Books and baubles

I know it's not supposed to be all about the presents but the right gift can make the difference between O Holy Night or oh wholly shite.

So apart from theatre tickets, what else might you or your theatre going loved one want to find under the festive greenery?

I have the American board game Be a Broadway Star but The Musical Theatre Card Game is more portable and up to date and I have put in my order.

Cast and star recordings are an obvious gift choice and one that can often be delivered electronically to overcome problems associated with lack of time or planning. This applies to the original London cast recording of Olivier-nominated musical Amélie, new musical Tokyo Rose, and Fiver, the concert of a show I had the pleasure of reviewing back in 2019.

Running at The Courtyard Theatre until 21 November is gig-theatre piece Punchy! The Musical for which the soundtrack is available in digital format and limited edition vinyl.

Fascinating Aida's prolific Liza Pullman has released both a collection of classics The Heart of It and Liza Pulman Sings Streisand , and Jesus Christ Superstar comes in a number of formats to celebrate its 50th anniversary—and doesn’t that make you feel old!

And books are always good as a first choice or fallback.

Amongst the memoires out this year are Lowering the Tone and Raising the Roof, the autobiography of impresario Raymond Gubbay, Hamilton and Me: An Actor's Journal by Giles Terera, and, no kidding, Life at Hamilton by the Broadway theatre bar manager. I bet it's not as much fun as Friend (The One With Gunter) the sitcom reimagined from the point of view of the barista.

Michael Pennington has published In My Own Footsteps—A Memoir. This is on my wish list—I still remember seeing my first production of Romeo and Juliet as an impressionable teenager in which MP played Mercutio; more recently he played Prospero in The Tempest, the last show I saw before lockdown, to which I took a teenager of my own. This production returns to Jermyn Street Theatre later this month to finish what it started.

Almost Famous by Robin Hawdon whose writing credits include Don’t Dress for Dinner has written his history, and Denis King, who wrote (among others) the songs for and made his West End début in Peter Nichol's Privates On Parade has updated his memoir, Key Changes 2020.

The other side of the coin may be found in See You at the Premiere: Life at the Arse End of Showbiz, the self-styled "antidote to the torrent of banal, disposable, showbiz memoirs" written by Ross Smith whose nomes de plume names include Richard Mathews (Greyfriars Bobby) and David Hastings (One Small Step).

Other texts include award-winning children’s theatre company Theatre-Rites' Animating Puppets, Objects and Sites, and Adam Lenson has penned Breaking Into Song—Why You Shouldn't Hate Musicals.

Shakespeare by Robert Pennant Jones was published this year and reviewed by our own Phillip Fisher, and reference works include Shakespearean Wig Styling and Take One, Action! a guide to the art of swordsmanship in acting.

Or, for something more fictional, Wild Time, a re-working in novel form of A Midsummer Night’s Dream may hit the spot, and if you enjoy reading (or producing) audio drama you could do worse than More Audio Drama.

Delving into theatre history playwright and actor Anton Burge looks at the many actresses who have played Elizabeth I in Portraying Elizabeth, whilst 50 Women In Theatre (look out for the review shortly on this web site) is an important work of record on women's contribution to the industry past and present.

So, that’s the end of my gift suggestions and panto alternative nights out, except to say that even if you can't or don’t feel ready to take in a Christmas show, consider making a festive gift to your local theatre. Bookings are down, some shows are playing socially distanced / reduced capacity, and they need to feel your love.

During the peak of the pandemic, the industry big-hitters predicted many permanent theatre closures. Fortunately, in the main, their crystal ball was a little off, but that does not mean that your local theatre is out of the woods. The chances are is has little or no reserves left.

Whilst you are toying with the idea of whether to book tickets for a show or not, spare a moment to just enjoy the privilege of having the choice. If we don’t support our theatres this season, they may not all be around to Ho Ho Ho in 2022. And sadly that’s not humbug!

For information about socially-distanced, captioned, signed and relaxed performances and age suitability, please see the show or venue web site.

I am geographically challenged and prone to magic carpet-style flights of fancy when it comes to wanting to see a show. My colleagues at British Theatre Guide have also posted information about shows in their region with significantly more gravitas that can be found in this piece, and we are privileged to have Mr Panto himself, Simon Sladen, on the team too. Do please refer to their news pieces and features and our listings pages for a more comprehensive selection of shows available near where you are.