Introducing Aimi Macdonald
Although, for many, she needs no introduction and will always be known as 'The Lovely Aimi Macdonald'. After being spotted by David Frost, Aimi joined the team on the iconic television sketch show, At Last, the 1948 Show, where she starred alongside John Cleese, Marty Feldman, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graham Chapman. She was always introduced as 'The Lovely Aimi Macdonald' and the moniker stuck.
Photograph of Aimi by Peter Robertson
Having begun her career as a dancer in Paris and Las Vegas, Aimi found herself catapulted to fame in 1967 by At Last, the 1948 Show and she quickly became a household name on television. Roles on the big screen and West End stage followed and, over the years, Aimi worked with most of the best known stars of the era, both in the UK and on overseas tours. The list is long and distinguished - Oliver Reed, Richard O'Sullivan, Roger Moore, Shirley Maclaine, Jack Jones - to name only a few.
Aimi's film and stage credits read like a catalogue of the greatest hits of the 1960s, '70s and beyond: Ray Cooney's Run For Your Wife, Coward's Present Laughter, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Sez Les with Les Dawson, Celebrity Squares with Bob Monkhouse and, more recently, the stage production of Summer Holiday with Christopher Biggins. She also performed with Lionel Blair in Lady Be Good at the then beautiful art deco Saville Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. She will never forget the opening night: "After the show, I had Jane Russell and Jack Benny in my dressing room! I was so young, I was barely more than a child and totally in awe. My big ambition had always been to star in a musical so I felt a bit as though I lost a little of my ambition after that high spot."
Aimi with the cast of At Last, The 1948 Show
A few decades later, Aimi has come full circle, having returned to cabaret, where she started out. In her youth, she played very much the soubrette whereas, now, she regales audiences with a lifetime of wonderful, engrossing anecdotes, illustrated with classic songs. She is thoroughly enjoying writing and directing her own shows and, after years of screen work, performing with her pianist, Trevor Defferd, in much more cosy, intimate settings. Thanks to an abundance of her early work now being available on the internet, she is also finding it very amusing and rewarding to be recognised in public by much younger audiences and delighted that they are enjoying the shows that made her name.
Aimi is, indeed, very lovely and we guarantee she'll entertain you to within an inch of your life with I Did It This Way so come and catch up with all her gossip - you know you want to.
Magnificent Music Hall Characters!
Last week, we unveiled a fantastic new display as part of our Heritage Lottery Fund schools project. If you've been to see a show or popped into the bar since the end of last week, you will have spotted the fun, lively and colourful characters dotted around the building. If you scroll through this post, you can see all 30 of these works of art, which were created by neighbouring Shapla and St Paul's schools with artist Daniel Lehan.
Each represents a real or fictional character from music hall history, including performers, typical audience members and people associated with the Mahogany Bar, shops and houses. The exhibition will be on display for around six months, which gives you plenty of time to come along and inspect at your leisure, over a drink or two, whilst taking in a show. Meanwhile, here's a little gallery to give you a taste...
I Am History - a guest post by Ben Duke of Lost Dog
I am also God – for a few months more at least. And while I’m God I am going to make as many grandiose statements as possible… like the title of this blog.
I am God because I cast myself as God in a one man version of Milton’s Paradise Lost. It was as easy as that. I didn’t even have to audition. And I haven’t been struck down by lightning yet which I am taking as a passive sign of divine approval. Either that or the real God is biding his time and saving his wrath for a moment in which it can have maximum effect – which is why I would recommend buying a ticket for this show as there is a slim chance you will witness, live on-stage, an Old Testament smiting. At which point I am history.
But that is not what I meant by the title. I am history because I am about to perform this work at the wonderful Wilton’s Music Hall. As performance spaces go it is older than most of the theatres I spend time in. It was created as a performance space in 1859 before anyone had even considered the idea of combining comedy, tragedy, music and dance in a single evening of entertainment. That is of course completely untrue. It was built with exactly that idea in mind and, for all my claims of post modernity, I am following in a tradition that is directly linked to the music hall; a performer on stage using body, voice and brain to entertain. That’s pretty much it. And walking into this magnificent space, which has been a music hall, a Methodist church, a ruin and now a performance space again (restored in such a way as to remind us that it was recently a ruin) is a reminder of the simplicity of what theatre is.
At one end there is a stage, albeit it a very small one which makes me think that people in 1859 were at least half the size we are now, and the rest of the space is for an audience of about 300 – so 600 in 1859 terms. It is a room designed both in terms of sight lines and acoustics for watching a performer. And its original splendour shows just how valued that activity was in 1859. Its lovingly conserved faded splendour shows that, despite the advent of much other stuff, the activity is still valued. Old theatres have an essential role to play in keeping our faith in performance alive. Their walls are literally filled with stories and we need them to hang around until those soulless new theatres similarly fill their walls with stories and become old.
Photograph by James Mackenzie; lighting byTony Simpson (White Light Ltd)
Wilton’s has also been an important part of my personal history. In 2001 I had the privilege to see Mark Dornford-May and Charles Hazelwood’s version of The Mystery Plays with an incredible South African cast of 34. It was a remarkable experience. In making Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) I thought about this production of The Mystery Plays as, of course, they both share the same bestselling book as their source material; but it was only when I stepped into Wilton's again recently that I remembered quite how much I have borrowed/stolen from that amazing piece of theatre. I freely admit that I was inspired by and may have unwittingly plagiarised from that show (and, if Mark Dornford-May or Charles Hazelwood are reading this, I can assure you I have made exactly no money from this enterprise so far). Or to put a more positive spin on it I am continuing the story of their production.
The Mystery Plays 2000/1
Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) is made out of my history. It combines my personal story with Milton’s poem and is of course influenced by work that has inspired and shaped me. So far, in terms of critical and audience response, it is the most successful piece of work I have made. So for now, for me, it has an important place in my history, and will continue to have - at least until I can get off this sofa and make something better. Now the caffeine has worn off claiming to be part of History feels way too pompous but I’m not starting again now so I’ll finish with a flourish as if this was all planned.
It is easy for me to pretend that my history is nothing to do with me, usually because it is so badly written, but at moments like this there is a temporary coherence. I am performing this particular piece on this particular stage in no small part because of that incredible production I saw here in 2001. That is a story. It has a beginning, a middle bit (in which I forgot some of the beginning) and an ending… possibly a more dramatic ending than necessary if God blows me up as I take my curtain call. But even if that doesn’t happen it kind of makes sense. So Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) is another story to stuff into these crumbling walls, to help shore them up and to make a very small contribution to the ongoing vibrant history of theatre.
Photograph by Zoe Manders
Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) runs 19th - 23rd July.
Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) runs 19th - 23rd July.
Warm words from Simon Callow
Next week, we welcome the London English Song Festival for Songs of The Somme, a moving yet uplifting evening of song, poetry and film to mark the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.
We are particularly delighted that pianist William Vann, and his singers will be joined for readings by none other than Simon Callow CBE. Simon is no stranger to Wilton's and we can't wait to see him back with us again. In the meantime, he has passed on these warm words for everyone...
"I'm so very pleased to be taking part in this commemoration and celebration of the men who fought, were wounded - physically and psychologically - and died in the terrible battle of the Somme. The poetry and music that these events inspired have to some extent ensured that we will never forget them. Wilton’s will be the perfect place in which to do it - intimate and uniquely atmospheric. I’ve done a number of shows there - I started my Dickens and Shakespeare shows at Wilton’s, and performed Shakespeare’s Sonnets - twice in each case, once for people paying a lot of money, and the second time for local people who paid nothing. They were among the most enjoyable shows I’ve ever done. Everybody who loves the theatre, whether actors or audience, feels a deep thrill as they enter the place. It positively demands that you make beautiful theatre in it. A magical, blessed space".
A Load of Balls
There's nothing quite like a night of rip-roaring comedy to make you forget the lousy weather, a crushing sporting defeat, an (inter)national crisis or all three. If laughing yourself stupid can spread a little health and happiness further afield, all the better and we present just such an opportunity next Tuesday with Alive and Laughing in aid of African football charity, Alive and Kicking.
Alive and kicking is a shining example of how the simplest of ideas and enterprises can generate a chain of far-reaching benefits to change the lives of many. It all starts with hand-stitched footballs. The genius of it is that making them keeps 140 people in Nairobi, Lusaka and Accra, many of whom have never had a real job before, in full-time work. Those people support an average of six people with their wage, meaning the charity directly supports a community of over 800.
It doesn't stop there. The footballs are printed with messages that help to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria and to promote a range of causes, from peace and reconciliation to wildlife conservation. Which also keeps skilled screen printers in business and earning a fair wage, supporting their families and communities and so the goodness spreads.
Then there are the opportunities for play brought to schools and community projects who have been given balls and who would otherwise have been unable to afford them.
So why not come along on Tuesday 5th July and do your bit to make the good stuff happen by having a riot of a time watching some of the funniest acts you'll ever see?
Calling all budding poets
Ida Barr's Drop the Mic Poetry Night
On Monday 12th September, we are presenting a historically inaccurate poetry night compered by none other than faded Music Hall Star, Ida Barr. Poetry and rhyme was an integral part of Victorian Music Hall entertainment. Often performers would use poetry to inform their audiences of current events and political issues of the day.
We are looking for four emerging poets to perform a short ten-minute set at this event, including at least one poem about current events. If you would like to apply, please fill in our Application Form and email it to email@example.com.
Deadline Monday 22nd August at midday.
New Season Now on Sale
We are thrilled to present an outstanding autumn season. Highlights include: the world premiere of Britten in Brooklyn, Zoe Lewis’s portrait of Britten’s time in New York with Gypsy Rose Lee, starring Sadie Frost and directed by Oli Rose; a brand new version of Floyd Collins directed by the amazing Jonathan Butterell; Camille O’Sullivan for her first time ever at Wilton’s; Seabright Productions’ Black is the Color of My Voice, written and performed by Apphia Campbell, telling the story of Nina Simone; the unmissable Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists; and, for a grand finale, the season culminates with Wilton’s very own pantomime - Mother Goose, from the same creative team that attracted star-laden reviews with last year’s panto, Dick Whittington.
Read the full programme by clicking on the image below.
Read the full programme by clicking on the image below.
Plays Without Décor
Calling all budding directors!
If you are a young or emerging director in need of space and support to workshop some of your brilliant theatrical ideas, our Plays Without Décor programme may be just what you're looking for. As part of our Learning and Participation Programme, led by David Graham, Wilton’s is offering eight emerging directors the chance to use our new, purpose-built Aldgate and Allhallows Learning and Participation Studio for one week between October 2016 – September 2017.
This light, airy space can accommodate up to 40 people, including audience and company, and you will be able to use it entirely free for a week. During that week, you may choose to produce one reading, workshop or semi-staged performance and we will manage the Box Office if you choose to perform for a paying audience. You will also be entitled to up to two hours of mentoring from Wilton's staff in the field of producing, marketing, fundraising or working for and with young people.
We are delighted to be able to offer this exciting opportunity to new directors thanks to support from the Noel Coward Foundation. The closing date for applications is Monday 8th August 2016.
Information Sheet (docx)
Application Form (docx)
Sharing Wilton's Archive
Wilton's new Archive & Interpretation Manager, James White, has been busy burying himself amongst the 184 boxes that make up the beautifully rehoused Wilton’s archive. Sharing his favourite finds as he digitises the collection (thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund), take a look at his weekly posts over on the archive page. Find out more here: wiltons.org.uk/heritage/archive.
Shakespeare Untold: An Introduction from James Seabright
We're gearing up for a fun half term treat: a joint production from Shakespeare's Globe and Seabright Productions, Shakespeare Untold. We caught up with producer James Seabright and asked him to tell us a little about the show for a feature in our latest Friends' Newsletter. Here's an excerpt...
"The two Shakespeare Untold stories existed in a smaller form before I was involved and I was invited to see them in the education studios at the Globe. I could see straight away the potential and need for them to be scaled up to something rather bigger, so we put a design and production team behind them and launched them in Edinburgh last year. They were very well received and now they’re touring, culminating with a run at Wilton’s during half term week.
The two stories, of Romeo and Juliet and Titus Andronicus, are told by solo performers but seen through the fresh eyes of characters who don’t exist in the originals. We witness, second hand, the plot through the character on stage – a party planner and a pie-maker. Some of Shakespeare’s original text is in there but it’s far more accessible with a modern feel to it and, of course, lots of messy cooking in Titus Andronicus. It may sound strange for a play as bloody as that to be staged in a way that is accessible and not too scary for the kids but they love a bit of gore and it really does work. In fact, I think they enjoy that aspect of the story the most. Shakespeare’s Globe has been working on quite a few untolds for a while so there may be others in future. And, of course, it’s particularly wonderful to be doing these in the year of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death."
James Seabright is an independent theatre producer and general manager who has worked on more than 200 shows since 2001, under the auspices of Seabright Productions Ltd since 2009. He has toured shows around the UK and internationally, staged productions both on and off the West End and, for 11 years, his Festival Highlights shows at Edinburgh bagged awards galore including five Scotsman Fringe Firsts for productions directed by Hannah Eidinow. The Seabright productions catalogue is impressive: Potted Sherlock, Showstopper!, Eric and Little Ern, Potted Potter, Julie Madly Deeply, The Only Way is Downton and An Instinct For Kindness to name but a few. As well as Shakespeare Untold with Shakespeare’s Globe, James is also bringing Dinosaur Park, with Superbolt Theatre, to Wilton's in July. We hope to see a great deal more of him in future.
Shakespeare Untold runs 31st May to 4th June with matinee and evening performances each day; Dinosaur Park runs 21st June to 2nd July with matinee performances on 25th June and 2nd July.
Wilton's Friends and Patrons are an essential lifeline, supporting the work we do through a yearly membership fee. To find out more about the membership levels and the newsletters, visit wiltons.org.uk/support.