Welcome to my weekly theatre newsletter — a Tuesday delivery instead of Monday, while I continue to suffer a bout of poor mental health, and find it hard to motivate myself to write. But write I must, if only to communicate this — I’ve long been open about these struggles, as being honest in this keeps me honest as a critic, too. And sharing it lets others know they are not alone. So I hope I’m helping others, too, which is a bigger achievement than any other if I am.
I’m struck how many of my former critical colleagues have been similarly afflicted, including Charles Spencer, Paul Taylor and Ian Shuttleworth, former respective chief critics of the Daily Telegraph, Independent and Financial TImes; I’m not betraying their confidentiality to reveal this, as each of them have been similarly public about their problems.
I don’t know if our sensitivity to mood — our own or others — makes us more receptive to theatre or not, but theatre has long provided me with a way of helping me to make sense of my own life as I navigate its depths but also its breadth.
And breaths: the most captivating part of theatre is its aliveness, in which you are sharing the air with the actors and other audience members. That sometimes comes at a high price: it is being reported with increasing frequency about audiences behaving with not enough respect to each other and causing immense disruptions that have led to the police being called at performances of Hamilton and The Bodyguard in Manchester, for instance, in the last year.
But I’ve also written here and elsewhere about my need to find a life beyond the theatre, and not merely live in a theatre bubble of my own making. It’s one of the things that led to my husband and I relocating to a home in West Sussex two and a half years ago.
And sitting in my garden overlooking the South Downs yesterday afternoon, it’s impossible not to feel some kind of peace looking at this view.
I still have access to the theatre, in London and elsewhere (including, less than 25 minutes from my doorstep, one of the country’s leading producing theatres, Chichester Festival Theatre, whose incoming artistic director Justin Audibert will soon announce his first summer season).
As regular readers will know, I also travel regularly to New York, too, though I just took a decision to call off the trip I’d planned for the end of next month, as I don’t feel strong enough to do it.
A HAPPY INSPIRATION
Last Friday I attended a 99th birthday celebration for Blanche Marvin (pictured below), one of the most inspiring people I know, that was attended by many fellow critics past and present (including Michael Billington, Lyn Gardner, Fiona Mountford, Alistair Macaulay, Roger Foss and Bill Hagerty), as well as not one by two former artistic directors of the Royal Court (Stephen Daldry and Ian Rickson).
There were also appearances by veteran actors like Anna Carteret and Sheila Reid, the latter of whom I’ve just seen being utterly brilliant and immensely moving in Channel 4’s BIG BOYS as a grandmother drifting into dementia, so taking my picture with her (below) was a fanboy moment.
But most importantly I want to pay tribute to Blanche herself, in whose honour the party was being thrown. She has long believed in me, even (or especially) when I can’t believe in myself. She has remarkable antennae for emotional distress: I will never forget running into her at the Barbican Centre in 2012 on the very day another bout of depression arrived, and she KNEW I was in trouble.
She has been there for me ever since, championing and encouraging me when I most need it. I am proud to call her my friend.
FAREWELL TO STEWART PERMUTT
Scrolling through Facebook on Sunday, I chanced upon a posting from the actor Jessica Martin:
My life had crossed paths with Stewart regularly too: during my first job, editing theatre programmes at Dewynters, I had worked on his West End debut play EXCLUSIVE YARNS that premiered at the Comedy THeatre (now the Pinter) in 1988, which starred Lesley Joseph (It was while doing this play that she was seen by Laurence Marks, which led to her starring role in TV”s Birds of a Feather).
More amusingly, and personally, we both subsequently shared (though not at the same time!) a lover called Steve, who worked for the post office and whom we therefore referred to as the postman when we would knowingly talk about him.
Stewart was also an actor whom I regularly saw onstage, particularly during Ian Marshall Fisher’s long-running season of concert performances of neglected musicals at the Theatre Museum and elsewhere, where he was always reliably hilarious.
He was just 73 when he died — far too young, and another chastening reminder of how we need to live for every single day we are given.
….AND FAREWELL TO MARTIN McCULLUM
Last week also saw the passing of Martin McCallum — coincidentally, also aged just 73 — of theatre producer and administrator Martin McCallum, who was managing director and vice-chairman of Cameron Mackintosh’s London headquarters up to 2003.
In a press statement, Mackintosh said that he was “
hugely instrumental, along with Nick Allott, in establishing my company as a significant worldwide theatre business, allowing me the time to concentrate on creating new shows.”
While Mackintosh was very much the public face of the company and its guiding creative force, McCallum was leading business decisions behind-the-scenes, including the purchase and refurbishment of what became Delfont Mackintosh Theatres.
McCallum, who had begun his career in subsidised theater as a production manager at Olivier’s National Theatre (first at the Old Vic, before making the move to the South Bank with the company), saw part of a seachange in the industry spearheaded by Mackintosh’s success: speaking on an Australian podcast series called Stages in 2018, he said,
“It wasn’t until Les Mis and Phantom started to proliferate that people realised these shows could become really serious business machines. For me, that was the death of it because that’s what attracted the corporate world to theatre. Suddenly it became as important as film. Phantom grossed more than Titanic.”
During his time at Cameron Mackintosh Ltd, he also took time out to be president of SOLT for four years from 1999, and chair of the Donmar Warehouse (during Sam Mendes’s tenure) from 1992 to 2003, so he gave back to the theatre extensively. And in 2002, he produced one of my all–time favourite cabaret shows, PHILIP QUAST LIVE AT THE DONMAR, as part of their Divas at the Donmar series; that’s a series I initiated, and as readers of last week’s newsletter will know, Phil Quast and I are now close friends, too, so (as another blogger friend is fond of saying), “everything connects.”
See you here next Monday
I will be here again next Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/, as well as Instagram with the same handle (@ShentonStage)