Centre Stage - a new column by David Bown, the chief executive of Harrogate Theatre
I was walking through Asda just after the New Year and I noticed a very young boy stood with his parents happily pointing to other customers and proclaiming… “I Iurv…I lurv…I love you, I love you, I love you…”
He then turned to me and said… “but not so much you!” I wasn’t too offended, because unbeknown to the young boy, these are lines that I wrote for Tim Stedman, the much admired star of Harrogate Theatre’s pantomime Cinderella, which is where this family had clearly just been.
Moments like this are so rewarding. I have also been very fortunate to receive many letters over the Christmas period praising the theatre for our pantomime as well as passing on anecdotes relating to their visit. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those that wrote to us or posted on Facebook and Twitter, I can assure everyone that the good wishes we receive are most welcome.
I’d like to give a special mention to a gentleman in Killinghall who sent me a lovely long letter detailing the many years of pleasure he has had at Harrogate Theatre, as well as describing his grandchildren’s enjoyment of Cinderella.
On the other hand I’d like to apologise to the man who chastised me for placing Harrogate in the North Riding of Yorkshire, the woman who waited and waited for a ‘slosh’ scene that didn’t arrive and the couple who felt that there were far too many children in the audience.
As I write we are starting the ‘get-out’ of Cinderella, the final show was Sunday evening and the cast have all departed. It leaves the building a little flat when so much energy and joy moves out but it has been an enormously successful festive period – with no power cuts! Thank you to the many thousands who paid a visit to Harrogate Theatre over Christmas and I am particularly grateful for the support of our local schools.
It’s often said that the pantomime for many young people is their first meaningful encounter with the performing arts and the feedback this year would suggest that we have definitely captured a good few hearts and minds.
Towards the end of the run I always go for a coffee with Tim Stedman to talk about the show from the performer’s perspective. 2014 was Tim’s fifteenth consecutive pantomime at Harrogate.
It may surprise you to hear that Tim is very serious about his craft and usually quite critical of himself.
However, this year, he was extremely pleased with not just his own performance but the achievements of a wonderful cast and crew.
It gives me great pleasure to announce that Tim will be returning for Christmas 2015 and he will be appearing as Wishee Washee in next year’s Aladdin. Tickets are already selling fast so book early.
2014 was a very busy year for the Theatre and there’s no slowing down as we move into 2015. Last year our organisation grew noticeably larger as we acquired programming responsibilities for not just the theatre and the studio but the Royal Hall and the International Centre, which has created the brand of Harrogate Theatres. Harrogate is very fortunate to have such vastly different and beautiful venues.
Our new brochure will be available shortly and the range of acts, shows and arts events that we will be bringing to Harrogate are extraordinary. Comedy as ever features heavily with such big names as Jimmy Carr, Dylan Moran and the FUKP party candidate for South Thanet - Al Murray, which should be fun. There are some terrific ‘classical’ shows coming in the new year – Rigoletto, Swan Lake and a fascinating collaboration between Opera North and The Wrong Crowd called Swanhunter. Drama is strongly represented in February with the return of the very popular Edith in The Dark written by the award-winning playwright Philip Meeks.
It’s a chilling and witty ghost story based on the writings of E. Nesbit, the author of The Railway Children. The Peep Show’s Robert Webb has been announced amongst the cast of Jeeves & Wooster, which will also be with us next month. Further down the year in May, the theatre will play host to a fabulous production of Macbeth brought to us by Tara Arts and look out for some big names at the International Centre such as Bryan Ferry, Elvis Costello and Diversity.
I’d also like to mention the work we do at the other end of the scale, particularly in our small 60 seat studio. Emma McDowell our Head of Marketing and Audience Development is always on the lookout for emerging smaller theatre companies, which allow our audiences to experience diverse, exciting and sometimes challenging performances. There’s Cross Cut Theatre with Shadow Boxing, Box of Tricks with Plastic Figurines, Move to Stand with Fatman, Art With Heart and Secret Diaries and many more… it’s worth checking out the work that is programmed into the studio, there’s some terrific stuff.
As if we haven’t got enough existing performance spaces around town we will be creating another, as a show called Early Doors will be performing at Hales Bar in May. Every summer Harrogate Theatres curate a festival called 2’s Company whereby we programme performances for smaller audience numbers, often set in unusual non-theatre settings around Harrogate or with an interactive element. Early Doors is a site specific piece of theatre set in a pub. It promises to be a lively hour of cracking entertainment and places will be limited so grab them while you can.
Finally, due to the closure of York Art Gallery for a huge refurbishment Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery benefits by hosting a touring exhibition of theirs called Masterstrokes. There is work by David Hockney, LS Lowry, Walter Sickert and Paul Nash and I’m going to try and catch it this week as it comes to an end on the 25th January. I hope 2015 is good to you and if one of your new year’s resolutions is to get out and see more art and entertainment, then I can promise that there will be plenty of it on offer in Harrogate during 2015. Try and catch a show if you can. wwww.harrogatetheatre.co.uk