Great West End Theatres - Theatre Royal Haymarket

Sir Donald Sinden

Marc Sinden Productions

(2012)

Review by Philip Fisher

It would be hard to think of a better example than the Theatre Royal Haymarket as a starting point for this brand-new series of 40 films, each celebrating one of the Great West End Theatres.

The lovely old building is almost as much of a London institution as Sir Donald Sinden himself and the combination is immediately intoxicating. 

As Sir Ian McKellen pronounces in the first line of the film, for most actors of his generation this is their favourite theatre, as much for its architecture as what has gone on within its walls over the last couple of centuries.

Sir Donald's gorgeous plummy tones are a joy to listen to whatever he is saying but when he is extolling the virtues of one of his own favourite theatres, the pleasure is heightened. At his first entrance, he announces that he is "tingling with excitement" which is just what one wants from a tour guide. Soon enough, so are viewers.

"The most beautiful theatre in London" was opened in 1820 but on the site of a predecessor that had survived for the previous 100 years.

It took nine years for the original building to have its first success but from that day on, this location has been a firm favourite with theatregoers from London, the United Kingdom and all around the world.

For 50 minutes, we are treated to exclusive looks at almost every part of the theatre, even the areas that are only usually open when members of the Royal family come visiting.

This film is as close as one can get to standing on the stage taking an ovation or changing in the lavish number 10 dressing room (the very best) prior to entrancing an audience.

Sir Donald has his own unique personal connection with this lovely theatre. He first appeared there as far back as 1949 in Ruth and Augustus Goetz's adaptation of Henry James' Washington Square, The Heiress with Ralph Richardson.

The doughty veteran proudly shows us an award that he received at the end of what was at the time the theatre's longest run as the only actor who appeared in every one of the 644 performances.

"The theatre becomes almost a religious and transcendental act" in the words of Stephen Berkoff, referring not only to the Haymarket but surely every the theatre in this series, each of which has its own epic history.

This film covers managers and actors from the earliest days through Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and Laurence Olivier to pick a handful of the greats whose shades must still be wandering around the lovely old building, though there is reputedly a real ghost too.

This first episode of this series is beautifully filmed and gets the balance exactly right between classy camera work, history, reminiscence and gossip.

There is no doubt that theatre lovers will find the whole series fascinating, lapping up the opportunity to get behind-the-scenes in the buildings that they love. Once there, they will thoroughly enjoy being reminded and informed about the great men and women that have created the character and reputation of each and every one of them.

The DVDs will be on sale at the individual theatres and advance orders can be made at Dress Circle.