got the bug from my parents. They took me to see lots of theatre in London. We were always in the cheapest seats because we didn’t have a lot of money. It didn’t matter though. I was hooked.” – Choreographer Matthew Bourne (Broadway World)
“Do artistic directors realise their jobs are about serving communities? When you disengage from the Brexit matter, you actively ignore your own communities and disengage with around two million people nationwide. Your silence is not the message of ‘you are welcome’. It’s one of ‘you do not matter’.” – Theatremaker Nastazja Somers (Twitter)
“We’re only at the beginning of unlocking the potential of these plays. Having a deaf actress playing Celia [in As You Like It], for instance, revealed the play in a way we could never have imagined. These plays were never about being literal: they were about transformative, imaginative transactions. To get back to that, we have to smash up all of that literal expectation.” – Actor Michelle Terry on Shakespeare (Financial Times)
“We’re part of the fourth estate. Our job is to reflect, to catalyse, to hold a mirror up to society. It’s what theatre has done forever.” – Artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah (Today programme, BBC Radio 4)
“I remember being in a play when I was in primary school. I was meant to be a Chelsea fan. I started chewing gum on stage and blowing bubbles and got all the attention. I thought, ‘This is all right, everybody is watching me.’ ” – Actor Gillian Anderson (Telegraph)
“Sure, it happened, and it will happen again, I’ve no doubt. No one is a machine. We are fallible human beings. I just try to ease through it as opposed to going into a state of cardiac arrest.” – Actor Laura Linney on forgetting lines on stage (Times)
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