Could I suggest that a proportion of this welcome emergency arts funding is ring-fenced for a ‘matching fund’ for theatres and other ticketed venues.
For every seat sold up to 30% (which should be possible with social distancing) the government should pay for another empty seat, bringing box office income up to 60% capacity. This would be separate from support for building and staff costs.
I suggest venues work with local councils to look at outdoor and site-specific venues that may currently be more suitable for performance than theatres. The important thing is that performances start again as soon as possible – waiting until a vague date in 2021 knocks the stuffing out of our live performance culture and means it will take much longer for audiences to return.
There must be a balance between the ‘crown jewels’ in London and everywhere else, and a theatre ecology in which the importance of all activities from cellars and ‘found spaces’ to regional theatres and arts centres must be recognised.
Otherwise, there have to be doubts about the continuing viability of the ‘arms length’ relationship between Arts Council England and government when it comes to allocation of public money to the arts in general.
The ‘crown jewels’ concept is deeply worrying. For example, is English National Opera one? No touring, no broadcasts to cinemas, virtually silent during lockdown, a few good productions but many ‘duds’, and too many leadership changes in recent years. How many more times can it be ‘rescued’?
It’s important that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for reopening theatres.
The risks associated with a two-hander with one set in a small-scale venue are quite different from a full-scale musical with a big cast, chorus and orchestra in a 2,000-seat auditorium. The risk assessments need to be tailored to the scale and nature of the production and venue.
So none of the potential buyers of Nuffield Southampton Theatres could deliver “resilience” or “business sustainability” according to Southampton City Council.
Yet the council is happy to let NST close permanently. Is that showing a resilient or sustainable business model?
For the major upcoming exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery called Noël Coward: Art and Style, the Noël Coward Archive Trust is seeking original costume pieces from the premiere productions of Coward’s work during his lifetime (the period 1920-67).
We have a particular interest in costumes for Coward productions designed by Gladys Calthrop, Edward Molyneux, Norman Hartnell, Cecil Beaton, Doris Zinkeisen and Victor Stiebel.
If anyone can help please contact me at NCF@alanbrodie.com.
I was sad to learn of Mike Mould’s death via The Stage’s obituary. We worked together from 1971 to 1973, when he was a member of the Tyneside Theatre Company at the University Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (now Northern Stage) and I was a young assistant director.
Mike was a member of Stagecoach, the young people’s touring unit, alongside Karl Johnson and Charlie Dore, under the direction of Paddy Masefield. At the end of that season Mike and I ran a youth theatre group and I learnt so much from a man 10 years my senior who had trained at East 15, been inspired by Joan Littlewood and worked with Ed Berman at Inter-Action.
When the work of the main house, studio and Stagecoach was integrated the following season, Mike’s contributions included outstanding ensemble work in my production of Oh What a Lovely War, a hilarious Sergeant Match in Michael Bogdanov’s revival of What the Butler Saw and an astonishing Wizzo the Wizard, barking in the streets for the company when it went busking with Welsh hymns and Northumbrian sword dances at the Avignon Festival in 1972.
It was no surprise to me when the company went its different ways in the summer of 1973, that Mike stayed on and established Bruvvers as an integral part of the community cultural scene in the North East. It is sad that the company folded eventually but that in no way detracts from the impact Mike’s talent and commitment made year on year.
Statues are in the news just now. Perhaps Newcastle might consider one of this adoptive son, maybe as Wizzo the Wizard. I can supply a sketch of the costume from memory.
Email address supplied
Unable to attend services at my parish church during the coronavirus crisis, I was delighted by David Benedict’s column on religious musicals, which stirred many memories.
In August 1972, I was at the opening night of Jesus Christ Superstar at London’s Palace Theatre. The critics damned it with faint praise but I wish I had invested in the show as I would be a rich man by now.
Seventeen years later I became an ‘angel’ at the behest of the Daily Mirror, which urged readers to support Gwyn and Maureen Hughes’ Bernadette – about the 19th-century French peasant girl who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. I attended the 1990 world premiere at the Dominion Theatre but, despite a Papal blessing, there were no theatrical, or financial, miracles and the show, which had a 14-year-old Martine McCutcheon in the cast, closed after three weeks. I have never been an ‘angel’ since.
One of my favourite religious musicals was Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity, which I saw three times at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1964. That show brought US singer Madeline Bell to the attention of the UK public as part of Bradford Singers – and I remain a fan.
Finally, I am delighted that this year’s production of the Hornchurch Passion Play, in which I have previously appeared, has not been cancelled but postponed until Easter 2021, when it will once again be performed on the green outside the Queen’s Theatre.
David J Savage
South Ockendon, Essex
Email your views to email@example.com. Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.