Two hundred yards from the house where Ellen Terry was born in Coventry, the newly-built Belgrade Theatre, a superb and pleasing example of contemporary architecture, is to be opened by the Duchess of Kent on 27th March, when the curtain will rise on the first performance in this country of Half in Earnest, a musical adaptation by Vivian Ellis of The Importance of Being Earnest.
It is gratifying to discover that the City of Coventry considers a theatre to be a necessity - so much so that the City Council is prepared to build an entirely new theatre, designed by the city architects, at a cost of £268,000. It will seat 911 people, comfortably and luxuriously, and at the same time spacious bars and foyers will give members of the audience ample opportunity to meet in the intervals and create a new theatre community in the city.
A model of Coventry's new theatre, which is scheduled to open on 27th March, 1958.
Resident Repertory Company
An exciting and adventurous programme is being planned by Bryan Bailey, the newly-appointed director of the theatre, whose bold and progressive choice of plays is likely to make the Belgrade the home of unusual events and happenings. There will be a resident repertory company, with a fortnightly change of programme, but it will be a flexible company, with no more than six or seven permanent members, thus leaving plenty of opportunities to invite experienced players to appear as guests in particular plays. The second production will be the first stage presentation in this country of William Inge's Picnic, the third Peter Ustinov's Romanov and Juliet, and the fourth a revival of Shaw's St. Joan.
Three Year Plan
Working to a Three Year Plan, Bryan Bailey intends to put on new, topical and controversial plays, which may eventually lead to the foundation of a Midland School of Writers. The citizens of Coventry have always taken an active interest in happenings in other countries and their new theatre is called the Belgrade because the citizens of Yugoslavia's capital presented them with some very beautiful timber which has been used in the construction of the theatre.
It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that the Belgrade is likely to become a provincial theatre centre, intent upon reflecting foreign theatre in all its aspects. Visits by foreign companies will be encouraged and exhibitions dealing with the work of the theatre abroad will often be on show in the Belgrade's cosy foyers and lounges. An Australian artist will design some of the early productions at the new theatre; a South African playwright is joining the company in a working capacity and he will be commissioned to write a play for them during his stay. Drama students from abroad will be invited to work with the company and the repertoire will include a number of translations of contemporary plays by foreign dramatists.
Guest Producers and Designers
Shakespeare will not be played more frequently than once a year, because two of the most famous theatres in the world - the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre - are both near neighbours and between them serve Shakespeare very well during the course of any one year. The Belgrade intends to pursue its own individual policy, working with a succession of guest-producers, whose talents appear to be ideally suited to the particular play in question. To a somewhat lesser degree, the theatre will use a series of guest-designers. Opportunities will be given to television producers to return to the stage to direct an occasional play and to less experienced men and women of the theatre, who show signs of great promise.
Attached to the Belgrade Theatre is a cluster of bachelor flats, delightfully furnished in contemporary style, each consisting of a bed-sitting room, kitchen and bathroom. Ten of them will be available for visiting artistes, who will thus be spared the soul-destroying ordeal of looking for "digs" in a strange city. The existence of such attractive living accommodation should be an added inducement to artistes invited to join the company as guests for special productions.
City's £6,000 a Year
The Lord Mayor of Coventry, Alderman Pearl Hyde, herself a keen theatregoer, looks upon the Belgrade as a symbolic playhouse, built by people of today for the children of tomorrow, so that they can go to the theatre as part of the curriculum. The citizens of Coventry think it right and proper that the City Council should contribute £6,000 a year towards the running of their new civic theatre, and it is good to know the Arts Council is ready to contribute a similar sum, should it be required. The younger generation - those under the age of twenty - are to receive attractive concessions in the hope that they will soon get the playgoing habit and indirectly lead other cities to follow Coventry's brave and bold policy, which refuses to accept the idea that the theatre is dying.
Theatre World, March 1958.
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