COLIN Baker has a message for the people of Blackpool: “Support your local theatre or you’ll regret it”.
It has been a big week for the Grand, receiving a £700,000 Arts Council grant that will allow it to make massive improvements, and a further boost when top comedian Bill Bailey announced he is closing his 2013 national tour with two nights at the venue.
But with the recession still biting - as it has been for the last three years - it isn’t always easy for the Grand, and hundreds of other provincial theatres throughout the UK, to make ends meet.
Baker, most recently on our TV screens in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here and currently starring at the Grand in The Woman In White, says it is up to those on the Fylde to get behind the place.
“It is like everything in life that you really value - you only miss them when they’ve gone and if the people of Blackpool don’t support the Grand, then they might live to regret it,” said the actor who played Doctor Who in the 1980s.
“We aren‘t asking you to give money, just come to a performance. Look down the list of stuff that is on and think ‘do you know, I wouldn’t mind seeing that’.
“They have brilliant stuff on here so come and support this theatre.
“There are a dozen or so beautiful theatres in this country which are the jewels of the Victorian age and this is one of them.
“Until this week, I hadn’t played here for quite a few years and just walking through the door reminds me how much I love acting here.
“If nobody comes then it will fade and people would really miss it if it wasn’t here.
“It is good news the Arts Council have chipped in because they realise its value but it is always tricky at the seaside because you’re only got half a catchment area.
“Inland theatres have a circle round them, you’ve only got a semi-circle here, so in that semi circle people need to come.
“There is a lot of other things going on in Blackpool but the Grand is something special.”
That said, Baker - whose run in The Woman In White kicked off on Monday - almost didn’t make the opening night. He got lost trying to find his way to the theatre.
“I spent the best part of an hour within 100 yards of the place but I couldn’t get to it because of the new road system,” he said.
“Last time I was here you came down the seafront, you turned left and you arrived at the theatre. This time I went up every road but as soon as I got close to the Winter Gardens, the roads went off at a different angle. I tried every which way but I couldn‘t get to it!
“Finally the stage doorman walked down Coronation Street, got in my car and directed me.
“I don’t know what Blackpool is trying to do to encourage visitors but there are no sign-posts, there is nothing to say Grand Theatre. Most towns have little brown signs to their theatres but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.”
Baker loves Blackpool. As a young lad growing up in Manchester he used to holiday every year in Cleveleys and he and his family walked along the promenade into the town centre or up to Fleetwood.
“There was a theatre on the seafront in Cleveleys, run by a fellas called Charlie Parsons I think, where they had three or four shows a day,” he said.
“They had a dozen dancers, singers, comedians and if you stood outside they came round with a bag. You chucked a couple of pennies in and it would get you inside.
“I think seeing that was what sparked me the acting bug in me. It made me realise there was something called entertainment that you could actually do for a living.”
That has led to a soft spot for Blackpool he’s retained all his life … though he did have a brush with the authorities here not too long ago that left him bemused.
“I switched on the Christmas lights in Cromer, a little seaside resort,“ he recalled.
“They were sweet but basic and I did a little speech after turning them on and said ‘I should think Blackpool are going to be worried because these lights are fantastic’. It was a joke, clearly.
“I then received a letter sent to the theatre I was appearing at. It was from Blackpool Council saying I had insulted the Illuminations!
“They said the lights are the jewell in our crown and for me to comment on them like that was wrong.
“I wrote back saying I’ve also said in the past that I am better looking than George Clooney and he hasn’t complained once yet! I said me thinks you do protest too much. I never got a reply but I was astonished that they actually took it seriously.”
Baker won millions of new fans before Christmas when he appeared on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity and says for the fist time in years he‘s now getting stopped in the street and asked for an autograph.
“I’ve received loads of offers to do things off the back of that programme but I haven’t had time yet,” he added.
“As soon as I got back I went to Bournemouth to do panto and now I’m touring with this play.
The Woman In White, is based on the 19th century novel by Wilkie Collins. Baker plays Count Fosco and is enjoying himself.
“It’s a good part because I’m a subtle character. There is more to him that first meets the eye,” he added.
“And it just a buzz to walk out in front of a live audience, and to do it in a theatre as beautiful as the Grand makes it extra special.”
*The Woman In White is on at the Grand for only one more day (2pm matinee and 7.30pm evening performances tomorrow). Prices range from £17-£25 (£2 concessions reduction on each price band). .
For more information or to book go to www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk