Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's Grand!

Swansea's Grand Theatre is at the heart of the city's arts and entertainment. The largest theatre in the area, its programme is varied and crowd-pleasing; from the Christmas pantomime to the annual summer repertory season, with the Ladyboys of Bangkok, the Welsh National Opera and Jim Davidson in between, there's something for everyone. The theatre was opened in 1897 by Adelina Patti, a world-famous opera singer who had a home in the Welsh hills, and the first show to be put on was the Japanese opera, The Geisha. The first panto opened on December 20 that year and was Robinson Crusoe.
The theatre soon became a popular venue with the stars of the time including Sir Henry Irving and Ivor Novello.
During the 1960s and 70s, like regional theatres everywhere, the Grand fell on hard times. Television looked set to take over from live entertainment, the theatre fell into a state of disrepair, and there were regular threats of closure.
In the late 70s, Swansea Council purchased the theatre, but it wasn't until the 1980s that a multi-million pound refurbishment package was funded, turning the Grand, once more, into one of the most technically advanced and aesthetically pleasing theatres in the UK.
As I said, its repertoire includes all sorts: tribute bands, 60s has-beens, rude comedians, children's shows, dancers - ballet, Irish, Russian etc - and amateur musical productions, but we like the 'proper plays' best. The rep season was revived in 1997, the year of the theatre's centenary, and has been going strong since. And the summer season is the main opportunity to see drama and comedy in an old-fashioned form. This year we've seen Cash on Delivery (with Curly Watts from Corrie), The Decorator (with Dirty Den from Eastenders), and this week, we're off to see Dead Guilty (with Lorraine Chase of 'No, Luton Airport' advert fame). (I didn't say it was great drama!)
My first experience of the theatre was going to the panto as a child. My mum worked for the local bus company and a few days after Christmas, staff children would be picked up - by bus naturally - and taken to the panto, where we'd be given sweets and told to behave. I loved the panto but hated the experience of being alone amongst all these children I didn't know.
But it set me up for a lifetime of theatre-going. It amazes me how few people know at any point in time what is on at their local theatre. The theatre is jam-packed for the amateur productions and the rude comedians, the tribute bands and the panto, but anything that is billed as a play has far smaller audiences. I'm not sure why that is.
One of my favourite must-sees that comes to the Grand every now and again is the Reduced Shakespeare Company. These three young men (different each time but always three young men) do a range of productions including the Complete Works of Shakespeare, the History of the World, the Bible etc each in one evening. They're jolly jaunts and if you haven't seen them, do!


Chris said...

Well, that's not a bad photo, considering!

Isn't it funny how 'proper' plays struggle to attract an audience but musicals have them standing in the aisles. Wish it wasn't so.

Sir James Beiggelschwarz said...

Important that such as this survive.

Newmania said...

I love the theatre as well WCL , we can`t get a baby sitter much at the moment but I enjoy anything from Shakespeare to The Caretaker to Abba The Show .

Hope all well


Newmania said...

PS I have linked to you ...I have only just found out how to do it ..or blogger has changed or something

Shades said...

I think I went to the Swansea Grand once, backstage, but have no recollection of it. The Safety Curtain must have been in...

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Great post, Liz and good photo too! I knew nothing of the theatre's history so was fascinated. Interesting to know how your own love of the theatre began, too.