Lifting the curtain

Neil Thompson, Blackpool Grand Theatre general manager
Neil Thompson, Blackpool Grand Theatre general manager
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The next seven days are going to be busy for Neil Thomson, chief executive and general manager, of Blackpool’s Grand Theatre.

In fact, the whole of March is going to be very busy. With 21 shows in 28 days, it’s going to be one of the busiest months The Grand has had for many years.

Mr Thomson said: “We haven’t done that for a long, long time. We hope the programme will give people a little bit of everything. We have everything from Shakespeare, ballet, and HMS Pinafore, through to Ken Dodd, The Drifters, DrumChasers, Busting Out and Thriller Live.

“There is plenty of variety, something for all ages, all interests – there really is something for everybody.”

Of course, so many one-night or short-run shows within such a short space of time will mean some hard work for staff at the theatre, especially stage crew. “It takes a lot of organising, negotiation and planning, we work around 12 months in advance,” said Mr Thomson.

“You deal with a lot more producers, you meet more new people, sets have to turn around very fast – it’s like everything we do normally, but magnified. We will have some very fast turn-arounds. Sometimes we have stage staff here until 6am, because performances may not finish until 10.30pm, then they then have to dismantle that scenery and then set up for the next show.

“A big show like Spamalot would have three large lorries full of scenery and equipment, so you can imagine the sheer volume of work.

“We find clientele for different shows want different drinks at the bar, or different ice creams, for example. So we have to plan for and think about that. I think one of the advantages of having so many one night shows is with the recession at the moment people have less disposable income.

“What we are offering is two or two-and-a-half hours of a memory to people. If you have a week-long show, you can deplete audience numbers, because once people have seen a show, most are unlikely to come back and watch it again.”

Among the shows featured on the March timetable, was A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare 4 Kidz.

Mr Thomson said the theatre liked to host such productions, and to work with local schools to try to get more youngsters interested in shows.

He said: “We like to encourage children and youngsters to come and watch shows as it gets them interested in the theatre from a young age.

“Times have changed, with DVDs and so on, but going to the theatre is still something special for children and they do enjoy watching shows like Fireman Sam and Thomas the Tank.

“They are our future patrons.”

And enjoyment is something Neil is very keen for people to come away with when they go to watch any of the shows at The Grand.

He said: “In the times we live in, it’s nice for people to have the theatre, which provides a great escapism.

“They can come and sit and watch a show for two hours and talk about it afterwards and forget everything else.”