The Gift of TheatreDate: 5 December 2005
Christmas is fast approaching. Have you sorted out the must-have gifts & stocking fillers for your favourite theatre lover? Roger Foss has your ultimate shopping list all wrapped up.
Tokens & trinkets
Bah humbug!” It’s not only Ebenezer Scrooge who curses Christmas. With the ‘Big Day’ approaching faster than Donner and Blitzen can drag Santa’s sleigh across the chimney tops, who hasn’t got themselves into a Yuletide twist over present buying. It’s the thought that counts, of course. When it comes to gift ideas for a theatre fan though, it’s easy just to think of the obvious – like a pair of tickets. Not that anyone in their right mind would get all sniffy over Theatre Tokens. Christmas Gift Boxes, at either £25 or £55, include a 2006 Theatre Tokens pocket diary, theatre tokens exchangeable for tickets at over 230 theatres nationwide, plus a matching Christmas card which can be personalised with your own greeting (www.theatretokens.com).
But why not think outside the gift box? First of all though, where does the non-theatre buff shop? The Theatre Museum gift shop in Covent Garden is a cornucopia of books, memorabilia, children's novelties, postcards and posters. For theatre fans of all ages, look out for Mr Jackson's Elizabethan Toy Theatre (£8.99), a build-it-yourself 16th-century playhouse where you can perform a miniature Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. If you are buying for a drama student listen out for the Real Accents CD (£14.95). Recorded by speakers who are native to UK regions and who are also trained actors, it’s a useful gift for aspiring thespian friends who can’t quite tell their Brummie from their Geordie (www.theatremuseum.org).
Nearby, in Monmouth Street, Dress Circle is the Aladdin’s Cave of showbiz gifts – everything from Lion King key rings to a range of tinkly The Phantom of the Opera musical boxes. It’s actually the only place in London where you can buy the beautifully designed Wicked: Grimmerie (£26.99), a behind-the-scenes keepsake book full of ancient spells that includes everything you need to know about the Broadway hit Wicked, including the show’s libretto and cast profiles. It’s selling like hot mince pies. Older fans of musicals will appreciate London Lights (This England, £14.99) compiled by Edmund Whitehouse, which harks back to forgotten shows of the pre-and post-war era, when stars like Binnie Hale and Jack Buchanan twinkled in the West End (www.dresscircle.co.uk).
Books, CDs & DVDs
Biographies are more than just for Christmas. The good ones usually have a long shelf life in any theatre fan’s home library. Head for French’s Theatre Bookshop (www.samuelfrench-london.co.uk) or the National Theatre Bookshop for the best of the current bunch (www.nationaltheatre.org.uk). Look for Dame Judi Dench's Scenes from My Life (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20), in which she opens her personal photograph albums publicly for the first time, including unseen pictures of her as a young Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's Old Vic production. Anthony Hopkins: The Authorised Biography by Quentin Falk (Virgin Books, £16,99) also includes early photos, like playing Audrey in the landmark 1967 all-male As You Like It. Aside from all the sexy stuff with Vivien Leigh, Olivier: The Authorised Biography by Terry Coleman (Bloomsbury, £20) is a terrific read and reminds you what a powerhouse of creativity Olivier was right up until his dying days.
CDs make obvious stocking fillers. Current must-haves include The Likes of Us, the very first musical collaboration (pre-Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, recorded live at the Mermaid Theatre and with Stephen Fry narrating the story or Dr Barnado (£12). By complete contrast, the triple Motown CD, Dancing in the Streets, may not be the Cambridge Theatre cast recording but it includes the original Motown hits and all of the tracks from the camp as Christmas Motown Christmas Album (Motown, £20).
The theatrical CD gift of the year must be The Essential Shakespeare Live, featuring scenes from Royal Shakespeare Company performances from 1959 to 2003. Recorded by the British Library Sound Archive, this unique selection by the RSC's associate director Gregory Doran has only ever been heard by researchers before and include the archive's earliest ever live RSC recording – Peter Hall’s 1959 Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier. The CD sets sell at £15.95. Get them at the British Library, book shops or online at www.rsc.org.uk.
Set the bard in motion yourself with the amusing Shakespeare Action Figure (Accoutrements, £8.50), with bendy limbs and removable quill pen. Or watch his work in action on screen with the first-ever DVD movie collection of five classics: Macbeth, Hamlet, Henry V, The Taming of the Shrew and King Lear (Universal, £39.99).
Alternatively, rewind or fast-forward through the naughty bits when you take home 2005’s most controversial theatrical event, the ‘blasphemous’ broadcast version of Jerry Springer -The Opera on DVD (Pathé, £19.99). Other recent DVD releases worth gift consideration include the highly informative documentary series Broadway: The American Musical (PBS, £12.99) and the filming of Antony Sher’s powerful one-man play about Primo Levi, Primo (Heritage Theatre, £19.99).
Tours, membership & other schemes
Backstage tours take place at a few London theatre. So why go for something offbeat, by sending a friend on a guided tour of the National Theatre, at just £5 for an individual (details: 020 7452 3400). Or there's the Theatre Royal Drury Lane tour at £9 for an adult and £7 for children (details: 020 7850 8791).
Better still, why not help out a theatre by sending a gift subscription for one of the many 'friends' schemes that are vital for keeping venues alive and kicking? For instance, for as little as £27.78 a month you could buy someone a seat named at the new Young Vic, opening in autumn 2006 (www.youngvic.org). The King's Head Theatre runs a 'plum' scheme with a sliding scale of donations. Baby Plums are £20 a year, which entitles the holder to priority booking, special offers and discounts at local restaurants in Islington. At the Donmar Warehouse, £30 a year guarantees a month’s priority booking for all productions, while even the lofty Royal Court, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in April 2006, runs a support scheme with donations from as little as £40 (www.royalcourttheatre.com).
Of course, the only way to guarantee happy theatregoing in 2006 is by taking out a Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Club membership. For just £30, you’ll get a year's subscription to our sister print title Theatregoer Magazine, access to a special Club website including ten years’ worth of Whatsonstage.com content archives, reduced ticket prices, early booking offers, restaurant deals and parking discounts – plus a free copy of the Theatregoers' Handbook, written by none other than yours truly with fellow contributor Mark Shenton. A version of this feature also features in the December/January issue of our sister publication,Theatregoer Magazine, which is out now.
A version of this feature also features in the December/January issue of our sister publication,Theatregoer Magazine, which is out now.