May I fully support David Wood and his letter in last week’s The Stage, saying that children should see live theatre from an early age and be thrilled and absorbed by it – as they always are.
I contribute to this philosophy in a very small way and have done so voluntarily for nearly 60 years. As a teacher and youth leader, I directed school drama and amdram, from pantomimes to Shakespeare. Young people always amaze me with their enthusiasm and talent. Along the way I organised theatre trips as often and as varied as I could.
Now retired, I have continued to do the same thing for more than 20 years, directing amateur theatre, almost always with teenagers – most recently Agatha Christie murder mysteries, which my youngsters love. I tutor teens for LAMDA solo acting exams, and take them to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon as often as we can. They absolutely love it, can’t get enough Shakespeare and they are enthused, encouraged and amazed at witnessing the skills of professional actors live.
We took our own children to the theatre from the age of four. They both went into showbiz, as it happens; our son is now a musical director for many shows, from Led Zeppelin tributes to Dick Whittington in Crawley. Our daughter, after 20 years in TV, film and theatre, became a mum and a splendid teacher.
Being able to explore the dynamics of human relationships in live performance (or in rehearsal) will never be wasted time, and equips young people for the real world. Film is too real, and too often faked; TV is too small.
To put money where my mouth is, my small group presented a pantomime in Evesham just before Christmas, a modest 70-minute production (although with costumes, slapstick, music and pyro FX) and gave away tickets to the performances – with free drinks and a programme – to parents bringing children, perhaps for the first time, to see a live show. It was a huge success, demand for tickets was such that my young people performed it twice – in one evening. Get children into the theatre.
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It saddens me that, as far as I am aware, there has been no public recognition for design engineer Mike Barnett who died in October.
Awarded an MBE for services to theatre in 2006, the rise of effects-driven musicals would not have been possible without him.
The genius of his numerous achievements included the bridge in Starlight Express, the barricades in Les Misérables, the boat, travellator and collapsing chandelier in The Phantom of the Opera and the helicopter in Miss Saigon.
These now iconic scenes, along with many others, were a huge contribution to the extraordinary international success of UK musicals.
As my good friend and colleague Will Bowen, who worked with Mike many times, said of him: “He was never afraid to push the boundaries of engineering in order to achieve something beautiful rather than something mundane – and that is why designers loved him. He taught us all never to say ‘that’s impossible’ when we were scratching our heads.”
As our leading industry paper, could The Stage spearhead such deserved recognition, along with printing an obituary, so that hopefully a national newspaper will follow?
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I’ve never seen Cats in a professional production, but an amateur production of youngsters from Upton-upon-Severn’s amateur theatre company, The Pepperpot Players, a couple of years ago blew me away, which does rather point to the show being stronger than the reviews give it credit for.
Nothing will be as bad as The Phantom of the Opera on film (there’s a great movie waiting to be made) so as soon as I get the chance I’m willing to give Cats a try – having read a good number of the dire reviews.
Unlike the stage and 1998 filmed productions, the film version of Cats is perceived as cats being turned into people, which is what gives it its creepy factor. On stage, it was the other way around – people becoming cats. The latter is more easily perceivable as art. The former is just weird. I have not seen the film but I’ve seen many clips courtesy of the internet.
I’ve seen the original stage production three times. Once on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1997 and the fourth US national tour twice in 1994 and 1995. I enjoyed the Broadway performance almost as much as my first viewing of the national tour in 1994, even though the two can’t visually compare, considering the massive Winter Garden set.
The 1995 performance of the US tour fell flat. I remember thinking halfway through the show: ‘I’m done with Cats.’ Later on, I realised the cast seemed disconnected. As if they were performing in a one-person show. As Richard Jordan states, the cast didn’t gel, and that made a huge difference in my enjoyment of the show.
Then again, we are theatre people, and more prone to pick up nuances and see things in abstract ways or know the different styles of staging and what they bring to the table.
I am perplexed as to how director Tom Hooper did not take mainstream audiences into account when envisioning Cats prior to bringing it to life on screen? He should have tailored it for those audiences. Cats-turned-strange-humanoids should have never been on the table. An animated film would have been the better route in adapting the musical for the screen.
“I was going for a lot of stuff in England, but wasn’t getting roles because of the colour of my skin. It wasn’t fair. It was a trap. For example, I went up for this show. It was 10 rounds of auditions. There was me and a white guy for the lead. I realised as I was going to one audition that the other guy had been given an acting coach. They didn’t love me like they loved him. And this is no joke. This is my life. This is a job. In any other profession that would be weird, but it was accepted in mine. It happened a few times and I went: ‘Nah. I’m not an idiot.’ ” Actor Daniel Kaluuya on looking to the US for work (Sunday Times)
“From the front of house, to the cast, to the backstage crew, we all love this show so much. So give the Waitress team some love. Even being back for one week I see how much care and hard work these people put into this show. Actor Marisha Wallace (Twitter)
“Jokes. So the arranged car picks me up at airport. I get in and the driver says to me: ‘So, you’re going to the Old Vic right?’ I politely reply: ‘The Young Vic’. He says: ‘Why, the Old Vic more popular, no?’ I politely smile, unsure how to tell him I’m the AD of the very popular Young Vic.” Kwame Kwei-Armah (Twitter)
“The moment I’ve done a movie, the first thing I want is a holiday, then I do hanker after the peace and relative tranquility of a theatre rehearsal room.” Director Sam Mendes (Radio 5 Live)
“My heroes – my heroines – are women. All my life, 90% of men have bored the arse off me. And it is women who have taught me everything.” Actor Brian Blessed (Guardian)
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