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This sample is from a programme note for the Pitlochry Festival Theatre production of The Magistrate, directed by Ben Twist
The Magistrate performed in repertoire from May to October 2007
Box Office 01796 484626
The Magistrate was the third of six new comedies to open at the Court Theatre, London in 1885, and was the first in their series of well-plotted Arthur Wing Pinero farces, before The Schoolmistress (1886), Dandy Dick (1887), The Weaker Sex (1889) and The Amazons (1893). Like its Royal Court successor, this theatre was a home for new work, with The Magistrate an instant success, running for 363 performances in repertoire, before being translated for productions in several German, Danish and Dutch theatres. Influenced by the French farces of Eugène Labiche and Georges Feydeau, but set in a credible English location without a bedroom scene and too overt sexual imbroglio, Pinero understood the mechanics of farce superlatively: moving the domestic story with enormous speed, presenting the respectable Mr Posket as an embarrassed and inept magistrate helplessly out of control with his destiny….
Pinero (1855-1934), whose first theatre job was in 1874 as a ‘general utility actor’ on £1 a week in Robert Wyndham’s company at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, continued to learn the craft of the theatre in Henry Irving’s company at the Lyceum, London, where he performed for five years and wrote many one-act ‘curtain-raisers’ in which he played the leading part. Knowing how to write for actors, he became a full-time dramatist in 1880, and went on to write 54 farces and social ‘problem’ plays, one of which, In Chancery, was a gift to Howard and Wyndham for their opening season at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh in 1883-4.
In 1909, Pinero became only the second person to be knighted for playwriting, after W. S. Gilbert, a classification subsequently not awarded specifically for theatre writing until Noël Coward in 1970. Appropriately, the music in this production of The Magistrate is from the entr’acte to The Mikado, Arthur Sullivan’s opera that also premiered in 1885.
Despite being successes during the most inspiring and colourful period in theatre history, all too few of Pinero’s plays are revived today, except his challenge to Victorian sexual morality, The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1893) and his depiction of life in the nineteenth-century theatre and his comedic predecessor, Tom Robertson: Trelawney of the “Wells” (1898). Although a leading figure in the commercial theatre, Pinero with J .T. Grein was a founder of the seminal Independent Theatre in 1891. This was a prototype for repertory theatres performing literary and artistic plays in nightly rotation, campaigning for acting ensembles, a national theatre and state subsidy.
For productions of farce in particular, an acting ensemble is much coveted by artistic directors. Being the only bona fide theatre ‘company’ in Scotland today, Pitlochry offers a closer, more intimate and sophisticated playing style than can be given in one-off theatre productions elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, Pitlochry has staged Pinero before: Dandy Dick in 1955 and two productions of The Magistrate, in 1965 and 1991 when Walter Carr played Mr Posket. Like thousands of theatrical tourists I am looking forward to the opportunity to see the actors playing a variety of roles in one week, most especially for the demands made of them in the complicated, amusing and enjoyable The Magistrate. May our laughter greet and sustain our hero Mr Posket on stage tonight!
Mr Pinero does not want us to believe an impossibility, but merely to accept an improbability. The Magistrate is a product of inventive humour on a heroic scale, an extremely amusing and masterly piece of fantasy. He passes over thin ice with perfect lightness and ease.
William Archer, About the Theatre, 1886.
Laugh at Mr Pinero’s farce all playgoers must, so whimsical is its dialogue, so diverting its intrigue, so droll the helpless embarrassment of its hero.
A. B. Walkey, The Speaker, 1885.
In so far as any one man can be called the regenerator of the English drama, that man is Arthur Pinero. He was a brilliant and even daring pioneer of a great movement.
William Archer, The Old Drama and the New, 1923.
Farce is the essential theatre. Farce refined becomes high comedy: farce brutalised becomes tragedy.
Edward Gordon Craig, Index to the Story of My Days, 1957.
NIGHT OF 1,000 LAUGHS, FOR LES DAWSON (1934-1993)
This sample is from a programme note for the Les Dawson Statue Appeal production, presented by Tony Jo at Blackpool Opera House on Saturday 14 July 2007
Welcome to tonight’s very special Variety show at Blackpool Opera House, where all proceeds go to the Les Dawson Statue Appeal. Although there are many statues of ‘legitimate’ theatre stars – from William Shakespeare to this year’s unveiling of Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre in London – Variety artistes have been only occasionally memorialised. There is Stan Laurel in Ulverston, Eric Morecambe in Morecambe, Max Miller in Brighton and, soon perhaps, Tommy Cooper in Caerphilly. And now, thanks to your support, we hope for a 22-foot £60,000 bronze monument to the mighty comedian Les Dawson, along with possible scholarships to provide comic training for young people wanting to follow in his footsteps.
The fundraising campaign, for which this show is the biggest event to date, is an opportunity for artistes to repay the example Les brought to our profession, and for theatregoers to acknowledge the enjoyment that he brought to the nation. A statue will be something at which fans and visitors will pay homage in years to come. Les lived in Lytham St Annes, with his wife Tracy who supports our determination to see a lasting tribute to our hero.
Often describing himself as ‘one of nature's most persistent pessimists’, Les Dawson did not set out to be a comedian. He dreamt of being a writer, and actually wrote many books, including autobiographies. However, it was his self-deprecating humour, filled with malapropisms and mother-in-law jokes, which made him one of Britain’s funniest theatre and television comedians.
Born in Manchester in 1934, Les spent his schooldays keeping bullies at bay with laughter. His jaw was broken by one boy, which left him with an ability to pull his chin over his nose. After school, he worked in a co-op drapery department, then joined the Bury Times as a trainee reporter but was fired after two weeks, going to Paris where he played the piano in a brothel. Returning to Manchester, he worked as vacuum cleaner salesman, apprentice electrician, then undertaking National Service in Korea before starting his illustrious career on the northern working men’s club circuit.
His first television appearance was on Saturday Bandbox in 1965 and by 1967, after auditioning for Opportunity Knocks, he never looked back. Coinciding that year with an appearance at the Blackpool ABC Theatre in Blackpool Night Out, his drollery struck chords in television and theatre simultaneously. He was rebooked immediately for the ABC Theatre, and made his television acting debut in Comedy Playhouse in 1968. A year later he had his own series Sez Les on ITV, full of his distinctive Lancashire melancholy. He became a household name with characters such as Cosmo Smallpiece and, assisted by Roy Barraclough, gossiping housewives Cissie and Ada, based on Norman Evans’ Over the Wall sketch. Galton and Simpson’s Holiday with Strings spawned Dawson's Weekly in 1975. The same year, he starred in Dawson’s Electric Cinema, set in a flea-pit, and in three plays by Alan Plater. Switching to the BBC, he produced the Les Dawson Show and The Dawson Watch. In 1984 he succeeded Terry Wogan in presenting Blankety Blank, on which he quickly stamped his gigantic personality, mocking the vacuous game and its tacky prizes.
Les was also one of the twentieth-century’s greatest pantomime dames, starring in many Christmas shows in the North West – with his personality he didn’t use much in the way of make-up! He also topped the bill in summer seasons at the Blackpool Grand Theatre, such as Laugh with Les, with Ray Barraclough, introducing Mo Moreland and the other Roly Polys in 1984, and Run for Your Wife in 1986 and 1987. His career came full circle in 1990 when he presented a new Opportunity Knocks. One of five comedians commemorated on postage stamps, Les’ life and career was celebrated at a Westminster Abbey memorial service and at a previous Blackpool tribute show in 1995.
Les lived at the heart of the Fylde Coast community. Many patrons tonight will have enjoyed his live appearances at Blackpool theatres. Tonight, our company of artistes, including Mo Moreland, Joe Longthorne, Jimmy Cricket, Mooky the Clown, Ricky Tomlinson, the Phil Winston Dancers et al, are delighted to volunteer their services to the Appeal, most appropriately in this, the biggest theatre in Britain: Blackpool Opera House, where Les played his last summer season show in 1988.
Les Dawson’s legacy of brilliant northern humour, timing and wit are an inspiration to comedians across the nation today. Thank you for supporting the good cause of the Les Dawson Statue Appeal. I hope that you have an enjoyable evening at the Blackpool Opera House!
This sample is a programme note on Hot Ice, presented by Stageworks Worldwide Productions at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 19 to 30 December 1995
Now in its 73rd year, the production of Hot Ice performs at The Arena, Blackpool Pleasure Beach until November 2010.
WELCOME TO SCOTLAND'S FROZEN CULTURAL ASSET, EDINBURGH'S NEW ICE PALACE
The professional Ice Show is, in the world of showbusiness, a comparative newcomer when one compares it to those hoary old-timers the circus and the music hall. As far as Britain is concerned, it may be said to have been initiated at the Hammersmith Rink in 1927, and to have coincided with the advent of Claude Langdon there as Director. Shortly after this Major Sharpe began productions at the Westover Rink in Bournemouth. The first really ambitious show, however, was MARINA, (named after Marina, Duchess of Kent) put on by Langdon at the Brighton Arena, introducing comedy and acrobatics, raising ice entertainment from the circus level to that of an art. MARINA was revived time and time again, appearing at the Empress Hall, Earls Court in 1935. The success of this production led Sir Oswald Stoll to present the first ice show in a proscenium theatre - at the London Coliseum, which he then owned. Later on the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, also staged an ice show, RHAPSODY ON ICE with Anton Dolin and ‘Belita’, but the regular opera buffs resented the intrusion of this new musical and colourful artform.
The rush of activity and interest began outside London, firstly at Manchester's Belle Vue pleasure gardens where Henry Iles built a temporary ice rink in his 5,000 seat King’s Hall, taking ice shows from Earl’s Court. Then in 1937 Leonard Thompson, owner of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, built the world's first purpose-built ice theatre, staging his own productions at the resort and on tour. The ice show craze was popular here at the Empire Theatre too: HOT ICE was last here in 1945.
The tradition continues tonight, with the Festival Theatre proudly welcoming a brand new HOT ICE; presented by Leonard Thompson’s son Geoffrey Thompson and directed by his grand-daughter Amanda Thompson. The new production was created this year in Blackpool, before visiting New Orleans last month. After this season it travels to Bangkok where it will play for the King of Thailand's birthday party, and then a tour of English theatres and rinks.
Theatre, ballet, circus and revue: HOT ICE is made up of all of these and is, I’m sure, the ideal show to signal Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to our patrons. Thank you for your support of the Festival Theatre in 1995 and may you enjoy continuing Variety here throughout 1996. The show thaws on 30 December, so please recommend your friends to book seats immediately.
A technical note
The real ‘star’ of HOT ICE is the Ice.
The words ‘Ice Tank’ are a generic term used in the world of temporary ice surfaces, but the term is misleading to those not associated with this unusual form of ice surface.
The transformation of the Festival Theatre began last Sunday morning.
The 2.44 m x 1.22 m (8’x4’) plywood sheets were laid to a prescribed pattern onto the sub flooring, on top of which was then laid a substantial plastic membrane.
The sides of the total area were then enclosed to a depth of between 10.2 cm (4”) and 15.2 cm (6”), with plywood framing. Trans ice floor slabs of specially constructed high density foam and aluminium foil were laid on top of the plastic membrane. Pipes and headers were laid onto this surface and connected up to the compressors. The compressors require 200 amp 3-phase electricity supply. The pipes are 20 mm in diameter and there are approximately 250 lengths which, laid end to end, would stretch some 2926 m (9,600 feet).
All the ice making machinery is located in a 12.2m (40’) custom built trailer which has been parked in the service yard at the rear of the Theatre. Up to 30.5m (l00’) of pipework was then connected between the compressors and the header pipes at the rear of the ice tank. The machinery is switched on and Glycol is pumped through the pipes at a temperature of minus 15 degrees centigrade, creating a frost on the pipes. Continuous spraying throughout the night (a total of approximately 24 hours) eventually creates a layer of 5.1 cm (2”) of ice above the pipes.
This is now the ice surface which has to be maintained throughout the two weeks of the show. The distributed weight loading of the ice tank is 4 tonnes, spread over a 12.2m x 12.2m (40’ x 40’) ice surface.
During the show, skaters’ blades will cut into the ice surface, necessitating ice cutting and watering to reproduce a smooth surface for the next performance. Then more spraying has to take place to build up the level of the ice again to 5. 1 cm (2”) depth.
Immediately following the final performance, the ice has to be physically broken up with 10.2 cm x 10.2 cm (4” x 4”) lengths of pitch pine, and removed from the stage. An unusual problem with a touring Ice Show is – where to dispose of a large amount of ice! This has to be physically loaded into two skips and taken away for safe disposal.
The equipment is then dismantled and the stage returned to its original condition. The work will continue throughout the night and, by the morning, everything is on its way to the next theatre - to start the process all over again.
Tuesday 19 to Friday 22 December at 12.30: COMMUNITY ICE WORKSHOPS. Encouraging the widest community access to arts. Hot Ice artistes lead free demonstrations and discussions. Meet the stars at close quarters.