6 July 2020 /

Missing Matcham’s theatres

Readers of Country Life last week (July 1, 2020) will have been surprised to read Michael Billington, their regular theatre correspondent, waxing lyrical about theatre architects, their buildings and the shows he has seen in them. Mentioning in particular, Matcham’s London Coliseum, whose interior features in a large colourful illustration.

In the article, titled ‘How we miss Matcham’s matchless beauties’ Michael Billington,  ‘salutes the genius of Frank Matcham and others, as we long for their buildings to reopen’. He asks, what does one look for in the ideal theatre? Answering his own question he suggests, good sightlines, a natural rapport between stage and auditorium, a sense of fun rather than mere functionalism; all of these factors ‘were in abundance in the theatres created by Frank Matcham, the centenary of whose death fell in May’.

Alan Bennett is quoted as calling Matcham ‘undoubtedly this country’s greatest theatrical architect’ and Michael Billington goes on to say, ‘even if only 26 of the 150 or more playhouses Matcham designed survive, they are all jewels’.

Having mentioned London theatres, ‘he longs to sit in again’ – Wyndham’s and the Haymarket – and some fine theatres around the country, The Swan at Stratford-on-Avon, the Minerva at Chichester and Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, as examples, Michael Billington finds himself ‘yearning for the day when we can return to these priceless buildings, but praying that public funds can be found to restore them, and the artists who inhabit them, to full working order’.

A plea we must all support.

Geoff Davidson