“ Address: Sheffield Road / Sutton Coldfield B73 5HD / West Midlands „
For those of you who don't know, I was part of my local theatre group from age 14 right up until October 2011 and enjoyed taking part in a wide variety of shows and pantos. Usually the shows we performed were at a theatre in Birmingham city centre, however when we did our yearly pantomime we performed them at our smaller local theatre in Sutton Coldfield, The Highbury Little Theatre. So I am going to write a review to give you a view from backstage as well as front of house and watching a performance!
*** A Little Bit of History ***
When I first performed at The Highbury Little Theatre I was 14 and taking part in Cinderella. This was the first time I had been on a proper stage in my life and at the time I remember being quite grateful that the theatre wasn't a huge one as I was feeling a little nervous. At the time I was aware that the theatre is quite old and also has a rather interesting history regarding how the theatre was created and built.
The Highbury Little Theatre was built during the second world war by a group of locals known as the Highbury Players who used to do performances in local church halls and wanted a more permanent base for their performances. The Highbury Players amateur dramatics group are the resident group at the theatre and still continue to perform there today. Although this is not the group I am with and we just hire the theatre for a week each year to perform our pantomime.
As well as still being the home of the Highbury Players and also hiring the theatre out to other local theatre groups, The Highbury Little Theatre offers a variety of activities including a youth theatre group and a variety of different performances including studio plays and musical evenings. As well as all of this the theatre runs workshops on props, scenery and behind the scenes and they also play host to coffee mornings and art exhibitions. So, in my opinion, for a small theatre there is a lot going on there!
*** Backstage ***
Being as I have spent most of my time at the theatre backstage and on stage, I'll tell you about that first.
To get into the theatre backstage you need to go to the stage door which is located at the side of the theatre, the door is almost always kept locked so you will have to ring the bell for a member of your company or Highbury staff to let you in.
Once you are through the door there is a door to the left of you known as the green room, this is where we all hang out when we have nothing to do or people go for some peace and quiet to learn their lines with a nice cup of tea as food and drink are not allowed in the dressing rooms.
Directly in front of the stage door is a staircase which leads up to a medium sized dance studio, this is where I am told the Youth theatre rehearse their performances although we have only ever used it for backstage after-show parties.
If you walk to the right when you enter through the stage door you can enter the first of 3 dressing rooms. This dressing room is quite small and comfortably holds 6 people and all of their costumes, although we have on some occasions had 8 people in there. The dressing room has a large mirror covering the whole of the main wall and a couple of large rails for hanging costumes and clothes. There are some plastic seats provided, they aren't the most comfortable in the world, but they are better than nothing! There is also a small toilet cubicle at the end of the dressing room and a sink.
If you take a walk along the corridor which runs behind the green room you will pass 2 toilets, 1 male and 1 female and come to 2 more dressing rooms. These dressing rooms are closer to the stage area and we use them for our actors and actresses who are playing the lead roles in performances. These dressing rooms are quite a reasonable size and we manage to have about 10 - 12 cast members in them with plenty of room to move around. They both have mirrors all the way around, plenty of hanging space for costumes along with work surfaces and chairs all the way around the edge of the rooms. These dressing rooms also have their own toilet facilities.
In between the 2 dressing rooms by the stage are 2 steps and a small door which leads to the back of the stage. If you walk through this door you can simply turn left or right depending on which side of the stage you need to be. The areas either side of the stage are really small and are often used for storing props and scenery so it's not a good idea to stand there too long or you will find yourself getting in the way or some very stressed backstage staff who are trying to keep the performance running smoothly.
*** Front of House ***
Front of House is the name of the area where you enter the theatre. The theatre entrance is on Sheffield Road in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield. The street is a residential street and as a result parking is extremely limited.
The outside of the theatre looks quite pretty and like a village hall but better, there are boards in the windows either side of the entrance where theatre companies advertise their shows and any upcoming events at the theatre.
As you walk through the entrance you will usually be greeted by a member of front of house staff who will request to see your tickets. If you haven't got tickets then the box office is just inside the main entrance to the right of the main doors.
The facilities front of house will vary, depending on which company is using the theatre. When our group are there we will offer raffle tickets, a small selection of sweets and chocolate, the opportunity to purchase a programme and we have members of staff around who will show you the way into the auditorium and tell you where your seats are.
In the front of house area there is a large number of boards and frames containing photos from previous performances by the Highbury Players, I always enjoy having a look at these as quite a few of the members of our group are also in the Highbury Players and sometimes do shows with them as well.
The front of house area is a reasonable size but during the interval it can get quite crowded and even more so after the performance when the members of the cast also come to the area to see friends and family.
There are toilet facilities available and although they are small and only a couple of toilets I have always found them to be clean and well stocked with toilet roll.
*** The Auditorium ***
To get to the auditorium you have to go through the large double doors located in the front of house area and up a small flight of stairs. At this point you will be at the top of the auditorium looking down towards the stage. All of the seats are clearly marked so you shouldn't have any trouble finding where you are sitting and if you do there is usually someone near by who will show you to your seat. Having been in the theatre so many times both watching performances and simply just sitting waiting around during technical rehearsal, I can honestly say that the view from all of the seats front or back, left or right of the stage is very clear and the seats are positioned well so you do not end up with someone's head in your way! I have been taking my younger brother to this theatre since he was about 4 and I would say that 90% of the time he has not had any problems with a clear view either, the only occasion he did has been when an incredibly tall person was sat in front of us, but then we swapped places and we could both see clearly.
If you are seated in one of the box areas you will need to go up some different stairs and walk through another studio area, however usually a member of staff will accompany you to here as it can be quite difficult to locate if you haven't been there before.
The seats in the theatre are reasonably comfortable and the amount of legroom is also pretty decent.
I have mentioned a lot of stairs for entering the auditorium, which doesn't sound good for disabled persons or wheelchair users, but don't worry because if you let the company who you book the tickets with know you cannot use stairs they will arrange for you to enter the auditorium through the side entrance along a corridor and they will remove the appropriate number of seats in the front row for a wheelchair or if you don't use a wheelchair someone will assist you to your seat and make sure everything is ok for you.
*** The Performance ***
I can't really give you my opinion of a specific performance at The Highbury Little Theatre because it really does vary depending on what the show is and which company is performing it. I will say though that all the performance's I have seen, amateur and professional have been great and even though they are a rival group for us I do enjoy the performances put on by the Highbury Players and of course I would recommend any show that is by my theatre group! ;)
The sound quality at The Highbury Little Theatre will depend on whether the company performing uses microphones or not. I have noticed that due to the cost involved in using microphones most of the companies take advantage of the fact that sound travels really well around the auditorium. Personally I think it sounds much better when the microphones aren't used as they can sometimes be crackly and if a singer hits a high note it can be a bit loud and go right though you!
The prices of the performances also vary depending on what you are seeing. Our group range between £10 and £15 depending on which night you go. I think this is around the same price range as other local amateur groups, but it is best to check with them on booking.
*** The Bar ***
The Highbury Little Theatre has a Bar area located to the left of the front of house area. The bar offers a wide variety of alcohol and soft drinks along with a choice of tea or coffee and a variety of snacks. There is also the opportunity to pre-order your interval drinks. This is great as it does get very busy during the interval and it saves you queuing and wasting time. I really recommend pre-ordering your drinks as it will allow you plenty of time to finish your drink, as drinks are not allowed into the auditorium.
The bar itself is quite small and the staff are usually volunteers from the theatre so please be nice to them! Due to the size the bar area can get quite crammed especially if all the cast members come for a drink after the show, however drinks can be taken into the main front of house area where you will be able to breathe a little easier!
As for the prices in the bar I would say they are quite reasonable. The drinks are around the same price you would expect to be paying in the pub located at the end of the road and the snacks are around 50p for a packet of crisps or chocolate bar, but this does vary slightly depending on the company using the theatre for some reason.
*** How Can I Contact The Highbury Little Theatre ***
Contacting The Highbury Little Theatre can be done in a number of ways, as I will detail below:
You can write to The Highbury Little Theatre at the following address:
Highbury Little Theatre
For bookings and performance information you will need to phone:
Box Office: 0121 373 2761
The Box Office is only open for limited hours on a Monday at 7:30pm to 9pm, and Wednesday mornings from 10am until 12 midday.
*** How Do I Get There? ***
The Highbury Little Theatre is located in a residential area and also on a one way street which can make it a little tricky to get to if you don't know the area. The road that the theatre is on is a residential road and there is a residents parking scheme in action there so you wont be able to park on the road. You can however try the very small car park at the rear of the theatre which is accessed by a small driveway at the side of the theatre, although this is often full very fast. There is a gravel car park located about a 5 minute walk away near the corner of Sheffield road, this is shared with the pub on the corner though so again, it can be quite full. The other parking options are outside the shops on nearby Boldmere road, from here you will have a 5 - 10 minute walk. Or you can park on Marston road which is a side road just off Sheffield road and again you will have around a 5 minute walk to the theatre.
If you are travelling to the theatre by train you will need a ticket to Chester Road train station and the theatre is about a 10-15 minute walk from there and it is well signposted.
If you are travelling by bus you will need to catch bus number 66 and get off on Boldmere road at the stop closest to the Methodist church and the Boldmere Oak pub, from there you will have a 5-10 minute walk.
Ok, I think I have covered everything! I hope you have enjoyed my little tour of a lovely little theatre with a lot of character!
Thanks for taking the time to read!