The stage I choose – a subject fair and free,
‘Tis yours – ‘tis mine – ‘tis public property.
All common exhibitions open be,
For praise or censure to the common eye.
- Charles Churchill, The Rosciad, 1761
The samples on these pages are from VARIETY shows at Edinburgh Festival Theatre and the National Theatre of Variety, the reopening OPERA-PANTOMIME gala, brochure introduction and address to funding bodies at the Georgian Theatre Royal, a toast to the prosperity of a heritage theatre at a fundraising function, and a production of GUYS AND DOLLS in North Queensland.
When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment.
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment.
- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 15, c.1594.
MEET ME AT THE EMPIRE
Programme note for the opening of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 18th June 1994
Welcome to the opening night of Edinburgh Festival Theatre: Scotland's new Opera House and Palace of Varieties. The rejuvenated Empire Theatre auditorium restores faith in our ability to keep what is best of the old and make it meet the needs of the future: a huge new stage and modern foyers.
For £21 million (a modest sum for a theatre of this scale), the people of Edinburgh have acquired on international lyric theatre worthy of the capital, which still retains in its auditorium the atmosphere and magic that should always accompany a performance. Tonight you will doubtless enjoy on overriding impression of space. Architect Colin Ross’ new lobbies, with their magnificent gloss frontage, are already a popular rendezvous, to be seen in as well as to see: Spectatum veniunt, veniunt spectentur ut ipsae.
Moving up the grand staircase into the 1928 auditorium is a subtle transition full of anticipation. Here in the opulent beaux arts design of architects W & T.R. Milburn we enter a world of joyous fantasy and voluptuous brilliance. All 1900 theatregoers enjoy arm in arm intimacy and a snug embrace with the stage. The Empire was twice built as variety theatre, and our first opening night show recalls the magic and vitality of its first century of light entertainment, while signalling, I hope, a vibrant future for Scottish variety here at the Festival Theatre. The second opening gala, Tristan und Isolde, is on equally opportune choice, for Wagner was the one composer and dramatist who concerned himself with the conception and form of theatre buildings. Our historical post is full of ideas and activities to set our modern theatrical imaginations to work
The Festival Theatre does not spring like Venus from the waves, a sort of instant theatre. All of us who enjoy these opening performances owe a deal of our pleasure to the initiatives of Sandy Orr, now Chairman of Scottish Opera, and Frank Dunlop, former Director of Edinburgh International Festival. Although the campaign for on opera house began after the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, the Empire Theatre opportunity first took shape in their minds. It was spurred by the vision of The City of Edinburgh District Council, who purchased the theatre from Mecca who had run it as a bingo hall for thirty years. In partnership with Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise Limited and Lothian Regional Council they established the Edinburgh Festival Theatre Trust, chaired by Lord Younger. The Trust is the client organisation which leases and operates the Festival Theatre from the District Council who own the freehold. This is the fledgling entrepreneur of Edinburgh's new public building.
The rebuilding of the theatre has been mode possible by large grants from the District Council, Lothian Regional Council and Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise Limited. We have been well supported by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Rt Hon Ian Lang MP, and many people at The Scottish Office. Other public sector bodies have contributed handsomely and with pioneering spirit: Historic Scotland, Scottish Tourist Board, The Scottish Arts Council and The Theatres Restoration Fund of the Department of National Heritage. All the same, to build this theatre required great courage and in each funding authority there have been dedicated individuals who have worked very hard for our opening and future success: The Lord Provost, Norman lrons, Councillor Lesley Hinds, Councillor Mark Lazarowicz, William Blyth, Stewart Henderson, Gavin Hughes, Robert Marshall at the District Council; Convenor Eric Milligan, Councillor Keith Geddes and Graham Bowie at Lothian Regional Council; David Crichton, Jim McFarlane and Seonaid Voss at LEEL; Fronk Lawrie at Historic Scotland; Seona Reid and Anna Stapleton at The Scottish Arts Council.
The building of the theatre has been a partnership between the public and private sectors. Over £4 million has been donated by companies, trusts and individuals. Their number and the money invested is magnificent and shows that no theatre in Scotland will belong more to its audience than the Festival Theatre. We reach the opening nights with over 3,000 Festival Theatre Friends. Many opportunities for investment remain: we still have £2 million to raise to pay for what has been achieved, especially if we are to run it on an even keel.
Tonight, rightly, the building is a star, a work of art in its own right. When the curtain rises it will retire in a supporting role. To design on atmospheric and practical theatre is a hard task for any architect. On top of this there are the pure mechanics of the building to contend with. These are very complex: ventilation and the exclusion of ambient noise, the rehabilitation of two Empire Theatres with the new overcoat, stage and foyers, the construction of the new orchestra pit with its three configurations plus apron stage, dressing rooms for 180 artists, 9300 square feet of flat stage with 80 flying lines, the get-in for scenery, re-raking the stalls for perfect sightlines. These and thousands of other practical issues were solved and executed by our inspired and most professional Design Team.
The Theatre's management has had a constructive, good relationship with the Design Team. There are twelve Trustees who, as honorary Directors, have each contributed invaluable expertise to the project. There are now forty full-time staff, all people of the theatre who are working hard to make the Festival Theatre flower in this Festival City of many theatres and concert halls. They are joined by part-time members of our company. All of us relish the need to make the Festival Theatre self-supporting and enjoy the struggle and the fun of that goal.
In the end, of course, it is what's up there on the stage that counts. And in the next six months you con count a great deal. We offer seventy attractions and a performance on almost every night. Our aim is to sell 400,000 tickets annually. If we achieve this, the Festival Theatre will become the heart of Edinburgh's showbusiness life and be accessible to every type of audience, whether new to theatre, familiar with it from other halls, or long and loyal enthusiasts.
This production starred Rikki Fulton, The Krankies, Una McLean, Russell Hunter, Brenda Cochrane, Dean Park, Lothian and Borders Police Band, International Purves Puppets of Biggar, The Edinburgh School of Dance and Drama, Kennedy Aitchison’s Festival Theatre Orchestra…and the Design Team!
Directed by Douglas Squires. Produced by Paul Iles, Nick Thomas and Jamie Phillips.
THE CENTENARY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE VARIETY ARTISTES FEDERATION
A CAVALCADE OF VARIETY
Programme note for the inaugural performance of the National Theatre of Variety, 18th February 2006
Welcome to this performance that celebrates the centenary of the founding of the Variety Artistes’ Federation, the first theatrical trade union, established on 18th February 1906. In May 1967, it was incorporated within Equity. Tonight is also a special occasion because this show inaugurates the National Theatre of Variety. This Equity designation is a masterstroke for the Grand Theatre and Blackpool. Firstly, this is the premier show town outside London and, secondly, this is the first national theatre to be based in the north of Britain, opening one week before the National Theatre of Scotland!
Variety has boomed in Blackpool since 1886, when the builder Alderman William Henry Broadhead acquired the Prince of Wales Baths next to the Prince of Wales Theatre, presenting Variety bills and circus, then going on to design, build, manage and appear as stuntman and comedian in a circuit of sixteen Variety theatres in Manchester, Morecambe, Salford, Preston, Bury, Liverpool, Eccles and Ashton under Lyne. Broadhead became Mayor of Blackpool in 1906, but died in 1907 on his way home from London following negotiations with the Variety Artistes’ Federation during the ‘Music Hall War’. His circuit never paid the huge wages of the nationwide theatre chains of Edward Moss and Oswald Stoll, so was called by artistes the ‘Bread and Butter Tour’. The business was carried on by his sons, including Percy, who in 1913 led a group of independent theatre proprietors to form the Provincial Entertainment Proprietors and Managers Association, later the Independent Theatres Association that negotiated separate agreements with the Variety Artistes’ Federation and fought against the omnipotent London managers.
In its early years, the Grand Theatre was never primarily a Variety house – that was the policy of the Palace Theatre which was built on the site of the Baths. However, the Grand, which was built as a playhouse, has restored a link to the Broadhead Variety family, for it was Burt Briggs, a grandson of W.H. Broadhead, who founded the Friends of the Grand that campaigned for the reopening of this theatre 25 years ago this season. We are pleased that the theatrical impresario strain is still with us, in our board member Jennifer Jay who is a great granddaughter of the architect of Blackpool Variety!
To base the National Theatre of Variety at Blackpool is a salutation to the resort, from the theatre profession. In its heyday, over 20,000 theatre seats were sold nightly (and twice nightly) at performances here: at the Palace Theatre, Opera House, Winter Gardens Pavilion, Tower Circus, North Pier Pavilion, ABC, Theatre Royal, Queen’s Theatre, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Central Pier. All the great names have appeared at the Grand Theatre: Max Wall, Norman Wisdom, Dick Emery, Josef Locke, Gracie Fields, Sid James, Arthur Askey, Thora Hird, Jimmy Clitheroe, Hylda Baker, John Inman, Barbara Windsor, Les Dawson, Eric Sykes, Danny La Rue, Billy Pearce, Cannon & Ball, The Grumbleweeds, Joe Pasquale, Johnnie Casson, Joe Longthorne, The Krankies, Ken Dodd….
It is very encouraging to welcome tonight some of the great talents from the Grand’s previous Variety shows: Jimmy Cricket, Frank Carson, Syd Little, Jim Casey and Eli Woods, Jean Fergusson, Bernie Clifton and Tony Jo. We are also energised by appearances from so many younger artistes, and from the changing world of Variety: they bring new ideas and new formats for the future, from contemporary circus to reinventions of the pierrot show. Thank you to all artistes and musicians for supporting the new project and the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund tonight.
The Variety theatre is a natural theatre, especially suited to Blackpool with its northern community spirit of laughter that brings people together. I hope that the National Theatre of Variety will uphold the best traditions of an unselfconscious theatre that does not see the need for pretence and corporatism. In Variety, we have the comedians, magicians, ventriloquists, jugglers, dancers, comic singers, clowns and musicians: the artistes who have nothing but themselves, a song and a backcloth….and the theatregoers who queue for tickets.
Thank you very much for your support of the National Theatre of Variety and the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund. You can now be part of an exciting future for Variety. We are especially grateful to The Stage newspaper for their munificent sponsorship of the evening. May the Comédie Anglaise be a theatre of laughter in name and purpose!
This production starred Tony Lidington, Tony Jo, the Funny Girls Travesty Dancers, Jimmy Cricket, Steve Royle, Barbara Jackson Dance School, Leanne Fury, Tweedy the Clown, Guy Barrett, Elaine Fossett, Barrie Rutter, Jean Fergusson, Blackpool Circus School, Syd Little, Bernie Cliftton, Katzenjammer, The Pierrotters, Claude Powell, Jim Casey and Eli Woods, Leye and Norry. Directed by Tony Jo. Produced by Paul Iles.
On a personal note, I would like to pay tribute to Paul Iles, the departing manager of the Grand Theatre Blackpool. His enthusiastic embracing of Equity’s campaign for a National Theatre of Variety resulted in its inaugural show this time last year. It has been a pleasure working with him and I hope the Grand can attract a replacement with the same drive and commitment. Christine Payne, General Secretary, Equity, in Equity, Spring 2007, p.3.
Paul adds: After I left the Grand Theatre, an arts consultancy review commissioned by Blackpool Borough Council opined that the National Theatre of Variety was an antiquated policy, out of step with audience development and theatre branding for the early twenty-first century. The Grand quietly dropped the apellation and associated in-house production. Meanwhile, the Council from 2008 has directly promoted (with considerable financial investment) an annual festival of circus, magic and new variety, Showzam! And very good it is too, but what has replaced the National Theatre of Variety as a special programming strand at the Grand Theatre? Does one receiving theatre need to be distinguishable from the 300 others?
To watch a truly great comedian perform is just as exciting, if not more so, than watching a fine Hamlet. The comic lives dangerously, always on the razor’s edge. His audience are sitting there, waiting. Laughing – and waiting.
Laurence Olivier, On Acting, 1986.
Variety is to real life what the jointed puppet is the walking man: the very artificial exaggeration of a certain rigidity of things. Variety will become an immortal part of all good theatre.
H. Bergson, Laughter and the boulevard theatre, 1932.
Popular theatre is the modern, demanding, trouble-making, tenacious form our time; in short, the major adventure.
Jean Vilar, head of the Théâtre National Populaire, 1953.
THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY DINNER ON EARTH
SPEECH, FOR A FUNDRAISING BANQUET ON STAGE, AT THE GRAND THEATRE, BLACKPOOL
17th November 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen, kind supporters of the Grand Theatre all, welcome to THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY DINNER ON EARTH. Tonight’s on-stage banquet supports the Sam Lee Appeal which is raising money to improve our theatregoer amenities. For new seats, new carpets and disabled access. The Appeal is named in honour of our late great Chairman Mr SAM LEE. It is very good to welcome Mrs KATIE LEE here tonight. We are also privileged to welcome our special host, Mr ALED JONES. It is also my honour to introduce you to your Master of Ceremonies for this evening. Please welcome world famous Circus Ringmaster, Mr NORMAN BARRETT!
A toast to the prosperity of the Grand Theatre
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not believe that the Grand Theatre has ever looked so SPLENDID, even on its opening night on July the 23rd 1894. It is a great pleasure to be here today and to have welcomed you to this dinner. There is a certain responsibility in managing a theatre. And all of the excellent staff and I undertake that obligation very enthusiastically, with the conviction that any promises we may make in the name of the Grand Theatre will be faithfully fulfilled. A theatre is above all a place of recreation and art, and how great the need of good theatre is in a town like Blackpool demands no elaborate proof. Today, there is no reason why the people of Blackpool, the Fylde Coast and Lancashire should not continue to support a successful theatre, especially one built by our architect FRANK MATCHAM. Because here, theatregoers and performers can be joined in shared understanding. THE GRAND THEATRE BUILDS THE COMMUNITY!
Tonight, the worlds of performer and audience have traded places. One hundred of you are witnessing the theatre as artistes on the stage, not as actors in the audience. The two worlds have also become one. As SAMUEL JOHNSON wrote and DAVID GARRICK said: ‘The stage but echoes back the public voice’. Though you normally arrive as participants from another world, at the Grand you are always united with the artists in a common expectation. When a memorable performance takes place you come together with an intense intimacy. The Grand Theatre is great theatre architecture and it supports and encourages this relationship. When you are on the other side, it offers you a heightened sense that noteworthy and immediate events are taking place. Although the eating, imbibing and performance tonight is transitory, at its best it will become the stuff of indestructible memory. To help create such an impression, FRANK MATCHAM was able to make the auditorium disappear so that during the performance only the artiste rules. Indeed, when I sat on the other side a few minutes ago, the architecture makes you appear larger than life-size. What excellent actors you are tonight: an embrace of artistically-lit, expectant faces!
For artistes of the theatre and audiences alike, the Grand Theatre must always strive to offer an encounter with the unexpected. Because the requirements are different for each show that we book, flexibility is another great asset of this theatre. It is, normally, far easier to change production style and focus than to change audience seating! Over time, the fixed, frontal relationship of this stage has proved to be remarkably flexible. It continues to be favoured by producing companies even though its seating is permanent. It is ideal for every performing art form of every scale. The Grand Theatre is PLAYHOUSE, OPERA HOUSE, CIRCUS, CONCERT HALL, DANCE HOUSE, MUSIC HALL SALOON, and soon: the NATIONAL THEATRE OF VARIETY.
The resilience of this atmospheric theatre is patent, weathering, over 111 years, dramatic changes in the world beyond the foyer. The resilience of the trustees is also noteworthy, for tonight’s dinner is one of the occasions by which we celebrate 25 years community ownership and operation of Matcham’s Masterpiece by the Blackpool Grand Theatre Trust.
Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you all for your generosity and support for the advancement of the Grand Theatre, a true home of the art and entertainment of the theatre, and now the art of food and wine. I would like to conclude the evening with a special thank you to our Metteur en scene, Mlle ELAINE FOSSETT. Elaine is the only development director in British theatre who is also an artiste of the theatre. She is fundraiser, theatre instructor, actress, clown and fun raiser. She is the best in English theatre, and we are most fortunate to enjoy her dedicated services. Elaine, thank you enormously. Once more I thank you all for your signal support of THE SAM LEE APPEAL. Please rise and join with me in a toast to ‘THE PROSPERITY OF THE GRAND THEATRE’! May the Grand Theatre endure, as an abiding bastion of theatrical adventure, continuity and ambition, a home for high art and low art in this rapidly changing town of BLACKPOOL!
See further details: Download Fundraising Dinner
EMPIRE THEATRE, EDINBURGH: THE PEOPLE’S PALACE OF PLEASURE
(later, Bingo Hall, Festival Theatre)
Founded in 1892 by the late Manager, Mr Edward Moss
A season brochure introduction
The phrase ‘Architecture is music in stone’ becomes reality at the former Empire Theatre. The interior of the new Festival Theatre is a dramatic, enriched curving auditorium of bronze and silver varnished plaster, scagliola marble walls and velvet drapery: to warm and cajole the audience with an excited and expectant mood for the red letter music theatre nights of this new season. Like this colossal building, with its futuristic frontage, the shows on offer in this prospectus continue the reassurance of the old with the innovations of the new.
After recent alarums and excursions the capitalisation of the Festival Theatre is now complete, thanks to the most generous abutment of Lothian Regional Council and the City of Edinburgh District Council. We sincerely thank both local authorities, especially Convenor Eric Milligan at the Region and Cllr Lesley Hinds, Leader of the District, for their latest championship and for being fairy godparents to the reconstruction of Edinburgh's new Theatre for Everybody. The management will do its best to avoid any more Sturm und Drang!
We are presently operating with sustainment from theatregoers rather than any security blanket of government patronage of running costs. To invest in the audience of the future, we have launched an education programme, tutored by Education Officer Ruth Hollyman, with well-wisher Watson & Philip, the Dundee food retailers who have vouched a four-year sponsorship.
The campaign for an Edinburgh Festival Theatre began in 1947 with the first Edinburgh Festival. 1996 is the fiftieth Festival year, and it is also the centenary of cinema in Scotland. On 13 April 1896 Lumières Moving Pictures were first shown here at the Empire Palace Theatre, when Cinematographe first cast shadows over the auditorium. Each birthday will be celebrated with the dazzle of a glittering soiree in our elegant foyers and Cafe Lucia. The Festival Theatre sees itself as a ‘Theatre for the People’ and, like all palaces of entertainment for ‘The People’, our avowed aim is to amuse as well as to amend. A popular programme comes with a variety of guises.
The ninety feet deep stage will become an elite Glaciarium for Christmas: Scotland's temple of art-if-ice welcomes you to a mesmerising extravaganza, the ice skating revue Hot Ice, direct from the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Spicy dance offerings continue: Northern Ballet Theatre, Adventures in Motion Pictures, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Arc Dance Company, Corozón Flamenco and The Scottish Ballet bring productions to maintain the Festival Theatre's pre-eminence in the ballet world. At the other end of the spectrum we present our first pantomime: Jim Davidson in the adult Sinderella. We have a host of operas: Acis and Galatea, La Traviata, Hansel and Gretel, Zaïde, Peter Grimes, Cosi fan tutte and Carmen. There’s a lot for everyone, so browse this prospectus and choose your favourites, as well as some new experiences.
Orsino, Duke of Illyria, says in Twelfth Night: ‘If music be the food of love, play on: Give me excess of it.’ An apt description of what is now on offer at your Festival Theatre. We look forward to greeting you.
From the programme: Monday 16th December 1895, a Fairy Pantomime, Cinderella, Presented by Oscar Barrett at the Empire Palace Theatre, Edinburgh. For the best pantomime website see It's Behind You Dot Com.
From the Illustrated London News: Dramatic entertainment in the Theatre Royal, [Broughton Street], Edinburgh, 20th June 1884: