The news that the Derby Playhouse might become a John Lewis department store is less tragic than it might be. At least you’ll still be able to get curtains, sound and video equipment, make-up and a good selection of snacks and drinks for the next interval.
The trouble is, there is no next interval nearby. The catchment area for the Playhouse is one of the largest in the country, and the audience over the years has shown extraordinary loyalty and resilience in finding its way there in the middle of a hideous concrete development.
Although my own attendance has been sporadic, I can’t remember ever not having a good time. You had to, really, because the hotels and restaurants in the area are so abysmal.
But from my first visit — in 1976 to see Alan Bates, Georgina Hale and Sheila Ballantine in The Seagull — right through to my last, three years ago, to see a really excellent production of Private Lives, I was always impressed by the “up and at ‘em” participatory quality of the folk in the stalls.
I sincerely hope that artistic director Stephen Edwards succeeds in his campaign to save the venue. The Nottingham Playhouse seems to be going fairly strong, and the Leicester Haymarket should be a wonder when it re-opens, but otherwise Derby playgoers will be driving many miles west to Stoke-on-Trent or even further south to Coventry if they want a good night’s theatre.
They deserve better, and they deserve their own. Why doesn’t the government intervene in a case like this?
The subsidised theatre should be as available to the taxpayer as the National Health Service, and the heroism, and the local vision, involved in opening the Derby Playhouse deserve a much better response from the community at large than a quiet submission to the property development companies and their lackeys on the local council.