David Lister: Why it's time for venues to put great British acting names back in the spotlight

 

Share

A new theatre is to be built in the West End of London, the first for many years. We know from its owners where it will be – right above Tottenham Court Road Tube station. We know roughly how big it will be – quite compact. We know what sort of shows it will put on – straight plays, not musicals. The only thing we don't know is its name

That's not surprising, for there is no harder decision when it comes to a theatre, or indeed any arts venue, than the name. Raising the money, getting the planning permission, that's all a piece of cake compared to the business of what you will call it, and who you will offend.

It's worth the owners, Nimax, one of whose chiefs is the excellent, veteran West End producer Nica Burns, taking their time. Just look at how the rest of the West End has got it wrong in the past. There is so little celebration of talent in the naming of venues, just a celebration of duke, duchesses, queens, Greek gods, street names. And how many people actually know which duchess or which queen the theatre they are sitting in is named after. Thankfully, a few actors and impresarios are commemorated. The immortals, John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier have their venues. Mind you, the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre is alongside the Lyttelton and Cottesloe, worthy gents, though few in a pub quiz could tell you who either actually was. And no theatre in the West End is named after an actress. Peggy Ashcroft has a theatre named after her in Croydon (though located within another venue), but she should have her West End venue too, and the new Tottenham Court Road playhouse might be just the one to commemorate her.

The trouble is there is no system, it all comes down to individual theatre owners and their individual heroes, which is why Sir Cameron Mackintosh has given us a Novello and a Noel Coward.

And it's not just Theatreland that too often fails to remember its heroes. Music completely fails to remember them. How many O2s and Carlings do we need, for goodness' sake? Can't the country and the cities that gave us The Beatles, The Smiths, The Who, even if you really, really insist, the Spice Girls, name a few pop venues after some musical giants (and serious exports). O2 might be revelling in its commercial ubiquity, but it's desperately unimaginative.

And on the subject of ubiquity, couldn't we play around a little with the Odeon and be a bit more imaginative with cinema names? Would it be so impossible to have the Alfred Hitchcock Odeon in Leicester Square? Let's celebrate British talent and think about British talent when we go to watch talent. Could the Royal Opera House not name one single bar, one foyer, after Margot Fonteyn?

So, here's an idea to add to all the cultural celebrations, Olympiads, world festivals and the like taking place in the UK this year. Let the Department of Culture set up a Cultural Venues Naming Commission. Let it publish a list of British talent that should be honoured above the lights of famous cultural venues. Let it then wrangle with the commercial owners of these buildings in public.

The word one hears a lot, too much, this year is that awful word, legacy. The one meaningful cultural legacy from 2012 would be to see the names of great cultural heroes and heroines in lights, permanently.

French have the X-factor but they don't fit the bill

Simon Cowell loves nothing more than controversy, so one hesitates to add to it. But watching the last episode of Britain's Got Talent, I did wonder exactly what the dance group Cascade were doing on it. They did a cracking routine of dance, martial arts and stunt acts. Only thing was, they weren't from Britain, they were from France.

It seems a bit of an admission of failure, both ratings failure and a failure of patriotism and cultural faith, effectively to say that there isn't enough talent over here to fill an hour or two. Perhaps he should change the name of the show, though "The World's Got Talent" sounds even more of a truism than the original title.

No mention of the museums' taxing times

One of the perks of the Chancellor's wife being a mover and shaker in the arts is that she hosts very pleasant receptions at the Chancellor of the Exchequer's residence, 11 Downing Street, for arts bodies. I went to one recently for the Museums at Night campaign. Frances Osborne hosted the evening and introduced it with a short speech. Curiously, she neglected to refer to the one issue most on the minds of the museums' community – the Chancellor's decision to cut tax relief on charitable giving, which could significantly affect the amount philanthropists give to museums and galleries. Mrs Osborne didn't mention this at all. I can't think why.

d.lister@independent.co.uk

Twitter.com/davidlister1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam