For many fans and those in the industry, this is the longest we have gone without physically going to the theatre. My – unknown to me – last trip to the theatre was Thursday 19 March, almost three months ago. Opening Massie-Blomfield’s book (though published in 2018) felt like being welcomed home, and a big reminder for how important and wonderful theatre is.
Taking suggestions from friends and a general consensus, Massie-Blomfield visited twenty of Britain’s most iconic – and sometimes off the radar – theatres. From London to Cornwall, Belfast to the Isle of Mull, the theatres range in their size and the types of productions they put on. For many of us based in London, it certainly serves as a reminder that not all theatre has to be sparkly and commercial, crowded and expensive. Theatre can be – and should be – about the communities it helps to build or elevate, their histories with the art itself, and that it’s okay for it to be in the middle of nowhere. A landmark in the stillness.
I hadn’t heard of most of these theatres myself, and as soon as this pandemic is over I want to take myself on a trip to visit them all.
This is not merely a history book. Instead, it is the combination of history, memoir and conversation. Each theatre is written about so beautifully, whether that be about the Rose Playhouse’s previous life, or the kindness in which the Mull Theatre and its founders Barrie and Marianne Hesketh are spoken about. One particularly engaging passage is a diary entry written on her visit to the Theatre by the Lake, featuring a bit of outdoor swimming. It’s these moments of first-hand experience entwined with the hard facts about each theatres development which makes the book so engaging – the theatre is not merely a building, an artifact, it’s a home to many.
This is an essential book to read for any theatre fan, and anyone wanting to explore more of the arts scene in the UK, particularly outside of London. A beautiful read.