Macready Theatre, Rugby
December 5, 2018
A prominent feature of the Rugby School landscape, the Macready Theatre has long remained unknown to the majority of the townsfolk. Sitting opposite the Temple Speech Rooms, most people reckon it’s probably a chapel of some sort. With the theatre’s relaunch as a professional venue, it’s hoped that will soon all change.
The approximately 200-seat theatre aims to programme a mix of small-scale dance, music and stand-up comedy. The focus will be on professional artists, artistic director, Tim Coker, stressing that he is striving not out to tread on the toes of other venues in the town, especially Rugby Theatre and its programme of drama and musicals with community casts.
As a way of reaching out to and encouraging young, local arts lovers, sponsorship from Cemex is helping ensure that one-third of seats for shows will be given free via local schools. Coker made the point forcefully in his speech that giving all children the chance to experience culture is desperately important, especially in the face of cuts to the arts in the school curriculum.
The relaunch evening was top and tailed by two new duets from Motionhouse Dance Theatre. Happy Hour is a playful duet that explores the theme of strangers meeting. To the sound of honking horns and street noise, we first see Martina Knight and Alasdair Stewart’s paths crossing what seems to be outdoors, the dance before the action transfers to a bar. There’s a bit of tango influence for a while as the dance gets more interesting. It’s clearly supposed to be humorous but despite being well-danced, it raised little more than the odd smile with me. I’m unconvinced by the need to mime speaking too; the situations are clear enough without it. As to the characters, you have to feel for Knight. Stewart, in his red spangly shirt, seems to be a real pest as make makes his advances; one of those men most people who thinks being laddish is endearing but who most would actually run a mile from. At least the tables do eventually get turned.
Knot, an all-male duet inspired by Salvador Dali’s 1937 painting Metamorphosis of Narcissus, is altogether more interesting and deeply thoughtful work. Performed by Daniel Massarella and Aaron Watkinson, the idea of reflection features heavily in the choreography including of oneself in imaginary water held in cupped hands and of each other in movement. As the couple twist and turn around each other there are all the trademark Motionhouse lifts and supports, but within dance that’s unexpectedly sensual with moments of soft guiding of one another. Super stuff and a great end to the evening.
In between came some sparkling moments from a few of Rugby’s younger performers, some of whom are already making names for themselves. Taighen O’Callaghan gave us a moment from Enda Walsh’s adaptation of Max Porter’s essay on loss, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, in which he is presently appearing as one of the mourning father’s two confused sons. Emily Browning then made Shakespeare’s Hamlet come alive, before Rugby School student, Julian Baring performed a powerful excerpt from Mindgame by Anthony Horowitz, a psychological thriller play set in a mental hospital. Baring recently played the young Prince Charles in the Netflix hit, The Crown. All three were utterly convincing, their words seeming terribly real. A remarkable trio indeed. Completing the line-up was a little more dance, from Rugby School student Rin Teshima, who ambitiously took on one of the Shades variations from La Bayadère,
It really was a super evening, the first one hopes of many as what was called “a new era of culture” for the town dawns.
Who was William Macready?
The Macready Theatre is named after former Rugby School head boy and noted actor, William Macready the Younger, son of Irish actor and late-18th/early-a9th century theatre manager William Macready the Elder. He was due to go to Oxford University but his father’s money problems led him to the stage. Known largely for romantic drama, the young William’s first notable role was as Romeo in Birmingham in 1810, rather appropriately aged just 17. He later moved to London where he became a regular actor at Covent Garden, achieving huge success in 1818 in Isaac Pocock’s adaptation of Sir William Scott’s Rob Roy. He then moved to Drury Lane, where his star rose further, most conspicuously in 1825 in the title role of Sheridan Knowles’ William Tell.
William Macready also completed several successful tours to New York and Paris, although in the former he is probably better remembered for being a central figure in the background to the 1849 Astor Place Riot. Over 20 people died and 100 were injured in civil unrest partly over the correct theatrical interpretation of Macbeth: that by Edwin Forrest, one of the best-known and most popular American actors of the time, and that by Macready. Antagonism between the couple went back many years but was the spark that set fire to a clash of social classes with nationalist undertones, Forrest being admired by the workers and relatively poor, and Macready by the rising business classes, wealthy and opinion leaders. After the riot, Macready never appeared in America again and retired completely from the stage two years later.