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A Rose by Any Other Name, Juliet Goes to the Theatre.

by on 25 January 2017

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, said our poor hapless Juliet. But would a rose by another name smell as sweet?  Probably: but would you want to smell it if it had a less attractive name, “old socks” for example?

Many of us who have lived locally for some time will remember the proper brewery at Mortlake. There had been a brewery here since the 1400’s, but then, in December before last, a Singaporean development company gulped it down in one go, without even a burp. Another historic site goes to build yet more luxury flats that probably won’t even be lived in. But in those days of yore, what was the all-pervading aroma in that area?  For six hundred years it was of hops and yeast and wort.  “Wort”, what an evocative word … aah!

So why, in the name of Bacchus, are the uppy flats being sold on the old sorting office site opposite Twickenham Station called Brewery Wharf ?! Even the greatest real ale aficionado would not want to live within the whiff of a half-created pint. Two million hard earned pounds for the smell of wort!  In the early nineteenth century there was what we would now call a micro-brewery there, a family affair in the back of a pub.  But there could never have been a wharf there: except when it is spate, you can paddle in the middle of the River Crane.  A beer bottle might float there!  O, those romantic estate agents, who call every group of houses a “village”.

What has this to do with a theatre thought, you may well ask. Well, it seems that we are getting a new Community Building in the spring on the Brewery Wharf site, a “landmark facility”, with “a theatre space” for an audience of “nearly” 320 people plus six studios.  The idea has been fomenting for some time (or, in Brewery Warf, should it have been fermenting?), but a few days ago Richmond Council announced that it is to be run by St Mary’s University.   It is mean to host “local arts, music and literature festival events, theatre performances, cinema showings, band nights, comedy nights, and conference and event hires”.   Wow, all in one theatre space?  And affordable to local groups?  320 seats fills a need, but can it be all things to all men … to all women … to all voluntary societies in the performing arts … and be a university facility at the same time.  Remember the Live Room and the Hammond Theatre and watch this “space”.

So, a “space”, a rose by any other name and smelling sweet.  And so, sweet Juliet, to the theatre.  Now, “theatre”, there is a name.  The origin is Greek (of course) Θεαωρεω, to behold.  In our dictionaries we have: an action considered in its dramatic quality, writing and production of plays, a drama or spectacle, a company comprising actors etc, an audience, material suitable for dramatic effect.  The building is not the primary meaning.  So we have theatre-in-the-round, theatre of cruelty, and theatre of the absurd.   We only call the building a theatre when we can think of no other name.

The three largest theatres in London are called The London Coliseum, The Royal Opera House, and The London Palladium.   The main theatre in a city is normally called The Playhouse.  So we have The Yorkshire Playhouse, the Liverpool Playhouse, and the Leeds Playhouse; and in Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham, Norwich, Oxford, Epsom, and even in Erith. It is the grand name for the pre-eminent theatre building. Why then did Hampton Hill lose its Playhouse?

In the middle of the summer before last, The Hampton Hill Playhouse, a state of the art and brilliantly managed theatre since 1998, suddenly became Hampton Hill Theatre, without reference to anyone, least of all the members of its resident company, Teddington Theatre Club. Apparently, there had been occasions when frazzled mummies, clearly mummies too frazzled to comprehend the English language, had mistaken it for somewhere to take their fractious offspring, something like a playground or a wendy-house, or Disney-fied concatenation of the two. What happens, we may ask when its present incarnation becomes mistaken for an operating theatre … or a theatre of war?   The theatre of the absurd raises its befuddled head when we run out of names.

But then again, Juliet, the Elizabethans often named their playhouses the Rose. As Tudor groundlings stood on the floor of ash and hazelnut shells, liberally watered with beer, sweat, and urine, I wonder if they in turn wondered whether a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.

Mark Aspen

January 2017




From → Theatre Thoughts

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    What an interesting article, providing much food for thought. Thank you.

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