CLOSURE OF BRIDEWELL THEATRE
Jill Martin, Kate Arneil, Edward Baker Duly, Paul Baker, Lisa Baird, Tracie Bennett, Emma Bispham, Dominic Brewer, Ian Burford, Harry Burton, Clare Burt, Seainin Brennan, Michael Cahill, Mark Carroll, Joshua Dallas, Jeremy David, Janie Dee, Anna Francolini, Gavin James, Jessica Martin, James Millard, Sam Newman, Suzi Pattinson, Frances Ruffelle, Golda Rosheuvel, Sally Ann Triplett, Phong Truong. (Excerpts from new works by Conor Mitchell & Grant Olding)
There was an air of unreality, unbelievability indeed, at the first of two retrospective evenings at which more than forty of the artists whose talents have contributed to Bridewell Theatre's ground breaking success in developing the genre of musical theatre in London came back to present a semi-staged show of remarkable professionalism. Unbelievable how ten years of history were condensed into a few hours on a Sunday evening, and unreal to contemplate the abandonment of one of the most delightful and serviceable arts venues in the heart of the City.
Nestling in a spectacular position under Wren's St Bride's Church, this converted swimming pool had been transformed into a much-loved flexible theatre, which has seen numerous memorable productions. Its sight-lines are excellent, the acoustics ideal (without amplification) for musical theatre with piano or small group accompaniment. As recently as 1999 a Lottery/Arts Council grant had enabled the conversion of the Laundry Room into a spacious welcoming bar.
The Bridewell under Carole Metcalfe has been a huge success story, and most of her work is at risk of imminent destruction unless a fairy-tale prince comes forward to stem the haemorrhaging of its finances, which have been absorbed in paying rent just to keep the doors open, since they have been unable to secure the core funding needed to run the Bridewell Theatre beyond 2004.
She told us how only in September did she learn that the Arts Council, which had become increasingly receptive to The Bridewell's claims upon its moneys, was unable to commit to funding for the next five years, so what were planned as celebratory concerts turned into farewells. It had been "so frustrating" to have got so near to establishing more durably "what the country needs" - quality development of that theatrical genre to which most people go.
We have covered Bridewell productions regularly, and previously in Guide Magazine and Seen&Heard, and have admired their flair for presenting old musicals in new ways, and for nurturing and presenting innovative new musical-theatre work, including guest companies, most recently the operas Family Matters in February.
Carole Metcalfe chose that the third part of the concert should reflect the theatre's workshops with new composers and writers, and include new work by young composers "who need support to try, fail and try again". She made a special mention of the Bridewell Youth Theatre, whose young members will be dismayed if it all has to come suddenly to an end.To counterpoint the recurrent themes of relationships starting, breaking down and the false illusions of happy singledom, Sam Piperato had contributed a hilarious song about penguins enthusiastically interbreeding 'We Keep Sex in the Family', from Great Scott (lyrics by Steve Bell & Hugh Card) A Belfast composer, Conor Mitchell, brought a welcome jazz influence and pianistic authority into his songs from "Who's Harry" and "Have a Nice Life". Grant Olding's piece "Three Sides" was represented by a clever song about a threesome waiting for a lift to come, the leathered-girl tempted by the two men vying for her attention "unattached and not unattractive". The evening showcased the high standard of singing training of today's stars, with superlative diction and sparing, controlled vibrato (none of the wide wobbling which afflicts many opera singers). There was dedicated support at the piano, Dean Austin (Musical Director) in particular showing indefatigable energy which gave a huge lift to the performances.
There is clearly a need for fuller development of native talent, instead of losing students to USA where there is currently the only school for Musical Theatre. In a concert like tonight's, one does become a little conscious of the abiding conventions by which musical settings are bound; lyrics and stories seem to be venturing upon wide ranging and more contemporary stories. Cross fertilisation between aspiring composers of "musicals" and those experimenting with opera (such as those six who collaborated in Tête à Tête's Family Matters at The Bridewell) and who are not so bound by the tonal imperative, seems to be a way forward?
She chose to end the evening before the partying with a reminder of the first musical they had put on during her reign, a powerful number from Sondheim's Pacific Overtures. Stephen Sondheim's influence has been a constant over the years at The Bridewell. His Sweeney Todd there (click on the link for our 'in depth review') our best rememberd production of that perennial favourite, and Eyam (1998) on The Plague, by Sondheim disciple Andrew Peggie to book & lyrics by Stephen Clark - one which failed to fill The Bridewell at the time because of its unlikely subject, and has proved hard to sell on, so its director told me in conversaion with Carole Metcalfe in one of the intervals. In these times of new plagues needing understanding and compassion, Eyam should urgently be revived with a small, touring company which could take it to festivals like Edinburgh's fringe, and to colleges and schools. With a suitable educational pack, it would engender lively and fruitful discussion.
Tickets for 12th December: £30.00 (reserved seats at £35.00 each) Performances begin @ 6:30pm BOX OFFICE: 020 7936 3456 BRIDEWELL THEATRE, BRIDE LANE , LONDON EC4Y8EQ. www.bridewelltheatre.co.uk.
© Peter Grahame Woolf