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This interview gets off at a cracking pace with Emma Taylor being the best at pitching an idea I’ve ever come across. We’ve only just met and she’s straight into telling me about Canal Café Theatre’s latest project. It’s exhilarating.
She has a brilliant schema for a show and as the interview progresses I discover she’s very much an ‘ideas’ person; they just keep flowing. To make them into a reality is her job - she’s producer as well. She’s been Artistic Director at Canal Café and producer of their award-winning NewsRevue for 16 years. In addition to this, they launched The American Season last year. One of their major challenges is to let people know their shows are not just about comedy.
Here at Canal Café musical theatre has worked very well. Emma’s inaugural show as a director was LUCKY STIFF which was nominated for What’s On stage best revival in 2002, up against the West End’s ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate’.
We’re so used to seeing huge musicals with spectacular sets, to see stripped back musicals, laid bare is rewarding in a different way and far more affordable! We’re so close to the performers and can really hear the clarity of their voices and feel as though we’re part of the action. It’s joyful.
The new venture is ‘Cream of the Crop’ now shortened to just ‘Cream’. It’s billed as an ‘in house cabaret’ but it’s so much more than this. The show runs for six consecutive Sundays 7th May to 11th June and is set to become a regular Sunday night feature. There are two men, two women and an on-stage Musical director throughout, a la NewsRevue.
Emma says: “We’re hand-picking some of the best songs that flopped on Broadway or the West End or both during their first outing and we’re certainly spoilt for choice. There are so many beautiful songs we want to resurrect. Multi-talented Tim McArthur is devising, directing and choreographing. Our first auditions were by invitation only, drawing from actors we already knew as we need quadruple threats (singer, dancer, actor, comedians).”
Emma gets out her mobile phone to show me a video of the audition with some extremely polished performers, giving a rendition of something rather lovely and cutting in with:
“It’s not where you start its where you finish.”
Oh, and did I say, she’s funny too! There’s a laugh dancing around her lips, and I know her theatre is dedicated to the ‘funny’, so whatever else, you’re sure to be entertained.
Tonight, I’m having my first date with NewsRevue and it proves to be a much better experience than the real one! One of the things you should know is that it isn’t ‘Mock the Week’ or ‘Have I Got News For You’. If you’ve ever wondered what politicians would look like as musical theatre stars, this is for you. It’s an amusing satirical show with savvy writers, accomplished performers et al - in short, you will not be disappointed.
Emma explained that one of the reasons behind the Guinness World Record-breaking longevity and success of the show is due to the constant updating of material and all the people involved. They change the actors, the director and the musical director every 6 weeks. Chortle described it as “A rite of passage for all comedy newcomers.”
NewsRevue was featured by Sky News during Edinburgh Fringe last summer post the Referendum, and now they want to come and film the London show ahead of the forthcoming elections with a particular interest in celebrity endorsement, or lack thereof, of the parliamentary candidates.
The Canal Cafe has a cabaret style seating which works so well to create a relaxed atmosphere. However, it’s not always cabaret style. In their American season, which has three strands, past, present and future, they started with Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry. They used a ‘Tramersive’ staging. It’s not a strict traverse. They got rid of the tables in the auditorium and just had chairs on either side with audience also sitting on a v- shape on the stage. ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ was originally performed in a 70 seater off- Broadway, so they brought it back to its original format.
This was followed by the ‘present’; the critically acclaimed ‘The Understudy’ by Theresa Rebeck, that director Russell Lucas described as ‘a love letter to the theatre.’ This was another stripped back production with incredibly sophisticated lighting and soundscape created by in-house technical director, Stuart Glover.
The ‘future’ is a commission and Canal Café have been running a ‘competition’ to find their writer. The broad remit is ‘anything to do with the current American political climate. “We’ve had over 120 applications and choosing just one is extremely difficult” says Emma.
Without doubt the jewel in the crown at Canal Café is their long running NewRevue. It’s now in its 38th year and it began its life at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1979. They always welcome new writers. The director sends out a spec of news stories they want covering each week which have thematic, topical, up-to-minute stories with links to the news stories. https://www.newsrevue.com/writing-for-newsrevue
With this running four nights a week, scenery for dramas is kept minimal. Emma is particularly enthusiastic about Driving Miss Daisy: “A beautiful steering wheel was made, with a harness to attach it every time Hoke was driving. We had two boxes to give a suggestion of a car. It was beautiful and totally worked, so it encourages directors and producers to be really inventive with any props and scenery used.”
With 14 slots a week, they have the potential to host a huge variety of shows and it’s a favourite with big name stand ups as well as sketch groups just starting out. The League of Gentleman famously began at the Canal Cafe and in Emma’s early years she has fond memories of booking John Oliver on Monday nights. Earlier this month, Katy Brand delighted a packed house, one of whom was Hugh Dennis, with her hit Edinburgh show. Often the people in the audience are as famous as than those on stage (if not more) and include the likes of Rik Mayall, Frank Skinner, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Queen’s Roger Taylor and even Sir Paul McCartney! He bought everyone in the pub a drink after the show.
Mark Owen from Take That bizarrely ended up in a scene when he came to watch NewsRevue. During the show, he had popped to the toilet and when he came back in, the scene had moved off stage to be staged in the entrance to the theatre, the actor was in a spotlight and then he was joined by Mark Owen who walked back into the theatre at that unfortunate moment. He quietly gasped and then froze until the scene was over. That was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever seen at the theatre.
Last but not least, the Canal Cafe have launched yet another in house production. Last year saw the return of adult panto, which they hadn’t done for over 10 years. Their first foray back into this arena was the highly successful and utterly tasteless AlladinMe written by NewsRevue stalwart Luke Coldham and directed by associate director and long-time friend of the theatre, Adam Morley. For 2017 they have commissioned a new adult panto by Matthew Floyd Jones, one of half of Frisky and Mannish entitled ‘Beans!’ This will also be directed by Adam Morley.
Emma Taylor was chatting with Heather Jeffery, Editor of London Pub Theatres
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London Pub Theatres Magazine Limited May 2017
CANAL CAFÉ THEATRE (@CanalCafe)
Above Bridge House Pub
Delamere Terrace, Little Venice, London W2 6ND
The award-winning Canal Café Theatre is beautifully situated on the Regent’s Canal in Little Venice. A renowned comedy and theatre venue since 1979, it has helped launch some of the biggest names in the comedy world ranging from John Oliver to Miranda Hart to The League of Gentlemen. It prides itself on producing little known revivals to great critical acclaim and it is home to Guinness World Record-Breaking News Revue which plays 4 nights a week, 50 weeks of the year. It is also fast becoming known as an important new writing venue and home of The American Season, Cream and an annual adult panto.
This 60 -seater venue has performances ranging from stand-up, sketch, comedy, to drama and music. They also have new writing nights and revivals of plays. The seating for many of the shows is arranged by tables, from four seats to 10. The layout can be seen online when you are booking your tickets.
Set in the heart of Little Venice overlooking the canal, it is a very charming location. Known as one of the capital's most beautiful areas, it has gentle canals and quiet streets and is only a stone’s throw from Paddington's bars and pubs.
By Tube - situated 3 mins from Warwick Avenue station (Bakerloo), 5 mins from Royal Oak (Hammersmith and City line) and 10 mins from Paddington (District, City, Bakerloo and National Rail Services).
By Bus - 6, 46 and 187 buses all stop just outside Warwick Avenue tube station. The 18 bus also stops nearby.
By Car – Parking; most of the area is for residents only, but there are pay and display spaces outside the pub.
The seating is usually arranged by tables, perfect for informal gatherings. It's always best to book to avoid disappointment, particularly if you have a large group who want to sit together.
This is a members-only theatre, which costs just £1.50 per person on the first ticket you buy. You will then be issued with a membership card (valid for 1 year) - pop it in your wallet and bring it along when you come next time - if you get it stamped 4 times within the year, you can trade it in for a free ticket to the News Revue.
Opportunities for writers
THE PUB – The Bridge House pub
Set in the heart of Little Venice, The Bridge House is the perfect place to indulge your theatrical side, with extravagant chandeliers, a roaring fire in Winter and sumptuous furnishings. You can savour the suitably theatrical surroundings, whilst enjoying pre or post show dining and drinks, or sit in the pub’s beer garden overlooking the canal. They also have a pub quiz, Sunday lunch, board games, free wi-fi, all with the added advantage of having disabled facilities. You can also buy gift cards for your loved ones to spend in the pub (available on line).
DID YOU KNOW …
Emma Taylor has been artistic director since 2001.
Emma Taylor is Producer of News Revue. She received the Guinness World Record on behalf of News Revue in 2004. She is also a recipient of Fringe Report’s Theatre Person of the Year
Professor Michael Hodd was founder of Canal Café Theatre and NewsRevue
Michael Hodd was educated at Cambridge, LSE and Princeton and has worked as an economist in Universities in Australia, the UK and India. In 1979 he was responsible for creating NewsRevue and then the Canal Café Theatre in 1984. With John Close he has authored three musicals: Ronnie & Reggie Request on the Kray brothers; Joe on the life of Joe Orton; and Bogart on Humphrey Bogart. Michael is a commissioned writer for BBC Radio.