Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Theatre, brothels, vaudeville...welcome to London

i'm stage-managing Bremner Duthie's show "The Barker's Spiel" at the London Ontario Fringe Festival this week. the show is happening at the Grand Theatre in downtown London, which turns out to be the oldest continually-running playhouse in all of Canada.

above, the interior of the main Grand stage; Bremner is performing in the downstairs black box theatre, which used to be a rabbit's warren of rooms for the vaudeville performers. very appropriate for the cabaret-inspired "Barker's Spiel"!

unfortunately, the exterior has been renovated, so you would never suspect the interior is so fabulous. the theatre is apparently haunted by the Grand's original impresario, Ambrose Small, who disappeared mysteriously in 1919. we haven't seen his ghost, as yet (and we had a late show on Saturday, so if he was going to appear, surely he'd have turned up then...maybe he can't figure out what happened to the outside of his theatre.) the various stories about him are quite fascinating. the theatre technician happily showed us the original basement wall of the Grand--where Small kept a secret office, to settle gambling debts & meet the ladies.

this kind of nefarious history seems to turn up all over London, even behind the most elegant 19th century facades that we walk past every day. we're staying in Woodfield, beside downtown; starting in the 1840, tobacco barons, a medical genius or two, and all kinds of business tycoons built homes here. (photos are two of my favourite "white brick" houses--the brick was quarried nearby & gives the streets a much brighter, lighter feeling than Toronto's red brick bay & gables.)

we're staying in a 19th-century Ontario cottage a block from here...and our first evening, while we relaxed in the garden, our host admitted that back in 1920s, the house was a well-known brothel. the immense claw-footed tub (since refinished) still stands proudly in the main bathroom.

for a theatre performance that's inspired by Berlin 1930s cabaret, by 1950s Vegas lounge, and by the vaudeville world of the carny, turns out London couldn't be more appropriate...

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