WEDNESDAY 28 OCTOBER 2020 - CULTURE RECOVERY FUND UPDATE
Following the rejection for £50k support from the Arts Council's Culture Recovery Fund, there was a huge outpouring of support from the people of Cheltenham and concern as to our future and why we were, in the words of the Daily Telegraph, a "worrying and rather obvious omission". We have had very regular conversations with Alex Chalk MP and much has been going on behind the scenes and here he explains the current state of play:
The background as you know is that the Playhouse's application for £50,000 funding from Arts Council England's Culture Recovery Fund was turned down earlier this month. That came as a real blow. It also came as a bit of a surprise frankly - given that the Everyman, Cheltenham Festivals and Cheltenham Trust were all successful to the tune of over £2.4m in total.
Although that £2.4m award was a strong result for Cheltenham overall (the neighbouring constituency of the Cotswolds for example received the national constituency average of around £500,000) the absence of support for the Playhouse was a bitter disappointment. I declare a personal interest, as someone who was lucky enough to get experience of the arts through a summer Playhouse workshop as a teenager in the 1990s. I know what a difference it has made to the lives of many young people, and the contribution it can make in the future.
Following the announcement I made contact with the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP's Special Advisor and Parliamentary Private Secretary. The upshot was a one-on-one meeting with the Secretary of State, during which I set out my concerns. I had approached him specifically because you'll recall that the Culture Recovery Fund is part of the £1.57bn of DCMS support being provided to the arts.
Discretion as to individual decisions rests, it seems, exclusively with Arts Council England (ACE); and so following my discussions with Oliver Dowden I was able to secure a telephone meeting with the relevant South-West representative of ACE.
In that meeting, I discussed the application in some detail and the reasons for it being turned down. At a sensitive time in our discussions with ACE, I hope you'll forgive me if I don't disclose every element of that conversation at this stage; but I can tell you that ACE was left in no doubt as to how disappointed so many people in Cheltenham were by the decision and why this funding remains vital to secure the future of the Playhouse.
Although robust, I think it's fair to describe it as a positive discussion.
The next step is to arrange a meeting between ACE (South-West) and the Playhouse representatives. I have put them in touch with each other and I'm pleased to report that meeting has been organised for 5 November to discuss the way forward.
We mustn't get our hopes up, but it is positive that ACE are prepared to meet the Playhouse. We also shouldn't expect any immediate decision: I understand from ACE that it will take some weeks for our representations and any further application to work their way through the ACE bureaucracy.
Anyway, I will update you when there is more news. In the meantime, huge thanks to the Playhouse trustees for their enormously hard work behind the scenes - and for taking my calls at ungodly hours...
Alex Chalk MP
TUESDAY 8 SEPTEMBER 2020
We are starting to reopen with socially distanced performances following government guidance. Please see What's On for more information.
STATEMENT ON SITUATION REGARDING COVID-19
In response to Government advice this afternoon, advising people to avoid unnecessary social contact, including in theatres, we regret to inform you that we have no option but to close the Playhouse to the public with immediate effect. All productions and performances that were planned from mid-March to mid-August have been rescheduled or cancelled. Similarly, all choirs, dance classes, drama classes, comedy nights, music nights, parent and toddler groups have to cease until we are advised they can recommence.
We hope you will understand that the health and safety of all those who use and visit the Playhouse, our staff and volunteers, and the wider community as a whole, must come first.
We have contacted all patrons who had booked shows during this time period to arrange a refund in most instances as this is the simplest way for us to operate and then as rescheduled dates are announced people can then book again. The exception to this is the Missy Malone & Friends Burlesque Revue for which a late October date has already been allocated and patrons may choose to reschedule to the new date. If you have not heard from us, please email [email protected]
We have a very small team and although closed there is still a surprising amount we need to do - particularly planning. Should you need to contact the theatre at present, please email [email protected]
In terms of staff, we are a community theatre and we want to support our paid casual staff as much as possible. With that at front of mind, we committed to ensuring that our casual members of staff will be paid as per the rota for the first 12 weeks of closure as if all scheduled performances were not cancelled and did so prior to the Government's job retention scheme. We are a charity and exist for the community and it is our social responsibility to do what we can to look after our colleagues, who are also our friends.
Theatres, while closed, have no income but still have some running expenses. We receive very little funding compared to larger venues but we still take our responsibilities very seriously. We are hugely grateful to those patrons who have offered not to receive a refund but for the theatre to retain this to help us through the closure. We are not launching an appeal at this time but donations can be made, if wished, on our website by clicking here
We will be joining in with other venues and industry bodies in consulting the Government over the immediate future of the industry as a whole and want to offer our best wishes and support to actors, musicians, technicians and companies, amateur and professional, who will be facing some difficult times ahead, particularly financially.
We will be "Bringing The Playhouse To You" during closure by making use of social media, especially our Facebook page – not full-length performances, but small videos of song, poetry, monologue, comedy, storytelling and music from local amateur and professional artists. As a community venue for 75 years, we want to try and entertain and bring the community together and use technology creatively to stay in touch with our friends across Cheltenham and Gloucestershire. Please join in, comment, and engage with your local community. And, of course, we will need to celebrate properly our 75th birthday at some point.
We wish all of you and your loved ones well at this unsettling time. Thank you for your support in the past and we look forward to seeing you all again in the hopefully not-too-distant future.
Paul Scott, theatre manager
The Cheltenham Playhouse is part of the artistic landscape of Cheltenham and hopes that everyone who enjoys the arts in Cheltenham will be back in audiences or on stage soon. For members of the public who have questions about existing tickets, please email [email protected].
Media enquiries: For more information or photographs, contact Jo Moulds on 07968 801467 or email [email protected].
BRITISH COMEDY LEGEND DR EVADNE HINGE COMES OUT OF RETIREMENT TO HELP CELEBRATE OUR 75TH ANNIVERSARY - 24/9/19
A legend of British comedy is to come out of retirement in France to appear in a musical romp at Cheltenham Playhouse next year as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations. The Dowager's Oyster is described as a light opera that captures the comic book charades of a 1920s murder mystery farce and at its heart is the return to the stage of Dr Evadne Hinge, one half of the enormously popular double act Hinge and Bracket which entertained audiences with their songs and 'theatrical memories' for 30 years.
The pair were the hit of the 1974 Edinburgh Festival and soon found themselves performing in the West End to enormous acclaim and success. Frequent tours of the UK and abroad followed, plus a 10-year stint on Radio 4, their own BBC2 series in the early 1980s, televised broadcasts of their concerts and two Royal Variety Performances.
The celebrated duo's hugely successful career ended in 2002 with the death of Dame Hilda Bracket's creator, Patrick Fyffe. Dr Hinge (George Logan) went into retirement and relocated to France where he and his partner opened a bed and breakfast business and all attempts to lure Dr Hinge back to the stage had been politely but steadfastly resisted.
Enter young composer Louis Mander, whose works include collaborations with Stephen Fry. He had co-written a comedy operetta entitled The Dowager's Oyster and had geared the title role around Dr Hinge's talents.
"Musically, the show has a roaring 1920s dance band score that nods to Gilbert and Sullivan with a twist of Kurt Weill", explains Louis. "As Hinge and Bracket made G&S very much a central part of their repertoire, the idea that the occasionally imposing pianist Dr Hinge could essay the role of the imperious Dowager just seemed a perfect fit. The question was whether we could persuade her to return to the boards after so many years."
Thinking 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' he dropped an email to George Logan in the hope he could intercede on his behalf with the good doctor.
"I was somewhat surprised to receive the suggestion of taking on the title role in a new piece of theatre written with me in mind, but my curiosity was piqued," says Evadne. "I discovered that Louis had a string of highly regarded works to his credit so I asked to see the score and the script and was delighted to discover the music was direct and melodious. I felt the dialogue needed a few revisions to bring it more in line with my own individual personality and happily Louis and his librettist, Jack Cherry, were agreeable. So I said 'yes'!"
George agreed to perform the role in London in November 2016 and he so enjoyed the experience he said he would be very much open to the possibility of making one more outing as his alter ego at a later date. Shortly after the London premiere, Louis Mander moved to Cheltenham where the Playhouse hosted another of his works and he realised that the intimate theatre would be an ideal venue for The Dowager's Oyster.
"I was always a great fan of Hinge and Bracket myself," says theatre manager Paul Scott, "so when Louis mentioned the show I was very keen to see if we could make it happen here for our 75th anniversary year. George fondly remembers appearing at the Ladies College and Everyman in the 1980s and 1990s and said he'd love to revisit both the town and the role and we're very much looking forward to seeing both him and Dr Hinge here next September."
In fact, so keen is George on the show, he's taking Louis's original four-piece orchestration and re-working it for an eight-piece 1920s 'Great Gatsby' style jazz band for this special anniversary production.
The theatre has recruited one of the county's most recognised theatre practitioners, former associate director of the Everyman, Sheila Mander, to direct the production and there will be just four performances from Wednesday 23 – Saturday 26 September 2020 with tickets going on sale in the new year.