We’ve always included a lot of small and unusual theatre productions on Contrary Life, and so on hearing that someone had written a book about the weird and wonderful collection of theatres around Britain, I was eager for a read.
Amber Massie-Blomfield’s Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die is described as a love letter to theatre, and there is no doubt that it is. But as Massie-Blomfield journeys around the UK, visiting a selection of our beloved theatres, it’s the stories wrapped up in our history that captivate the most.
On first reading the list of theatres included in the book I was mildly disappointed at what I thought had been overlooked; but I was wrong to judge so quickly. As I read each chapter, the buildings themselves became less relevant than the wealth of social history and interesting stories they revealed. The communities, the gathering of strangers and the idea that anything is possible warms the heart.
The book begins on a solid and captivating footing with the Minack Theatre in Cornwall. Not only is this theatre unusual and something of a tourist landmark, but it is a story of one woman’s strength and determination to carry out a dream. Likewise, the chapter on a theatre housed in a converted public toilet, and aptly named The Theatre of Small Convenience, reveals another character who has an idea and carries it through; ignorant to self-doubt or commonsense (thankfully).
The book reveals a group of people who many would call eccentric, but here they are viewed as mini-heroes, doing something that benefits the world and that other sensible people might shy away from. People who didn’t lose their imagination on hitting adulthood.
Yes, the book is written by someone who is so obviously in love with theatre to a degree that not everyone can relate to, but it doesn’t matter as long as the pages contain the kind of people who can look at an old cow shed and see something wonderful. Theatre obsessive or not, there’s another story told in this book. One about people who think of something and then go ahead and create it, despite all obstacles.
This book is not a bucket list of theatres to check out, this book is a charming collection of stories featuring people, memories and communities. It just so happens to have some interesting and quirky theatres thrown in.
Amber Massie-Blomfield’s Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die is available to pre-order.