Blancheblanche marvin's london theatreviews

recommended by Peter Brook
**** = stand if necessary
*** = sit in front stalls
** = sit in back stalls
* = have a drink!


Soho Place Theatre
There are times when one sees the importance of something new and realises it’s bigger than just another event…it is a concept so much bigger than any new event…. or building. The Greeks built theatres with their originally invented concept of being huge, round, and in open air, where action and speech were directly heard and seen by the audience. Masks were worn to enlarge the face with tubes inside to project the speech. Those amphitheatres still exist today….all the stadiums and many outdoor theatres are built in the round like the Greek Epidaurus (or ½ to ¾ round)…. which still function with the same consequence. The Greeks invented an ingenious way of communicating with the people by including both the intellect and the emotions. So building a theatre today and in London, where there are so many theatres, is an act of bravery. New theatres like the Bridge, along the embankment near the breath-taking Tower bridge, (not too far from the National, that concrete block of 3 theatres from big, middle to small with open-spaced lobbies and restaurants) which is a huge 1200 seater with vast open spaced lobbies for eating and drinking whose design looks like a cinema and whose stage converts to all shapes but whose acoustics vary to actors best heard when speaking out front. Smaller local (far from west end) theatres like the Park are typically built or the 100-seat Boulevard erected in Soho with a circular moving-round stage (theatre is now non-functional due to the covid virus), or the simple functional theatres built in Kings Cross…..none can compare in its concept with the first new West End theatre built in 50 years or that it is the only West End theatre built in the round with 602 seats, in its own independent building. Despite being located in an area with new undergrounds, railways, tube stations running beneath it (Tottenham Court Road’s new tube and the new Crossrail hub), it is still sound proof with no vibrations. Though in the round, it can be converted to all the configurations required. But it is a building of medium size on its own so that its vast lobbies of light and colour outmatch those huge lobbies of the enormous 1500-seat theatres. The National or the Gillian Lyne Theatres may have the unusual open-spaced lobbies with light but project an atmosphere of a pop jamboree performed in stadiums, the National being more seriously geared for reading and writing. But this new medium-sized theatre built in the West End in Soho is totally unique in a newly modern designed exterior with glass walls that let in light, while indoors one is captivated by the lepidolite (lepodite) floors and columns that change their shades of blue, a golden staircase on marbled steps in the lobby leading to the bars and theatre with outdoor terraces following the glass walls of the building that surround the theatre. Wherever it faces the outdoors, there are glass walls to let in the light. Though stone floors dominate, there are carpets leading to the inner theatre and its staircase. The actual auditorium of the inner theatre itself is in the round, every seat has perfect sightlines of the stage, the soundless atmosphere above all those railways, the easy seats allowing leg-room, a stage that is built with mechanisms that lift and lower the sets for immediate change and music possibly played from every corner of the theatre. There are bars, dressing rooms, rehearsal space, loos, and a green room for the actors. The restaurant is on the ground floor open from midday to midnight, facing Tottenham Court Road, a major road in the mid-West End. But where is it LOCATED in SOHO? On Soho Place, the first new street name in Soho for 72 years! Soho Pace faces Soho Square as the old world faces the new. Sohoplace is a theatre building containing a theatre-in-the-round which is still named Sohoplace. The building has a huge screen show-signage of the house viewing Charing Cross Road and a large screen in the centre of the front façade on Soho Place. The building, itself, stands in the heart of Derwent London’s 300m pound regeneration project at the northeast corner of Soho. Nature regenerates itself bringing the phenomenon of Spring. But to regenerate the theatre in such destructive times brings a breath of fresh air and a deep sense of continuity. It was Derwent London’s first class team to overcome all the engineering challenges to achieve the building of a theatre with perfect acoustics and no vibrations above a mass of tube lines and Crossrail with its gigantic extractor fan. In addition to all these innovations, there stands the figure of Nica Burns whose enormous spirit and love of theatre has achieved this wonderment. From her background of promoting theatre in festivals and owning the Vaudeville, Apollo, Duchess, Palace theatres in the West End, this new Sohoplace theatre also reflect’s Nica Burn’s dream of the ancient Greek Epidaurus theatre where, ‘ in the last rays of the sunset she felt its magic to be duplicated in Sohoplace, laid out in constellations with crystal star lights’. And added to all of this, is the greatest most original concept of all…a non-profit theatre of middle–size in the West End! So in this era of such destruction comes a magical light of hope and beauty… the making of Sohoplace, a non-profit theatre, where the name of the actual theatre space should be christened Nica Burns.

Building castles in the air
Are games that children play
Building castles real and fair
Become a tall tale to relay

So is the dream of a loving soul
To build and boundlessly bestow
The joys of life without paying its toll
Letting talent just grow and grow

Till it becomes life’s golden touch
Which makes a world achieve so much
And who has built this magical place
A girl named Nica with her winning face

As long as daisies grow
and lilies bloom
As long as grey skies
turn blue
As long as rain
Is gentle as the dew
Then life is full in knowing you.

PETER BROOK TRIBUTE by blanche marvin
There has been endless attention and obituaries in all the news media over Peter Brook’s death ….far more than when he was alive. In all of these obituaries none of the critics, including the ones who were part of the team that helped its functioning (excepting Mark Shenton), mentioned the Empty Space…Peter Brook Awards, started by me in 1998, when the Arts Council suddenly changed its policy from subsidising the fringe theatres, no matter the size of attendance. They then demanded a track record. I had a small department at the Arts Council where I was discovering new writers, archiving and placing the plays in those fringe theatres. This sudden change of policy left me bereft……I then began to think of a means of continuing this important programme on my own. Deeply believing that Peter Brook had not only changed the world of William Shakespeare with Midsummers Night’s Dream, but also carried through and opened the horizons of the profound concept of the French cave theatres. Paris having just been freed of the German occupation, and with little money, opened any available space to perform and express that existential period via its brilliant writers which influenced world theatre. The Hamburg Opera House’s use of its space for improvised new plays as well as the classics bore its influence upon him. Peter Brook, who embodied the concept that buildings do not make theatre but an empty space with an actor who had something to say, whether it be Shakespeare or current contemporary plays, made theatre. That concept opened theatre to and from the world.
There was no need for huge sums of monies or buildings, but the will and drive of the theatre-makers to express the will of the people took over, in whatever space that was possible in postwar Britain. His early work in opera at the Royal Opera House may have updated opera, despite their rejection with Brook’s avant-garde approach plus his much later work with Magic Flute and and Carmen which also changed the course of opera. But years passed and Peter Brook left England to create his theatre in France (Bouffe du Nord) from where he could travel world-wide with those great productions of the Mahabharata (the classic Indian myths collaborated with Jean-Claude Carriere) which projected its message mostly through image and gesture, Conference of the Birds (based on 12th century Persian poem), and Tierno Bokar, a bio-drama about a Malian Sufi, etc etc. Brook continued his work at the Bouffes du Nord and toured round the world. He spent little time in England and only some time in Scotland.
It was the work of the Empty Space….Peter Brook Awards that reawakened the impact of Brook’s concepts. The Empty Space…Peter Brook Awards opened doors and helped to legitimatise fringe theatre; its team of leading critics brought an awareness, recognition and legitimacy to the writers and work of these empty-space theatres. It also brought back Peter Brook, himself, to England . We ended in 2017 after 28 years of innovative work in bringing the fringe into the main stream. But times change, our premise was redundant, and the concept of awards became so abused, it lost its real impact. Our award had a very particular meaning and service; it came to its natural end. But it brought Peter Brook back to London with his varied productions at the Young Vic under the hand of David Lan and at the National theater under the directorship of Rufus Norris. His list of contemporary plays that were performed in France and toured (including London) were a far cry from Shakespeare (although Brook directed his intimate version of the Tempest)… Caryl Churchill’s Far Away, Oliver Sack’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, The Valley of Astonishment. And there was that period when Samuel Beckett and the French Antonin Artaud in his “theatre of cruelty”, influenced Brook’s Marat /Sade in 1964 while the German writer Peter Weiss influenced US in 1966, an improvised anti-war play on the Vietnam war. In addition his fable plays like The Suit or The Prisoner emphasised his shaman side rather than Shakespeare, not to mention his books The Tip of the Tongue (describing the potency of words), Playing by Ear (the importance of music), The Quality of Mercy (an insight into Shakespeare), or his workshops and consultations with directors.
He thought in depth, taught and directed with grace, and was open to the constancy of change. We shall not see his like again. Goodnight, sweet Prince, and may the flight of angels sing thee to thy rest.

To PETER BROOK March 21, 1925-June2,2022
The Wildness of His Passion………………….by blanche marvin

Fire and water, life’s elements together
Direct the base of Earth’s weather
Extinguish one with just the other
Yet in unison, it created steam
Evolving the man-made machine
Changing the world into this extreme.
Fire and water are a fugal force
Erupting at will, or from a controlled source.
Fire like passion will explode
Water breathes life to nature’s mold
Trees grow, birds fly….
Life itself does multiply.
Fire and water are Peter’s fashion
Fragmenting with fiery passion
Or watering life with tender care
A free spirit, aspiring to air.
Fly, oh fly, migrating soul….
Keep moving the light to create the whole!

Love To Peter…………………………………………… blanche marvin

In the loss of a leg,
An amputation
One feels the leg still there.
The aura of where it was
Is still there.
The flesh is gone
But the inherent space
Its space...its shape
Its shape in space
Is still there.

And so it is with friends
In profound love.
Love is then a force,
A base of life.
Love a mover, a shaper
Love a doer, giver, truster
Is still there.

And the love one lost
Not there?
No, it's still there.
Love the force,
A base of life.
Love a mover, giver, truster
Is still there
For the one who loves.

Current Cricket theatre history and its play
The Cricket Theatre, the first of the Off Broadway theatres, started in 1958 in New York City on Second Avenue in the leisure space of a church built within a block of flats, has the list of productions listed below. It produced many important plays and created many stars and writers. The Merri Mimes children’s theatre company was the first theatre to professionalise children’s theatre in New York which was an important part of the Cricket ‘s programming. Blanche Marvin was artistic director of the Cricket theatre and of the Merri Mimes, the 7th of the Off Broadway theatres that created the category of Off Broadway. She wrote, produced, and sometimes directed 15 fairytale plays for the Merri-Mimes, using the classical styles of theatre. Cinderella was done as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, The Firebird as a Japanese Noah play, The Pied Piper as the Greek classic Orestes, etc, etc All the 15 plays are published by Samuel French. The theatre also ran new plays that Broadway neglected…. Blood Knot by Athol Fugard premiered at the Cricket theatre and Blanche Marvin along with Lucille Lortel brought this unknown South African writer to the USA where he lived in the Cricket’s office. Hamlet of Stepney Green (starring Blanche Marvin) was Bernard Kops first theatre production and in the USA. The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, Krapps Last Tape by Samuel Beckett also played at the Cricket, sponsoring two unknown writers in the USA, now famous. Alan Alda performed his first play at the Cricket. The list goes on and on. I closed the theatre in 1968 when Llily Turner, the lease holder to whom I paid the rent for the space as she had the master lease which included her theatre above me, a church, which was within the apartment-house building. She kept the money for herself and never paid the actual rent to the landlord who owned the apartment building including the church and my theatre (the church’s recreation space), Rhet Cone and I built that theatre from scratch…white and yellow which gave it a lightness and warmth. We were the STARTERS of Off Broadway and brought the new writing that the French existentialists introduced into the theatre after World War II. The Merri Mimes changed the face of children’s theatre which encouraged children theatre companies to become professional. The Cricket died but then again the original Off Broadway movement to help the beginners also died as it now is as commercialised as Broadway with less money to be gained. The list below gives the dates and names of shows performed at the Cricket.
Blanche Marvin creator and artistic director closed Cricket Theatre & Merri Mimes in 1968.

Shows @ the Cricket Theatre including Merri-Mimes Children’s theatre
04/12/1971-04/18/1971Six (1971) Theatre closed after this
01/19/1965-05/02/1965Cindy (1965)
03/01/1964-09/27/1965The Blood Knot (1964)
12/16/1963-12/16/1963Crime and Crime (1963)
05/21/1963-05/23/1963Night of the Auk (1963)
01/23/1963-02/10/1963I got Shoes (1963)
12/04/1962-12/07/1962The Night is Black Bottles (1962)
10/11/1962-10/28/1962A Whisper in God's Ear (1962)
1961-1963Zoo Story/Krapps Last Tape (1961-2)

PETER BROOK and SHAKESPEARE at the Institut Francais ©Blanche Marvin 2019>
The fantastic celebration at the Institute Francais launched Peter Brook’s new book: Playing by Ear: Reflections on Music and Sound. The programme was divided into panels: Brook’s Shakespeare and the Critics, B’s Worldwide Shakespeare, Peter Brook in Conversation with Trevor Nunn, B’s Shakespeare in France, B’s Shakespeare and Directors, B’s Shakespeare and the Actors. Each panel, after the speeches, held lively discussions upon the impact of Shakespeare which were extremely stimulating.

Though all the sections were enlightening and full of stories, the two sections that were mesmerising were Peter Brook in Conversation with Trevor Nunn and Brook’s Shakespeare and the Actors. They brought an amazing insight into the continuity of theatre as an art form as it existed in those days and revealed the loss of art we are now undergoing. Trevor Nunn related how in seeing Peter Brook’s productions as a boy, he was inspired to become a director, and like in the days of apprenticeship, learned the ropes of the trade. They discussed Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and how Trevor Nunn gleaned from it, the inspiration of invention in staging Shakespeare. Peter Brook talked about the specific Shakespeare plays he had directed with the great actors. Trevor Nunn discussed his interpretation in the staging of those plays using the tools he learned from Peter Brook. They discussed the fact that they directed ensemble companies where actor and director had years of working and growing together with rehearsal periods lasting 11 weeks. Actors were dedicated into becoming artists and not egotists seeking fame, as most are today. They became theatre actors and not television stars. Working together to create a work of art united a company into a family growing together….. and that ensemble of actors rehearsed with the same technicians as well as directors. The familiarity of growing together allowed for the exploration into new and inventive vistas. In the actors’ section, chaired by Janet Suzman, Frances de la Tour, Sarah Kestelman, and Ben Kingsley spoke of the years of ensemble acting and their interdependency. How in the Dream they improvised inventive singing with some of the dialogue as encouraged by Brook. How they supported one another in improvisation. That integrated polished production, that feeling of a complete work professionally perfect, alongside of the experimenting, kept the production fresh for the long runs and tours. Still it was being kept together as an ensemble that allowed the growth. We in the audience followed the progress of the actors and grew up with them. It was Trevor Nunn who observed Brook’s productions at the Royal Shakespeare theatre and when he became artistic director it was a giant step. Nunn had the opportunity to create an ensemble company at the RSC where actors like Ian McKellen, Judy Dench, Patrick Stewart, Alan Howard, Bob Peck, Ian Richardson, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Helen Mirron, Janet Suzman, Edward Petheridge, etc, etc, were part of the ensemble ….and where each and every one became a star after first being a solid actor. The attitude of work and not just becoming famous motivated everyone while the masterful material given to Brook and Nunn was respected.

Brook’s Shakespeare and the Actors panel, consisting of Janet Suzman, Sara Kestelman, Frances de la Tour, Ben Kingsley, and Adrian Lester, talked about the way Brook directed them in mutual exploration so that from the very start at rehearsals a company was blended. In doing Shakespeare and the classical plays….material of greatness…. they developed their technique in performing in a range of styles and the capacity to portray characters. Adrian Lester was not in the original Dream, but did perform Hamlet in Brook’s more condensed version of Hamlet many years later with similar reactions to Brook’s approach in staging a play. Lester also portrayed Rosalind in As You Like It. Brook’s Shakespeare and the Directors panel, chaired by Stephen Unwin, with Robert Icke, Jude Kelly, David Thacker, Deborah Warner, after much discussion regarding Shakespeare and their productions, finally agreed that their job in the theatre was to storytell. Brook’s Worldwide Shakespeare panel chaired by Paul Allain with panelists Maria Delgado, Simon Godwin, and Grzegorz Ziolkowski covered the effects of Shakespeare as interpreted in so many countries under so many cultures.

The exchange of ideas and experiences, the discovery of information, the recognition and respect was a joy to behold. My speech below on the critics panel is here enclosed, though sadly unspoken due to my misunderstanding of time.

We’ve come together to celebrate Peter Brook and the innovations he’s created with his staging of Shakespeare. But first, I must begin by celebrating that at 94 years old, he is still writing, directing and innovating while others have fallen by the wayside. Whether it’s fate or genes or plain determination, Peter Brook is still here. I know what strength it takes to still go on. At 94, I can testify to that better than anyone. So here’s to Peter Brook, may he continue to thrive!

World fame came to Peter because of the extraordinary, innovative way he directed Shakespeare’s A Midsummers Night’s Dream at the renowned RSC. He modernised it so that everyone could follow it more easily, keeping the lilting lyricism of Shakespeare’s language and coordinating it with its setting…..a circus arena…..and not the actual Elizabethan scenery. You may call it abstracting Shakespeare, but it is beyond that. Characterisations for the actors as circus folk freed them from the usual restrictions and allowed them to create their own inner dimensions. Everyone in theatre was affected by that giant step.

There have always been changes in theatre spaces throughout the history of civilisation. The Italians performed street theatre before Roman times, the Greeks created amphitheatres for epic theatre, theatres in France and England entertained the court. People’s theatre came into being bearing fruit in Shakespeare’s time in the indoor and outdoor venues for the masses as well as the elite. Postwar World War 2 in Paris created les caves…space in cellars to accommodate the existentialism of a disillusioned era, the Off-Broadway movement happened as a result which I helped to instigate with my Cricket Theatre, one of the founding Off-Broadway theatres. Festivals like Edinburgh were born where any space will do...but what Peter Brook did with A Midsummers Night’s Dream was to bring the fringe of les caves, Off-Broadway, street theatre, etcetera together and legitimise it through the RSC, thus creating a lasting and evolving new era in theatre achieved by converting that mountainous power of legitimate theatre into the Brook concept.

It was also Peter Brook’s concept that space could be everywhere and anywhere, but what you say with it makes theatre. You may perform with greatness, but it’s the storytelling that matters. And that concept is bigger than style. Peter Brook initiates by concept and that is the moving force of progress...the caveman who conceived the idea of taking a stone and making a wheel...Isaac Newton who discovered gravity via an apple falling from a tree... James Watt who invented the steam engine, and Einstein in his theory of relativity changed the world.

The contemporary inventions of the computer. Google, and the i-phone may have made knowledge more accessible but have also dehumanised social behaviour. In recent years, theatre has become mesmerised by the pyrotechnics of production but despairing in professional play structure or storytelling. Peter Brook prefers to use sparse settings but great storytelling where emotions are aroused and a pensive light shines through. He has continued with A Midsummer’s Night Dream, extending its concepts and eventually turning us back into the heart of the matter rather than relying on showy physical productions to attract attention. He prefers to focus on direct storytelling and the creation of characters.

Peter Brook has always functioned with this concept as his inspiration…his base for theatre whether it was doing Shakespeare at the RSC or The Birds at the Donmar Warehouse, where he actually legitimised fringe theatre as a main form of studio theatre. He travelled and toured to all sorts of spaces and places where the theatre itself or the location became the prop…The Conference of the Birds, The Mahabharata…but always as a stage for the storytelling. We are here today to celebrate the theatre revolution that Peter Brook has brought about. The participating actors will be able to personally describe his effect upon them as will all the other theatre people who have helped to sustain theatre as an art form. We are here today to acknowledge Peter Brook’s credo in keeping the world alive with truth and beauty.

SAVING BRITISH THEATRE DURING THE LOCKDOWN June 2020 We are living today through a very serious catastrophe which will bring about changes in the theatre that may permanently remain. Answers… alternatives are being researched and pondered. I am sure there are many leading lights inventing solutions for the west end theatres’ and producing companies’ survival, not owned by billionaires, who will find solutions for all theatres and theatre producing companies, and not just be concerned in maintaining their own. Theatre is more seriously affected whether it is drama, music or dance, because they are social occasions where the live chemistry of seeing, hearing, and performing, is a basic need of human beings. It will take time for theatre to recover even in a revised form that will probably happen. A newly coordinated organization is needed to rebuild the theatre using its imagination and creativity in restoring the old and new structures. I am sorry not to be able to physically join such a group but will always be eager to help verbally or by the written word. The fact is that theatre will never die because it is part of the human spirit which stimulates hope. It’s that energy and persistence which must be maintained. Temporary measures are needed now as well as a look to the future.

There are many important issues to discuss but for now I feel the theatres can be used to rehearse only plays allowing distance or a split screen which is then videoed for screening in the theatres of these actual plays to be eventually seen live. An ensemble company should be formed by the group of theatres and producers to build a technical company like NT Live in order to shoot the plays where expenses are shared as well as giving technicians work. Tickets can be purchased by email or post and seating 6-9 feet apart in theatres is possible financially if you rerun the video several times during the day or night. They are also very important as a record of the show and as a means of selling the productions to other regions and cities outside of London which could turn out to be useful during new live-video theatre performances at the London theatre or even become a future feature at the London theatre as a Sunday programme. Dress rehearsals could have special or technical audiences for audience reaction, limited but useful.

The Art Council’s new approach has been changed by the lockdown as they now consider funding empty theatres for survival, accepting their community work as a replacement for plays. I have been following the various alternatives of current survival that are concerned in producing work on video without the need of filling a theatre. Buildings are a distinct problem needing special alternatives. If the Arts Council supports non-commercial buildings that have a distinct job of servicing a community, then why not save the west end theatres that need support as historic buildings?

I started the Empty Space….Peter Brook Award when the Arts Council changed its original premise of supporting new venues in order to keep new writers and writing alive despite any size of audience. When they suddenly changed to demanding a track record, they switched their whole raison d’etre. It was then, I initiated the Peter Brook Award to compensate. At that time the fringe theatre was the producer and initiated new productions from up and coming writers, directors, and actors. But that changed as productions became more costly and visiting companies began to occupy more and more of the theatres. The artistic directors of fringe theatre became administrators rather than producers. More and more companies have now dominated the scene and should be the ones receiving the Arts Council grants as this is a major change in the theatre. They fill the theatres as they increase in numbers. This enormous focus on companies was why I stopped the Peter Brook Award. It outlived its purpose.

But since the Arts Council does support buildings…. the time has come to support commercial theatres if they are in trouble…and also concentrate on companies who can run in commercial as well as non-commercial theatres. The difficulty lies in theatre being an art form requiring social participation…that chemical excitement from seeing something live where anything can happen and is shared with others. The human race has always needed social experiences, which is why one has to accept that recovery will take a longer time. The lower count on audiences as well as actors projecting their voices to the audience exposing the virus more easily or keeping 6 -9 feet apart on stage night after night is impossible. Theatre cannot be adapted away from its basic foundation. But I can see, until the tide turns, it can be turned into cinemas houses that show only plays filmed of great companies, actors, and eras. Seating 6 feet apart for audiences will work because it’s possible the film can be shown many times in one day and run for a week or two depending on its appeal. For example, the Vaudeville is perfect for cinema and can show the socially slanted classic plays so well recorded and filmed….Chekhov, Ibsen, G.B.Shaw, Shakespeare, Dickens ….productions done at NT and RSC filmed and recorded. The Palace could show Harry Potter films continually; the Duchess could project the Ealing Comedies, the Carry On films…. theatre focusing on comedies; the Apollo could concentrate on musicals which have evolved from theatre. The Sondheim theatre can run Les Mis on film with no problem. In such a programme, you have the connection with theatre…its plays, directors, and actors specifically shown and repeated in order to compensate for the loss of income in distanced seating. There should be Arts Council assistance for cinema theatrre as they have already switched direction in subsidising the survival of local theatres (no longer fringe or studio theatres but are now local) in their filmed monologues or in theatre, their live readings or recorded ones, alternatives for survival never done before. The closed years of theatre will not destroy it. New inventions will come of it. We still refer to and use the Greek theatre today…we will refer to the British theatre tomorrow….the theatre will return. by blanche marvin