My love for the theatre and in particular musical theatre started when I was 16 and was allowed to go the Birmingham Hippodrome to see the marvellous Tommy Steele in Singing in the Rain, I still remember it vividly – I loved it so! I took the train back to Stafford and my love of the theatre began.
Stafford, people know it as a county town, it is half way between Stoke and Birmingham, the people have an accent that no-one can place, famous for Bull Terriers and Oatcakes, but more importantly, it is in easy reach of many good quality theatres.
I joined an am-dram society which I was involved with for many years soon realised though that I was fairly untalented and was better off showing off my knowledge and persuading people to go to the theatre. I joined Hospital Radio and dedicated a programme a week to musical theatre and was invited by the Stafford Post (the local rag) to start reviewing productions in the local area.
I am not saying I was any good, you will have noticed from a recent blog that I now feel very uncomfortable about reviewing things, but what it DID do was open my eyes to a whole world of theatre, I was young, impressionable and was then able to travel once or twice a week to local theatres and watch a very wide variety of productions, and then submitting a review for publishing.
It may be worth noting that this was in the 80’s, before email, I used to come home, type (on a typewriter) or hand write my pitiful offerings up then post the reviews through the door of the Newspaper office, before lunchtime Wednesday so that it could be in Thursday’s paper. Bearing in mind many of the productions I saw were only on for a week and had finished before my review came out it was a pretty useless system but I loved doing it. I stopped when I emigrated to Hong Kong where theatre was available but not much of it and VERY expensive. Since returning I know live in the South East and miss out on all those regional shows but I DO have the West End, YIPPEE!
Anyway that’s the background; so what is the point to this blog? For about 4 years I frequented local theatres around Stafford. A wonderful list which included amongst others: The Stafford Gatehouse (I guess I need to mention that first) The Birmingham Hippodrome, The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, The Birmingham Rep, The Wolverhampton Grand, The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, The Theatre Royal Hanley (since closed) replaced by the Regent Theatre, The New Victoria Theatre, Newcastle, The Palace Theatre Manchester, The Royal Exchange – the list goes on, all of which took me less time to get to these than it does for me now to get to Shaftsbury Avenue.
I made sure I saw a variety of productions, of course my favourites were always musicals or comedies, not much has changed there but I did learn to appreciate every kind of genre and quality.
Many productions trial regional audiences before committing themselves to a West End run so never assume you are getting sub quality. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a recent example. Popular shows have a touring production running alongside the West End Run or shortly after the West End run has closed. Fantastic as it brings West End shows to new audiences.
Why does the ‘West End’ seem to be the ‘be all and end all’ anyway? I have been blown away by too many productions to mention, particularly in Repertory Theatre. I miss it, affordable, variety, convenient and more intimate. Obviously when you are paying £30-£60 per pop to get decent seats in London plus the £20 train fare, you need to be choosy about how often you can go and what you want to see (I will aim for once a month this year if I am really lucky).
I guess this post is for everyone who cannot frequent the West End – GO to your local theatre – support it, relish it, experiment, enjoy, we are fairly starved of big touring companies here as they all get as far as London (or maybe Brighton) and grind to a halt. I was the first to shoot out of my seat and book AVENUE Q for when it comes to The Hawth in Crawley in June. It’ll be fantastic to see it again.
Support your local theatre…. You’ll love it.
Hmmm Just been putting all my links in – fantastic programmes, go now!