As 2015 draws to a close, we take a look back at another busy Marlowe Theatre year which has seen awards won, Box Office records broken, and our second home-grown production premiered.
As usual, our year has been bookended by pantomimes. We’re ending the year on a high, with Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs breaking all Box Office records and becoming our best-selling pantomime ever. With several weeks of the run left (and a few tickets still remaining, if you get your skates on), it’s already beaten the record set by Jack And The Beanstalk in 2013/14.
We kicked off 2015 with our first ever relaxed performance of last year’s pantomime Aladdin. Relaxed performances are designed for those who may be uncomfortable during a normal theatre performance, for example those on the autistic spectrum. This was a highly memorable experience for the cast and staff and the audience loved it. There’ll be a relaxed performance of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs on 5th January.
In between the two pantomimes we’ve seen a whole range of things happening in our theatre – from the return of Big Blue, our friendly monster mascot, during another successful Canterbury Children’s Festival, to the transformation of our main auditorium into a circus big top for Barnum. We’ve seen everything on stage from a giant’s head for Glyndebourne’s sell-out production of Saul, to both a live rat and a very cute puppy for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. This prestigious National Theatre production was also the first time we’ve had a two week run of a play and it played to large and very appreciative audiences.
We have also had visits from some hugely popular West End shows, including Shrek, Jersey Boys and Blood Brothers – all of which played to sold out houses. Drama fans also enjoyed two highly acclaimed productions, Handbagged and King Charles III, which came to Canterbury direct from their Olivier Award-winning West End runs.
One of the most exciting things which has happened for us this year has been our second home-grown production. We commissioned A Better Woman, a touching comedy about dating in the internet age, from Simon Mendes da Costa, who’s also our Literary Associate. Supported by The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust and Arts Council England, it ran in The Marlowe Studio for three weeks in December.
Our commitment to new writing gained us some notice from the national press – A Better Woman was selected as a ‘Top Ticket’ by The Guardian, and later reviewed by their distinguished critic Michael Billington. He said ‘this new piece tackles the perils of internet dating with angst-ridden gaiety’, and praised our five-strong cast. (He also described us as a ‘palatial playhouse’ – we like it!) It also got a four-star review in The Stage, which praised its ‘strong, gimmick-free storytelling.’
We are already planning future Marlowe Theatre productions – so watch this space!
This year’s community production, The Rights Of Others, was our biggest to date, with 240 people taking part, ranging in age from two to 76yrs. Inspired by the anniversary of Magna Carta and dealing with themes of freedom, censorship and surveillance, this was a production of two halves – a promenade performance around the theatre (to the occasional puzzlement of passers-by) and a new play Desperate Measures, performed in The Marlowe Studio. Next year’s production, which has the working title Stacked, promises to be even larger, and will be moving into the main auditorium.
It wouldn’t be right to review the year gone by without remembering some absent friends.
Allan Willett, the former Lord Lieutenant of Kent, and a great friend of our theatre, died in July. The Allan Willett Foundation funded the original feasibility study for the building of the new theatre. With our foyer and stalls bar bearing his name, his contribution will not be forgotten.
Actor Ron Moody was best known for appearing as Fagin in Oliver! but he had strong links to The Marlowe Theatre, and was one of the performers in the gala which closed the old Marlowe building. He died in June, aged 91.
Jonathan Ollivier, principal dancer with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company was killed in a road accident while on his way to perform with the company at Sadler’s Wells. He was 38. Jonathan had performed at our theatre in New Adventures’ Car Man a few months before and is remembered here for both his talent and his friendliness.
But let’s end on a happier note. One of our proudest achievements this year was being named the Most Welcoming Theatre in the South East in the UK Theatre Awards – voted for by the general public. This was a testament to all of the hard work of our staff.
There is much to look forward to in 2016, including two major show announcements due in early January that we can’t wait to tell you about!
Thank you for your support this year and we look forward to seeing you here again in 2016.