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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Brighton & Hove. It has an air as well as air.

An air as well as air.
I hope the quality of journalism at The Guardian has improved since they wrote that.

Anyhoo, I've spent the day in two of the city's airiest institutions: Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and... um... Jobcentre Plus. The photo above was taken in the former. The latter is decorated mainly with posters about benefit fraud.

I was there (the museum, not the jobcentre) mainly to visit the Stagestruck! exhibition about the Theatre Royal, which is running throughout the summer. I sometimes think I lead a charmed life (not often, in fact almost never, but sometimes) and today was no exception. The exhibition's been on since May 5th, and I chose to visit today for no other reason than I was going to the Jobcentre anyway, and due to the unemployed's well-documented love of culture (and places to shelter from the rain), the Jobcentre was built only two minutes' walk from the museum. So I popped in...

... only to find that I'd chosen to visit on the one and only day of the entire four-month run when I could get a personal tour of the exhibition by Julien Boast, Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal. I even managed to arrive at the right time. Admittedly, not everyone would want to get up close and personal with the man who booked Chico from the X Factor for the Brighton Christmas panto, but I rarely get the chance to meet anyone with such a posh name, so for me it was a stroke of good fortune.

I found it hard to look Julien in the eye without thinking of carrots, but that aside, he was a very interesting chap. I chose not to tell him that I thought the bust of Mrs Nye Chart, the theatre's old manager, looked like Rory Bremner, and I pretended to be impressed by the Aladdin outfit worn by Chico last December. How they managed to secure such an artifact for this collection, I have no idea. I expect they had to outbid the V&A.

The Mummy and the Humming BirdI did see a number of interesting exhibits though. There was an Albert Morrow designed poster for 'The Mummy and the Humming Bird' (which is like Batman & Robin but with more bandages), and a playbill for a 'Grand Christmas Pantomime' performed in January 1940 and entitled 'Heil Cinderella'. It stated in brackets underneath: "a topical version". I'd never have guessed.

I also examined a programme from the February 1965 production of 'Loot', which had been scribbled on by a critic during the performance. He'd written "outrageously callous dialogue", and described a young Ian McShane as "pale faced". He's certainly made up for it since.

It was also reassuring to find that on Tuesday 10th October 1843 the Theatre Royal staged a play entitled 'War of Affghanistan'. Nothing's changed in 150 years. Except we've lost the f in war of Afghanistan.

Anyhoo, having recreated the weather outside by playing with a backstage wind machine and mechanical rain maker, I decided to pay my respects to the history of the place by embarking on a pilgrimage to the original 18th century site of the Theatre Royal, just up the road in North Street. It seemed the least I could do. Especially as it's now a branch of Burger King.