Theatre? What’s that?

At the start of my ‘Showbusiness Show', usually the first show of the three I do in a day, I talk a little about the old Variety Theatres and the tradition of weekly rep.  I tell the children that my set is called ‘a theatre’, pronouncing the word as if it is a new word that the children will not have heard before.  It’s a little gag about how theatres, especially the older touring houses, are struggling to survive and have been since the invention of television.  Of course I am of the generation that knew life before tv, but there are far less of us around now!  The children (as well as many of the adults) who watch my shows increasingly need to be educated into the conventions of Variety Theatre.  They experience Variety via the many shows on mainstream tv, and then the many repeats of the same show, year on year.  They watch audiences responding to the live event, but of course they don’t respond from the comfort of their sofas (unless of course it’s a football or rugby match!).  They are voyeurs to the Variety experience and don’t know what to do when they encounter my show for real.  Hence the education bit at the start of my Showbusiness Show.

I love the set up day at a new show.  Yesterday morning, after one of those overnight trips down from Derbyshire and a brief stopover in Nottingham Services, I arrived at The Vintage Nostalgia Show (  website ) on a lovely site near Salisbury in the Wylye Valley.  The show is one of a breed of new themed shows that are cropping up now.  This one is perfect for me as I am both vintage and nostalgic.  Almost hundreds of stalls of wonderful paraphanalia from those years before tv and a delightful programme of music and dance from the forties and fifties. And me!!

As I was setting up, but before I had dropped the stage down, a young a man, mid twenties came over and hung there, pregnant for a chat, so I became his conversational midwife and made the first move.  His name is Chris. He was a helper on the slots; a stall of vintage slot machines. He looked at my trailer, looked at the words Theatre Royal on the frontage and said, ‘What’s this?’ 

‘It’s a theatre’, and I apologise if I sounded a bit sarcastic as I gestured at the sign.  I was very tired and I thought it was obvious. In any case it was lost on him.  ‘Theatre? What’s that?’ he asked, innocently.  I asked him whether he’d ever been to a theatre.  He said he hadn’t.  ‘Where you from?’ ‘Swindon’ was the reply.  I told him I thought there was a theatre in Swindon ( website ). He said he had seen the sign.  I looked at him to check he was not just being very subtle and leading me up his garden path, but no, his was an innocence born of telling the truth.  I took to him.  ‘So you’ve never been to a theatre?’  He confirmed the sad truth.  ‘Well, you’ll have to come over and see the show tomorrow then’.  After a few more pleasantries we parted company.

There will be increasing numbers of young people who have never have the chance to experience live theatre.  This is both a sad legacy of the advance of technology and of the state of our education system.  I have tried to avoid politics in this blog, but this is reprehensible.  We are abnegating our responsibility to the heritage of our nation by denying our young people the opportunity to experience live theatre.  OK yes we do take them some of them to the annual Pantomime, but it’s almost the only experience that some children will have of live Variety Theatre.  But there’s a lot more to Variety than Pantomime, as I am trying to demonstrate with what I do.  Nor is it a meaningless, mindless entertainment.  I hope my audiences leave with more than just a half hour spent amicably.

Below is my new photo taken from the window at the stalls at the Vintage Nostalgia Show.  That stuff at the top is blue sky.  Nice to see it again after so long in the rain.

All the best from a road near you,

Mr Alexander

Mr Alexander