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Streaming of Theatre Performances Online

The National Theatre is live streaming on Youtube the comedy ‘One man, two Guvners’ on Thursday 2nd April at 7.00 pm. It’s available from 2nd until 9th April.

You can subscribe to this channel and watch for free via your smart tv or internet browser on tablet or computer.
Here’s the link…The National Theatre YouTube Channel

More plays to follow each Thursday.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is also offering free streaming of some of their productions starting with Hamlet from Monday 6 April until Sunday 19 April.
Click here for details.. Watch Shakespeare’s Globe

Also, for fans of musicals Andrew Lloyd-Webber has created a YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On. Starting Friday 3 April, he’ll be releasing a full-length, smash-hit musical once a week for you to watch for free.
Here is the link.. The Shows Must Go On YouTube Channel

On Thursday 12th March, the Lyceum Theatre’s Management team took the decision to cancel the forthcoming production “A Life” but the Chairman was en route from Hereford to Hyde, so I went down to support Peter Fitton, the director, as he broke the news to his cast. There were groans of disappointment, although most members of the cast had expected something would happen. I offered them all a commisoratory drink in the bar and it was like attending a Wake! For four weeks or so, they had worked with each other in their parts and enjoyed it. The other members of the cast were their family and suddenly they had lost ALL their theatrical family. No wonder they seemed bereaved.  That set me thinking about cancelling plays at the Lyceum. I’ve been a member for 49 years so I looked up the number of plays we have had to cancel and its very few!

The Lyceum Amateur Dramatic Society, known for years as the Lyceum Players, was founded in 1928 and took possession of its home, the Lyceum Theatre in 1938, and since then, there have been 334 productions in the theatre. A stunning fact emerges – in the 82 years and 334 recorded productions, only three had to be cancelled – that is until Covid-19! 

When the Players took possession of their new home in 1938, the convention then, as now, was that the Season ran from September to the following June. Those who chose the opening season wanted to make a real statement about the artistic standards of the Lyceum Players in their own new theatre and their choice of plays reflected this. So to open this new home and new season, they staged “The Circlea play by W. Somerset Maugham, first produced professionally in 1921 and which had the spurious distinction of being “the first Maugham play ever to be booed!” The plot revolved around a young married woman, contemplating leaving her husband for another man and looking for advice from an elderly peer and his partner who eloped together thirty years earlier. Even in 1938 the topic was edgy and so this was a brave choice for the Players to open with.

The second and third plays both went well and the Players began rehearsals for their last show of the 1938-1939 Season. It was a patriotic play, “Fire Over England” set against the backdrop of the possible invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588. The play was an adaptation of the novel by A. E.W. Mason and it had been made into a  film with Flora Robson, Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier in 1937. The League of Nations Committee on Motion Pictures awarded it the Cinema Medal of Honour for that year. So it would have been a very popular play for the Lyceum’s growing fan club.

But whilst the Players had been settling in and exploring their new theatre and producing an interesting season, over Europe Nazi jackboots had been marching into Czechoslovakia and the red, black and white swastika banners were poised to march into Poland. With the Second World War looming, the Players felt it would be better to cancel their patriotic offering and to allow the new Theatre to go dark for the duration of the War. It was a formidable decision to take, as no doubt costumes had been ordered, sets designed, rehearsal schedules drawn up, so cancelling had consequences. Nevertheless the Players felt it was in the best interests of the Lyceum and their society as well. Once the Second World War was over, there was never a suggestion of reviving the production: it was as if it had been an unlucky choice that had tempted Fate!

The Lyceum Dramatic Society was revived after the War and continued to play in its own little basement theatre for the next 42 years. The Lyceum was a private members’ club and by the late 1980s it was clear that it lacked members and funds and so the decision was taken to offer the building to the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council on condition that the Players could still operate from the basement theatre. The Lyceum building was transferred to Oldham Council in 1987 and they set about refurbishing it. The Players found a temporary home at the Grange Art Centre where they undertook 6 shows between July 1987 and January 1989. The last of these shows was a play entitled “House Guest” and had been chosen by the three Artistic Directors of the time – Jean Gilbert, Pat Lowe and Janet Berryman. They had asked well-known local actress Nita Bennett to direct and had cast the play in good time. Nowadays casting a play 12 months in advance is nothing new but actors noware selfish people who will let you down at a moment’s notice if they get the offer of a “better part” with another group. That was not so at the close of the 1980s but as rehearsals were about to begin, one member of the cast dropped out and Nita herself became unwell. The part was recast and then the new person also dropped out. Nita’s health wavered – she thought she had shingles.  Christmas had gone and now early into the New Year, little rehearsal had been done. It was with great reluctance that the Artistic Directors decided to pull the show – the first one since 1939!

There was no talk of reviving it when we got back into the Lyceum Theatre and all the Society’s focus and effort moved to the re-opening of our new theatre set for September 1989. Once in our new home, the play and the reasons for cancelling were swiftly forgotten!

The third cancellation was a full fifteen years after House Guest. The 2004-5 Season opened with a real tour de force – Ean Burgon’s production of Willy Russell’s, “Shirley Valentine” with the very talented Mal Fidler in this one-woman show. The crit described it as “an inspiring performance of dedication and skill, and a terrific start to a  new season.” It was also described by the critic as “the Players’ first smell-o-vision production: the scent of cooking chips in the first act being replaced by a rather more pleasant flowery perfume in the second”! It was a brilliant start to what was hoped would be a great Season.

This success should have been followed by the musical play, “Stepping Out” by Richard Harris. The Players had in recent times only done one musical “Promises, Promises” at the Grange Arts Centre in September 1979 and although it had been a success, they felt safer back at their own theatre doing three-act plays, so this production was a step into the unknown. It involved the weekly tap dance class at a local church hall, with the various members of the class, the pianist and the ‘choreographer” or class leader. The Players were fortunate to have that year, as one of the Artistic Directors of the Society, the immensely talented Mike Cheesman, who was not only a superb actor but also an incredibly talented dancer and experienced choreographer. He would direct and choreograph the production, which would further showcase the Society’s artistic capabilities. It was intended as another jewel in the Society’s crown of versatilities!

But almost from the start of rehearsals, thing began to go wrong. Mike was in the throes of one of his deep depressions and could not attend the read-through before rehearsals began. The read-through went ahead and he was contacted to work out a rehearsal schedule and choreography schedule. Usually it takes around 7 weeks, rehearsing two nights each week and a couple of hours on Sunday to mount a Lyceum production but two weeks into that time, Mike had been unable to draw up schedules and nothing had been done. That would leave only five weeks to block, learn and mount a show on the Lyceum stage. As he was the only one within the Society who could undertake the choreography, it was too late to find another director and a choreographer. So for only the second time since 1939, the Management Committee of the Lyceum Players had to pull the plug on the production and cancel. The official statement read:

“The reason (was) due mainly to the illness of the director, Mike Cheesman. We were quickly running out of rehearsal time and felt it was a  practical impossibility to be ready for opening night. May we, on behalf of all members of the Lyceum Players, wish Mike a speedy recovery and hope to see him back to his normal self in the not-to-distant future.”

However, there was never any hint of resurrecting the show at a later date and the whole Lyceum Players Musical-Tap Dance Society died with it, much to the chagrin of the token man in the tap class, Andrew Fidler, who had bought a new pair of tap shoes: it still irks him to this day that he never got to use them! However, he did donate the shoes to the Players.

So two of the four cancellations have been because of director illness and that is amazing when you consider that how tenuous every amateur play is. There are no understudies for parts and the lighting, sound and direction all rely on individuals being well all the time! However two of the four cancellations were as a result of national misfortunes. How long this Covid19 pandemic will last is anyone’s guess but we are hoping that “A Life” might open the 2020-2021 Season: the cast are keen, the set is built, the costumes have been found, the tickets are ready to re-print. All we want now is for the pandemic to be over!

Mike Russell

Lyceum Players Historian & Archivist