How a building can change your life
23 March 2013
I’ve just returned from a fabulous speech given by John Harrison at The Old Rep Theatre, as part of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s 100th anniversary. Deprived of their own building while it is being redeveloped, the Rep have remembered The Old Rep and used it as the base to celebrate their centenary. John started his acting career at the Rep in the 40's, became Artistic Director in the 60’s and was brought out of retirement to direct five of our best and most enjoyable productions, including She Stoops to Conquer, Proof, Speed-the-Plow and Oleanna. Today I sat listening to John as he brought alive his memories of Sir Barry Jackson, Paul Scofield and Sir Derek Jacobi. Both Paul and Derek became the founding patrons of our company and a hugely important part of my life.
Meanwhile although he died before I was born, through the design of the theatre, the photos I’ve been given and the stories that I’ve been told, I’ve come to love Sir Barry Jackson, the quiet man who did so much for British theatre. And I was struck how this one building brought me into the lives of Paul, Derek, John and Sir Barry and changed my life forever. Without The Old Rep, none of it would have happened. Yet as I sat there marvelling, I considered what will happen when the Council’s lease on the building runs out in 2023. For it seems highly likely they will refuse to renew and the theatre will be threatened with redevelopment as the property increases in value. And although I will be satisfied to have had more than thirty years in The Old Rep if all continues as it has, where will the Stage Door be for the next young Brummie to walk through to dream of a life within it’s walls? So many of us have shared joy, wonder and exhilaration with audiences of millions, but will the council allow the next generation in Birmingham to be deprived of the privilege of changing his or her life and the lives of so many others through The Old Rep Theatre? When buildings function as gloriously as The Old Rep, with the potential to bring joy and insight to its inhabitants and the audiences who flock to its shows, it’s surely incumbent on the powers that be to preserve the things that matter in life and not to allow the lure of the dollar to destroy the soul of a city. I really fear that Birmingham, which has always struggled to embrace the artistic ambitions of its own inhabitants, preferring to champion the colossal over the home grown, will throw away a priceless jewel of its history and its soul. And in a hundred years time there will be no-one to celebrate the achievements of the past except the bankers, the property developers and the establishment, all of whom appear to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
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