Notes from West London

50 years’ worth of theatre programmes

Last month I posted this piece about the dozen Oscar-winners that I have seen perform on stage (11 in London, one in Stratford-on-Avon). To jog my memory before drafting it I “spent a few hours … going through all the theatre programmes that I have collected over the last 50 years”. I then put the programmes back in the box where they have been stored for the last year or two.

If you are a theatre-goer (frequent, occasional or otherwise) do you have a view on theatre programmes? Do buy them whenever you see a play, and if so do you keep them? And where? Or do you see them as a waste of money and would never dream of buying one?

My view on them, implicitly if not fully thought-through until recently, is that they are worth buying and worth keeping. If not, why would I still have scores of them going back to 1973? The same applies with match-day programmes at football. I have bought them at most games I have attended and still have them all, somewhere or other.

One of the few theatre productions that I saw but do not have a programme for was the RSC’s 1986 staging of “Les Liasons Dangereuses”. It starred Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. A friend from university invited me to a Saturday matinee. She bought the tickets, or rather she had some less straightforward arrangement. We were admitted to the stalls just as the lights went down, and about 10 minutes afterwards were ushered into a couple of empty seats. Not sure what the deal was. She had done plenty of acting at college and in the years immediately afterwards. She had played Sally Bowles in a production of “Cabaret” earlier that year which I enjoyed. When we arrived at the theatre I bought my programme as usual and asked her if she wanted one. “No thanks. My parents always say that they’re just a waste of money”. She didn’t need to check the cast list and biographies for information about that young actress whose character was about to be seduced by Alan Rickman as Valmont. “That’s Beattie Eadney,” she told me, “Sylvia Syms’ daughter”.

We had a drink after the show and before we went our separate ways I gave her my programme, as a thank you for getting us in. I wonder if she kept it. We lost touch over 30 years ago when she left London to train as a teacher.

When going through my storage box full of theatre programmes, as I did again recently, it didn’t surprise me that I had such clear memories of one that I do not have. I also noticed that there are a few for plays that I didn’t see, like Cocteau’s “The Infernal Machine” at the Lyric Hammersmith and Pinero’s “Trelawney of the Wells” at the National Theatre. They must have been my mother’s. I checked through the Cast Lists just to see if there were any other Oscar-winners in those productions. There weren’t.

I thought about scanning pages from a few of these souvenirs of past theatre visits and including them here. They range from the first professional production I ever saw (“Big Bad Mouse” at the Richmond Theatre in 1973) through to the most recent (“Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyric last Christmas). I have decided, for now, not to. You might think that theatre programmes are just a waste of money.


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