Tracing the history of Hulme Hippodrome

Save the Hulme Hippodrome campaign (https://niamos.co.uk/savethehippodrome) is raising funds to save the theatre from developers (https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-hulme-hippo). The theatre has an important place in British theatre history, as a surviving venue in the variety theatre networks that dominated British theatre from 1900 to the 1950s. In this article, I explore some of the performers who worked at this beautiful and at-risk theatre.

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Archive Research: Recovering Minoritised Identities

Dr Sarah Whitfield: archival research, recovering minoritised histories - this text is on a pink background, on the left hand side there is a greeny bluey tinted imaged of library bookshelves behind some kind of wire fence.
Session given on 25th November 2020

This is a session about finding stories in the archive which are inclusive and open up the presence of people who have been thought to be not part of the official story. It is for the Doctoral College here at the University of Wolverhampton, and partly for them and anyone else interested in this topic I’ve put together some notes and starting points. There’s also a huge overview of digitised archives you might consult and look at.

The key thing to remember before we get too far into this is to note that the language we use to discuss these topics matters. If we talk about diversity rather than minoritised histories, we are drawing on a specifically white word:

Diversity is a white word, or as Ghassan Hage describes, a ‘white concept’. It seeks to make sense, through the white lens, of difference by creating, curating and demanding palatable definitions of ‘diversity’ but only in relation to what this means in terms of whiteness.

Tania Cañas –  Diversity is a White Word

Throughout we will be talking about minoritised histories.

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Scrappy paperwork and beautiful fragments: our incomplete archives

[Digging through my google drive came across this that I wrote for a session on creative writing, and thought I’d share, though I’ve lost the picture I drew of the extremely Jeremy Bearemy style writing approach my work usually takes. Please enjoy!]

I wrestle with revisions on this one article for months on end. To keep the appearance of working on it, it’s always open somewhere in the eight microsoft word documents I have open at any given moment. I drag it out when I talk to students who are revising dissertations – and I show them that I am doing this too, it’s normal, I say, attempting to sound convincing, it’s a community of writers and we are all learning to write better. 

Except I’m not exactly doing writing, I’m just keeping a document open on my laptop. 

Realistically this is about as close as I’m getting at this point, because other than dithering about with paragraphs one and two, I’ve done nothing for months. The feeling of not having finished it is somewhere between the nagging sense of ‘I’ve left the hob on’, and the utter guilt of leaving my crying daughter in the arms of the childminder. ‘YOUR WORK SPOILS EVERYTHING’ she shouts, and I think, you know, you might have a point.  

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Restoring the Lost Histories of Black Theatre Performers in the West Midlands

This event took place with Sean Mayes and Sarah Whitfield on 14th October – it largely focused the research in the so-called Black Country (for its industrial heritage) in the West Midlands, and showcases some of the findings from the forthcoming book with Bloomsbury Methuen drama.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens, My Dad, and Me

So for some reason this morning, Amazon Music decided today was the day to line up Father and Son for me. And it got me thinking about how music can freeze time, and act as a time machine to other places. My Dad had a record player and maybe about eighty records or so – and every so often we would have a Saturday night music night, where he would play the music he loved, so a mix of 70s Glam Rock (yes, he did do thumb in belt buckle dancing, yes I was increasingly embarrassed), mixed up with some 70s Christian music (hello Keith Green) and almost always Cat Stevens in there.

Morning Has Broken': New Year Of 1972 Breaks For Cat Stevens
Most of Dad’s albums had a man with a beard, and a vague 1970s photo effect going on.

But he did really love Cat Stevens – he definitely had Tea for the Tillerman album – and this was a song I remember him playing and having in the car. I have a surprising lack of things of Dad – a few short video clips – lots of photos, but not very much more than that. No recordings of him talking really, and in some ways I’m not sure whether I can remember it or I’m remembering what I remember (does that make any sense? like the echo not the actual sound).

But something about this one song, Father and Son, kind of knocks me for six every time. I remember when his father died, we were clearing the attic, and we discovered that his Dad had been slowly purchasing his railway gauge (the size of railway track he used, not his Dad). And I remember Dad being genuinely puzzled at why his admittedly shop-a-holic father had done this, and I said, well he was buying it for you. I remember Dad speechless, which didn’t happen very often. And just holding it and looking at it.

I know… that I have to go.

So as you might imagine, I avoid listening to Father and Son, because you know, I cry at music at the best of times. But I did go on a bit of Yusuf Stevens spiral this morning and even found myself listening to one of Dad’s true favourites, Morning Has Broken (seriously – check out the 1970s ah choir in the background). And I was thinking that even though I don’t have very much of Dad’s physically left (I have his cycling proficiency test certificate, not even sure why), I do have this toy theatre that was my pride and joy when I was about 9. It was a plastic amazing spectacular that had LIGHTS and MAGNETS and little people you could move around.

Anyway the batteries leaked and it was gross and sticky and I was heart broken, and there was no way to get any of it off. I had assumed that it had been thrown away – and while it’s fair to say my Dad was not what one would call, minimalistic, in his attitude to belongings, sometime after he died, it turned up in the back of the attic. He kept it for me.

Listening to Cat Stevens made me think of that.

Women in 1930s Musicals: Anne Croft

This is another entry for an ongoing dictionary of women who worked in musical theatre in the 1930s in the UK. It is an evolving document – for more please get in touch via Twitter.

Anne Croft (b. Hull 1896 – d. 1944)

An image of Croft from a local Hull newspaper in the early 1930s, finally – there’s a photo!

Croft was an actor, producer and director: her career raises intriguing questions about the relationship between twice nightly variety and musical theatre, that at the very least, is far more complicated than you might think.

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Women in 1930s Musicals: Irene Kensington, Choreographer

This is another entry in a continuing dictionary of women who worked in musical theatre in the 1930s in the UK. It is an evolving document – for more please get in touch via Twitter.

Irene Kensington (fl. 1925 – 1934)

Kensington was a choreographer and costume designer; she was also a pianist and arranger. Frustratingly little can be found of her life – she appears and vanishes.

Kenginston had a long association with June Radbourne’s dance ensemble the June Dancers, who performed across variety and concert venues, as both choreographer and costume designer. Initial reports of their performances note that she ‘is also responsible for modernistic arrangements of Chopin and Liszt, as well as impressions of true moderns like Glinka, Ravel and Grainger. Strauss, Coleridge-Taylor and Schubert also figure in the versatile repertoire of these eight talented dancers.’ (Portsmouth Evening News, 16/08/32, 2)

The ensemble performed at a range of venues including variety theatres like the London Coliseum in 1928, and the Hackney Empire 1929; and concert party settings like the Floral Hall in Eastbourne, August 1929 and Portsmouth in 1931. They also played in cabaret settings, including Frascati’s Frascaberat in London 1931. Kensington also designed the costumes for the dancers, Very little survives of the company apart from a few postcard images of Radbourne herself and one or two of the dancers.

Newspaper reports reveal Kensington attended the Margaret Morris school of ‘Dancing and Other Arts’ in 1920. In 1927, she designed and choreographed for a troupe from the the Margaret Morris Theatre, presumably from the school; the troupe were the basis for the Radbourne company.

Elsewhere, Kensington designed the costume for the Seymour Hicks play What’s His Name; as well as choreographing and costume designing the 1932 musical She Shall Have Music. The last reference to her is choreographing Babes in the Wood in Exeter in 1934, but at present, no further information can be found.

Women in 1930s Musicals: A Producer

Rita John (fl. 1930s)

John was an actor turned theatrical producer of muscial theatre active in London in the 1930s, establishing the company Rita John Productions to carry out her business. Little surviving information can be found – it seems likely she was working with a stage name; which makes finding further information very difficult.

As an actor, she had performed in a range of regional tours like The Breadwinner (1931) and The Judgement of Dr. Johnson (1932), and George Bernard Shaw’s The Applecart (1930). She obviously switched into producing with The Pride of the Regiment (1932), and produced the Cambridge Festival Season in 1932. Far more survives to document her second musical, Jolly Roger. Her production at the Savoy Theatre resulted in an extensive legal dispute between music hall comedian George Robey and Equity. He had refused to join Equity, so the union threatened a mass walkout. Many of the cast didn’t want to do that, one chorus member praised John, reporting ‘she paid the chorus even more than she actually need do’ (Stage, 02/03/1933, 13). Coverage of the production noted the unusual status of a woman producer in this early period. The Stage noted the musical ‘had a big cast, and a solitary unaided woman was running the show’ (02/03/1933, 13). The musical was written by Scobie Mackenzie and V. C. Clinton Baddeley, music by Walter Leigh, lyrics by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley, with choregraphy by Hedley Briggs. The production toured after its West End run closed, going to suburban venues like The Grand, Croydon and Wimbledon and King’s Hammersmith. Astonishingly the musical was recorded. She went on to produce an apparently shockingly vulgar revue Yours Sincerely at Daly’s Theatre (1934), which also toured regionally before opening in the West End.

YearShowReviews
1932The Pride of the Regiment
1933Jolly RogerManchester: Stage 16/02/1933, 2; London 09/03/33, 12
1934Yours SincerelyStage 22/02/1934, 10

The only images that are in any way connected to Johns are those of George Robey, who for the sake of her show – she was forced to share production credits with.

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Women in 1930s musical theatre: Working towards a dictionary

This is the beginning of a series I want to put together with as much information as is recoverable about women working in British musical theatre in the 1930s. But I realised I also didn’t want to hoard this information – so I thought I’d start to share them as I write them, then collate it later.

Barbour, Kathleen (fl. 1920s-1930s)

Barbour was a producer, actor and lyricist in variety and musical theatre. She ran the English Repertory Company in 1932 with Gerard Neville (performances included Frederick Lonsdale’s Spring Cleaning (1932), and Hubert Henry Davies’s Outcast (1932)). The company had an apparent engagement for several seasons at the Little Theatre, Bath, a residency jointly run by Neville and Barbour. Her work with Neville seems to have overlapped with her performances with Ernie Lotinga, her husband from 1918 onwards. Lotinga was also a performer/producer, together they co-ran their touring company throughout the 1920s-1930s period. She performer in numerous variety revues including: August, 1914 (1927), My Wife’s Family (1937). She co-wrote the lyrics for Mrs Bluebird (1932) with Gavin Lee, the musical was described as a ‘crazy musical theatre burlesque’. The musical briefly went into the West End for a summer season at the Gaiety, before returning to variety theatre.

At the moment, no photos or further information about her work can be found – her wedding to Lotinga does appear on genealogy websites so this was likely her real name.