Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre crack
Theatres are funny places. Often funny funny and frequently, funny peculiar. One of the peculiar aspects is that most theatres I have ever known seemed to be haunted. The Everyman is no exception and if Roger Hendry is to be believed, it is more haunted than most.
I included one of the stories in the recent Haunted Cheltenham article a few months ago but because of the success of the recent production of The Woman in Black I think now would be a good time to delve a bit deeper.
After the show’s first night Roger led a group of thirty fearless volunteers on a backstage tour to explain many of the strange phenomenon he has witnessed over the years.
He chose a good night for it. The group had just been scared out of their wits by probably the best, and certainly the most successful, ghost play ever written for the stage. The Woman in Black tells the story of a middle-aged solicitor who is trying to come to terms with the awful events that happened to him many years previously while dealing with a deceased client’s estate. Appropriately enough he employs a young actor in an old theatre to try and recreate the horrific events.
Roger has been at the Everyman on and off for 40 years so knows every nook and cranny of the place – and all the stories.
One of the strangest is of the Victorian gentleman who Roger first encountered when they were preparing for the redevelopment of the theatre. It happened on 22nd March 1983, a date he remembers well….
“It was the day before my birthday, that’s why I remember. We were moving a safe down from what was the Café Bar. That was down the old spiral staircase that was on the right of the foyer. There were seven or eight of us lowering it on ropes when suddenly this old man appears. We had no idea where he came from because the building was all locked up. What was unusual about him was his appearance. He was like an undertaker, very Victorian with long sideburns. He kept asking what play was on and we kept telling him the theatre was closed. He got a bit irate but finally said good bye and went down the stairs.
He had just got out of sight round the corner when the rope snapped. We all fell backwards and the safe went tumbling down. We went charging after it thinking it must have crushed the old man but when we got there he had disappeared. There was no way he could have got all the way down the stairs in those couple of seconds.”
But that wasn’t the only incident with an old Victorian gentleman. Roger continued, “There used to be an old painting that we used to decorate the sets sometimes. As time went on we realised that if this portrait was not on stage, something would go wrong with the performance. We finally nailed it to the back wall so it would always be there. On our last day before it was all demolished I was leaving the building with Carol, who was the stage-manager, and she said ‘I’m going to rescue the portrait.’ and went back to get it. Two minutes after she took the painting down the wall collapsed leaving a great big hole. It was only then that I realised that this portrait was of the old man we had seen on the stairs.”
But there were other strange happenings backstage. “There was supposed to be a ghost here.” Roger said pointing to the edge of the stage. “He was a stage-hand who fell from the flies [a platform 30 feet above the stage from where scenery is raised and lowered] on to the old wooden stairwell and was killed. He was known as the John, the Human Counterweight. I knew the stairs creaked a bit but I never believed there was a ghost there.
“I used to work the tabs [main curtains at the front of the stage] which used to be in the corner, alongside to the old stairwell. It was an old counterweight system that used to run up and down in a metal frame. There was a locking lever at the bottom and you would raise and lower the curtain by hand. Anyway, one evening I just couldn’t get them to move. I was pulling and pulling the rope but they just wouldn’t budge. I could hear this creaking on the staircase just behind me but I knew there was nobody there. Then Carol arrived and said, ‘Say hello to John.’ I said ‘what?’ She said ‘Say hello to John, quickly.’ So I did. I said ‘Hello John.’ And all of a sudden the tabs just flew out by themselves without me touching them and the stairs started creaking again. ‘That was John,’ Carol said. Very strange and a bit scary.”
Roger had a lot more stories up his sleeve which we may well come back to another time...
Everybody seems to be taking their clothes off for a good cause these days. The pin-up calendar has become a bit of a phenomenon – any group of twelve people who are willing to show all, well nearly all, for charity are at it every January.
It all started of course when the ladies of the Knapely chapter of the Women’s Institute in Yorkshire produced a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research in April 1999.
Their story was made into hugely popular film starring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters et al. The success was no doubt not unrelated to the fact that Ms. Mirren would be showing her cup cakes.
Well, they have now produced a stage version which will be coming to the Everyman in June starring Anne Charleston, Gemma Craven, Letitia Dean, Charlie Dimmock, Sue Holderness, Hannah Waterman and Dean Gaffney as the photographer. I’m sure there are those who will be equally keen to catch a glimps of the cherries on Ms. Dimmock’s buns. All done, of course, in the best possible taste.
Based on an true story, Calendar Girls is quirky, poignant, hilarious and lots of fun.
What you’ve seen or what you’ve missed
Birmingham Royal Ballet made a welcome return to The Everyman at the end of May with three contrasting pieces.
Last performed by the Company in 1981, John Cranko’s lively, often comical work, Brouillards, is danced to nine of Debussy’s piano preludes and is a hauntingly beautiful piece.
Taking inspiration from a medieval poem and woodcut depicting the ‘Danse macabre’, Dance House, created by BRB’s Artistic Director, David Bintley, was prompted by the early death of a friend and colleague who was a dancer. The final piece, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, is a crazy tale of a high-kicking stripper and a happy-go-lucky hero who literally has to dance for his life. Created as part of the world-famous Rodgers and Hart 1930s musical comedy On Your Toes, it follows the adventures of a young American hoofer. It was a work of sparkling vitality, humour and pure entertainment, and provided the perfect ending to a programme of exceptional dance.
Birmingham Royal Ballet has gained an enviable reputation for producing first class work and tours nationally and across the globe. David Bintley, BRB’s Artistic Director said: “Of all the dance performing arts, ballet is the most diverse and the most popular. From classics to the avant garde, from comedies to tragedies and abstraction, ballet does it all.”
Louise Partridge is the Everyman Education Officer. I started by asking her what the job entailed. “I deal with all the projects involving pre-school, primary and secondary schools. That entails visiting schools or them coming in here and my arranging events for them which are related to the curriculum.
“I can arrange for actors to go into the schools or I can arrange workshops. For example, I wrote one recently which was for the children to explore the Second World War. A group of actors played people who were involved in the war. The children can listen to their stories, ask them questions and I then arrange activities around that event.”
And how far afield do Louise’s activities take her? I asked. “All of Gloucestershire and beyond. Anyone that rings up and wants something, we’ll try and set up an event for them. We also arrange events in the theatre. Schools can come in and work around a show that is on. We did workshops related to the Hitler play that was in the Studio recently.”
I asked how Louise had become involved with the Everyman and how long she’d been there. “I trained as an actress, went to drama school, did all that. But bills needed paying so I became a teacher for twenty years. I got a bit fed up with OFSTED and marking and all the unpleasant things about teaching and this job came up last September which was perfect, so here I am.”
I raised the old chestnut about performing new work. Was Louise keen to encourage audiences to see something other than stage versions of TV shows? “With schools, the teachers often like to play safe with The Woman in Black, Blood Brothers and so on, but what I’ve tried to do, in my educational news that I send out, is to highlight things I think they should take a risk with. Something that I think they’d like to see, something that will excite them – The 39 Steps was a good example. That was very popular with schools. Some groups stayed after the show for discussions with the actors and producer. There was a dialogue which fantastic and the kids really loved it. And we took one of the actors out to Balcarras School for more discussions. So, as you can see we’re always very busy.”