David Babani on the Menier Chocolate Factory’s 20th birthday

The intimate central London venue has produced shows that have appeared around the world

David Babani, photo supplied by the production

Twenty years ago yesterday, the Menier Chocolate Factory first opened its doors to the general public.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what has been achieved by the extraordinary legions of incredibly wonderful, passionate and talented people that have become part of our family over the last 20 years.

Yesterday, on a cold wet Sunday towards the end of February we have a sold out hit show – Pacific Overtures – being performed in our 200-seat theatre in Southwark and on the other side of the Atlantic we have a sold out hit show – Merrily We Roll Along, being performed at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway. We are in the middle of rehearsals for the European premiere of a brilliant (in my honest opinion) new play Power of Sail with, truly, one of the most exciting ensemble casts we have ever assembled.

We also have so many exciting things lined up that I can’t wait to share with you all to help celebrate and commemorate over the next year everything that the Chocolate Factory has managed to achieve so far alongside some incredibly exciting plans for the future.

What a privilege it has been steering this ship for the last 20 years. We have been lucky enough to have had over 25 West End transfers, six Broadway transfers, many UK and international tours. We have also received multiple awards for our productions too.

None of this would have been possible without the thousands of incredible artists and practitioners both on and off stage, both inside and outside our building.

I have had the absolute honour of working with many heroes of mine across all facets of our industry. It is truly impossible to name everyone who must take ownership and credit for the amazing international success the Chocolate Factory holds to its credit, however I feel there a few areas where i want to take this very appropriate opportunity to personally thank some extraordinary people without whom the Chocolate Factory would most definitely not exist in the way it does today!

Firstly the amazing writers and composers who have entrusted us with their creations over the years. It feels completely fitting that yesterday we have two sold out Stephen Sondheim shows being performed on two continents. We have been lucky enough to produce seven Sondheim shows over the years, and each one has been an absolute joy to produce. So, thank you Steve and your incredible collaborators John Weidman, James Lapine, George Furth and Hugh Wheeler.

Thank you also to Stephen Schwartz, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein – your direct  trust and support has meant the world to myself and my team. Thank you to the extraordinary actors, playwrights and directors who have kept coming back to share your brilliance with us – I am sorry but I find it impossible to single any of you out because the extraordinary  contributions from every single one of you is how “we are what we are!” (Apologies, Mr Herman!).

Our work wouldn’t have reached audiences so far and wide without some of the incredibly talented producers who have partnered with us in our mission to share our productions with as large an audience as possible all over the world.

I am sure I am biased but all too often the producers are the last to take credit for the work that they do. We have been lucky to work with some of the most kind, generous, innovative, tenacious and brilliant producers there are. I must begin with thanking one of my closest friends and collaborators Sonia Friedman – we have co-produced over 20 productions all over the world together thank you for your trust and faith! I also must thank our other incredible collaborators who we have also had the extreme privilege of working with on multiple occasions David Ian, Daryl Roth, Bob Boyett, Nica Burns, Michael Harrison, Caro Newling, Danny Moar and Todd Haimes.

Thank you also to all our co-producing partners, presenters and investors all over the world – without you our work would have never had the opportunity to leave the building.

There is a further group of unsung heroes – without their brilliance, kindness and patience in particular with me, I guarantee the Chocolate Factory would not be what it is today – our publicists. As a 200 seat theatre we have never been able to afford to advertise any of our shows that we produce in our theatre. So we need brilliant publicists to help spread the word all over the world so audiences can find out about our shows. Extreme gratitude goes to Sue Hyman, Ben Chamberlain, Anna Arthur, Peter Leone, Janine Shalom, Adrian Bryan Brown, Matt Polk and Kate Morley.

There is also one final group of people that must hailed from the rooftops as quite honestly mere thanks is not enough. Their passion, blood, sweat, tears, kindness and willingness to go so far above and beyond the call of duty is utterly inspiring, they are our founding partner Danielle Tarento, our incredible general manager Tom Siracusa and Lucy Rees-Harris, Jason Maddocks, Jose Morales-Pastor, Shannon Foster and Amanda Holland.

As Sheldon Harnick wrote ‘It takes a village…’ Thank you all so very much.

David Babani
Artistic director, Menier Chocolate Factory

PS On a personal note I want to thank my wife Sophie and my children Zach and Sadie  for their unwavering patience and support!
PPS It feels entirely appropriate that the last words should be from Stephen Sondheim – “Goodbye For Now”!