Everyman: Gloucestershire’s Theatre
The Story of a Theatre
by Philip Wilkinson
This well-illustrated 28-page history of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham is a praiseworthy example of a theatre using its building and performance history to animate an education programme and assist guided tours.
Two chapters introduce Cheltenham entertainment through an overview of its social and economic history: its expansion from a place ‘housing 350 families’ in the early sixteenth century, the discovery of ‘healing salts’ in the spa waters in 1718 and subsequent tourism boom, to early theatres such as the Old Wells Theatre. This was acquired by Cheltenham Ladies College in 1889, prompting the formation of a local syndicate which, with £6,000, commissioned Frank Matcham to build the New Theatre and Opera House.
Opened in 1891, this is now Matcham’s theatre-maximus. Philip Wilkinson, a Cheltenham historian assisted by the theatre manager Caroline Seguro, charts the story from the opening with Lillie Langtry to today. Like many other theatres, touring was the policy until decline in the 1950s, giving way to resident theatre. In 1960, the theatre reopened as the Everyman Theatre. Among the excellent photographs is one of the exterior refits, complete with aggressive Wells Fargo canopy lettering that traditionalists winced at, whilst being elated that Matcham’s auditorium had been preserved within. There are chapters on repairs and renovations, the auditorium today, backstage workings, the Everyman’s recent work as a presenting theatre, and its outreach practice.
Although the book is far from a critical study, remembrance of the Everyman’s thirty-five years subsidised repertory era should have been the most interesting, because it was the most creative era, with management setting ambitious plans to interchange with the bigger companies at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and Oxford Playhouse. Unfortunately, individual artistic directors’ work – and reasons for the return to touring – is airbrushed from the record. Nevertheless, descriptions and photographs of the auditorium and backstage are exemplary, making the book a near-object lesson for how other historic theatres could accelerate the interpretation of their archives.
Everyman: Gloucestershire’s Theatre is published by Gloucestershire Everyman Theatre Company and available (price £3.50) from the Everyman Theatre,
Pages from Stages
by Anthony Field
Anthony Field is a columnist for The Stage. This book contains forty articles (including single entries from Education Business Monthly, The Times of Malta, and The Guardian), published between 1985 and as recently as April 2004. The articles are arranged chronologically within sections on playwriting, theatre management, performing arts schools, theatre catering, theatre promotion, audience reaction, Broadway, the regions, musicals and the Arts Council of Great Britain, which he joined in 1957, and where he was finance director from 1960 to 1985. His experience as a producer and his subsequent career with Theatre Projects give his references to theatre buildings an added authority. The playwright Paul Webb, who is informally credited as editor of the book in the author’s acknowledgements, introduces most sections.
Readers will probably already be familiar with Field’s Stage articles from 1980. His output must by 2004 have exceeded three hundred articles, and perhaps as many published letters to editors. Even so, although it is good to have these specimens on record – especially those on theatre design, commercial theatre, orchestra economics and levels of service – it seems unfortunate in the digital age that this newspaper has still not created a searchable online archive, even for recent issues. [The Stage archive was published online in 2008, so we can now read the lot]. Unfortunately, the requisite columnist writing style of a ‘tabloid’ such as The Stage ceases to have an organisational rationale in book form: often the articles transferred from narrow columns look short, bitty and fragmented. They do not work at all well with larger pages. Perhaps this is why Paul Webb’s expositions often seem more interesting.
The collection is markedly better in Chapter 9, where the author’s more scholarly works are reprinted from the Journal of Arts Policy & Management. These are ‘Commitment and Responsibility’, the 5th Alport Lecture at the City University, London (1983), and ‘Assets and Achievement’, a research paper on capital funding and housing the arts (1984). Field had been an instigator of arts administration training and education, helping to set up the first formal courses at the Polytechnic of Central London in 1971. These began after an Arts Council enquiry (whose secretary was Peter Longman). It is a shame that this book does not reproduce Field’s excellent syllabus (1967) that was published as its appendix. This would still be valuable to the 39 higher and further education academies that now offer a bewildering 64 qualifications in the discipline, preparing students for the explosion of job opportunities that Field unknowingly helped to establish as visiting professor at the City University. Ironically, the growth of these courses contributed to what he now calls the ‘death of the theatre and theatregoing’ making the new ‘business culture’ a focus of the entire subsidised performing arts that he bewails in several of his Stage articles.
Pages from Stages (ISBN 1 904031 26 9) is published by Entertainment Technology Press, and available (print on demand, price £17.95) from The Studio, High Green, Great Shelford, Cambridge,
Footnote: From 2007, I have had the pleasure of working with Tony Field who, as Chairman of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts Trust, has continued to be instrumental in arts management education. He is associate to the LIPA Music, Theatre and Entertainment BA (Hons) degree, frequently giving inspiring lectures on theatre producing, encouraging students in his footsteps.