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Oxford Playhouse (Oxford)

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Address: Beaumont Street / Oxford / UK / OX1 2LW / Tel: 01865 305305

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    2 Reviews
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    • More +
      11.03.2013 23:11
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      'The Old Vic' in miniature, without the curtain.

      There is something 'Windows 95' about a membership database that doesn't compute while 'updating details', such as: your correct name. Of course, this happened to me, when a work-experience staff member of the Oxford Playhouse initially added a letter (s) to the end of my surname. This was when I was accepted as an honorary member of the 'OP Production Database' - naturally, a proud moment for me but slightly tarnished by being plural - there is only one of me and frankly for the good of the human race I'm glad this is the case. I'm not for cloning either, as I'll be worried what the other me is thinking - assuming that clones think. After getting the production listings via snail-mail for five years the urge to knock the (s) off the end of my surname became too enticing. I decided to inform the 'OP' database staff of this plural error - After forty five minutes of; 'umming and haahaa-ring' while occupying the Foyer, I swung out the double-doors and gulped in CO2 vehicle fumes. My mail ire vanished as the update had been granted - the Playhouse's archaic computer system had accepted me as I really am on paper. Any other establishment I would've given five minutes maximum before bursting a blood-vessel, but the Playhouse staff gave me a cappuccino and a wafer-biscuit, to compensate for the timely ordeal. Deep down I actually liked the clunky, whirly workstation and the staff etiquette, who worked tirelessly to please a theatergoer. They apologized profusely, I apologized profusely, for not being plural and they now annually give me free tickets to a production, usually at the beginning of the panto-season. 'Oh yes they do' - and it gives a license for my Nieces to screech in an auditorium - usually pre-commence of the production and untimely during the production.

      Maufe's Playhouse

      Architecturally theatres are renowned for incorporating trap-doors and fulcrums into the plans and Maufe the Oxford Playhouse's architect probably the only one who knows where they all are. Bespoke in erecting monumental, commemorative blocks of ornate architecture - Maufe's enthusiasm in building a Playhouse that had nooks and crannies, bells and whistles, with a purpose to entertain, must've stimulated his creativity. The Playhouse exterior was to be in-keeping with the Beaumont Street design and street plan - and visually Maufe kept to the script; in 1938 the Playhouse was finished. A small eloquent theatre - facilitated with a big heart, this resonated the beauty of Oxford - A place for performance, drama, epitomizing a middle class man's lounge - albeit, the womb shape Auditorium interior elevated audio from the stage and surrounding vicinity, no lounge has such eccentricities, surely. Acoustically the Oxford Playhouse is 'sound,' every morsel of audio is on stage, including the creak of the 'Fire Exit' door.

      My first experience of the OP (Oxford Playhouse) began on a warm evening in June 2002. The highly acclaimed Irish Playwright Sebastian Barry was on show - well he wasn't, but his dense vision of politics, imperialism and its effects on relationships, the play was called: 'Hinterland'. The dull-lit stage, accentuated the totalitarian mood, a stark contrast to a bright evening in June. Threads of rococo swirls are an eye-catching distraction as you eye wanders and the mottled crimson flooring complimented the curved, shell-like seats - joined together as if they're holding metaphoric hands. Rather intimate, too cosy if a play encouraged a full-house, I felt - although I didn't experience such an event till viewing; Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest'; a Whyman production during the late summer of 2005. The theatre became frightfully intimate and I wondered how it compared to 'The Old Vic' in London (built in 1818). My conclusion: the theatres' were at each end of a vein, on the same leaf. Whyman's production was an opportunity to witness the acting prowess of my old school mate Dominic Rowan who was playing 'Algernon' - His forte is periodic dramas so this was right up his alley. 'Algernon's' banter with 'Jack' was suitably spiffy Wildean. All of them talented and used the theatre's ambiance too their advantage - echoic for performance emphasis. What is it with Irish playwrights 'dead or alive' who demand my attendance?

      The 'OP' stage is closer to the audience - to the point it doesn't detach itself via an opening or closing of a curtain, and the musician quarters are hovelled together adjacent to the stage steps, not ideal for a claustrophobic musician - who's only visible if a rampant joyous tune stimulated quickened head bobbing. Their side-doors reminded me of quaint twelfth century dwarf doors to a church pew - I wasn't aware Sir Edward Maufe the architect was a slight man - yet the beautifully crafted seating area definitely wouldn't be suffice for a cumbersome derriere, leg-room notably cramped if over six foot tall, or have long legs. My patella has complained somewhat on lengthily productions. Thankfully, most I've encountered do have a break half way through - well, the actors require vocal lubrication the same as my ceased up knee joints require maneuvering.
      - - -
      Stalls - 18 on the Ground Floor: 13 - 16 seats - first four front stalls: 16 - 27 seats are in the lower to centre stalls: 27 stalls to the back. Circle First Floor - 7 stalls 27 seats in each stall.
      - - -
      'Jack and the Beanstalk', 'Mother Goose', 'Dick Whittington' productions, brings lighter, jovial content which encourages the adults just as much as their children. OP has had 'Xtra Factor' staff who're on stage to galvanized silliness and stalk the audiences for embarrassed gents to step up to the performance plate in December 2012. One year I had the pleasure of being Mother Goose's love interest, I learned quickly it was apparent a special seat is advocated to participating parties. Noticeably it is always the males who get soaked by water pistols, wet toilet rolls, and usually gets roped into doing something unmanly. I'm not complaining, duly on the promise of free tickets later on this year again. At present, the Andy Parsons skit-show is a crowd-puller - although I'm more incline / addicted to the aristocrat capitalistic dense proses of the Irish kind to get my creative embers glowing - or I could be swayed to an Alan Bennett offering. With the British Art Council funding the Playhouse until there is zero money in the pot - I wonder when they'll be forced to up the stall fee; it is 15 to 30 GBP per head depending on performance, actors and demand - soon another factor will take effect, called: 'theatre survival' - hopefully the austere period won't dent the audience numbers, enthusiasm for theatre, and eagerness for their array of light refreshments and hot beverages at 'Pret a Manger' prices on the right of the Foyer. Normally I would grumble and abstain from refueling but I remind myself I'm on their monthly database, they made a grandiose effort to knock the (s) at the end of my surname, they gave me a free hot drink, free tickets for the mandatory pantomime, free product listing via snail mail. All this and they're a charity - a charity that's been a platform for film 'greatness', 'has beens' and 'Mr Bean' - and been applauded by those who're 'Gielgud and feeling good'. Of course, I appreciated the silence, ambient noise, sweet wrapper cracking, the emotional roller-coaster of the performances, and the rumble of the traffic on Beaumont Street, the pivotal swing and squeak of the chair, the susurration awe of an audience in unison, locked in the drama of a confined space.

      Worth a visit.

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      • More +
        15.09.2011 15:19
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        Nice small thatre

        Although I have lived near Oxford for many years I had only ever been to the New Theatre and although I was vaguely aware that the city boasted other theatres I had never visited them.

        My daughter is part of a local drama group and they have become involved in the National Theatre youth connection competition. On passing the first round their next challenge was to perform in a "proper" theatre. They were allocated the Oxford Playhouse which is how I came to visit to watch their performance.

        ===Getting There===

        Travelling in to Oxford can be tiresome from our direction as the one-way system means that we have to drive a long way around the city to actually get in to the centre. The Park and Ride system is very good and the theatre is located in Beaumont Street, not far from the famous Randolph Hotel (familiar to all Inspector Morse fans) which is very much in the city centre, so only a short walk from the bus-stops.

        However on this occasion we decided to drive in as our daughter was there all day and we felt she would be fit to drop by the time the performance had ended. A friend drove me into the centre last year and had parked very close to the theatres and a quick hunt on the internet showed me that we had obviously parked in the Gloucester Green car park. I printed off a map and found this underground car park quite easily after driving along St Giles and turning down past the Randolph Hotel. I drive 4x4 and I did panic that it wouldn't fit and although I don't think there was much space above my roof bars there was no nasty crunching noises! We arrived at 7pm and had to pay £3.10 per hour parking until 8pm and then £3.10 set fee until midnight. £6.20 is expensive but all Oxford parking is extortionate so we weren't surprised. The car park is pay and display.

        The theatre is literally two minutes' walk from the car park so is very easy to find and the parking is very convenient.

        ===First Impressions===

        I must admit that the first impression I had of the theatre was that it was quite drab looking. There were quite a few posters outside advertising future productions but the more elaborate shows tend to go to the New Theatre around the corner. The Playhouse is more of a community theatre which is why it was hosting the Connections performances.

        The theatre was built in the 1930s and was designed to fit in with the style of other historic buildings on Beaumont Street.

        The outside did look like it could do with a good clean but there are a lot of buildings in Oxford with the same appearance.

        ===Foyer===

        I had booked our tickets online and was picking them up from the box office. We arrived early so I was able to get a good look at the foyer before it became full of people. I immediately became aware that the area had obviously undergone a very recent refurbishment. The area was not huge but it was bright and light with a lovely, friendly atmosphere. I headed for the desk on the left-hand side under the sign marked Tickets and a very friendly lady quickly produced my tickets for me. Directly ahead was the entrance to the theatre and that was roped off due to the early time. Next to this was a low counter selling a small selection of drinks and sweets ready for the performance, there was also a basket of free programmes for our particular show. You could also pick up flyers for future productions.

        To the right was a comfortable bar area. There were a small number of seats and it was simply decorated in a modern style. We didn't use the bar before the show although it was open. It was such a lovely sunny evening that we decided to stretch our legs and have a little walk around the historic city before returning in time for the start. However we spoke to some friends who had bought drinks and they said that the prices were not too bad, less than they had expected in a theatre. If you wanted to pre-order drinks for the interval you could.

        The toilets were clearly sign-posted but getting to them required negotiating quite a steep staircase. The toilets were very clean (well the ladies were, obviously I didn't venture into the men's!) although the cubicles were tiny. There were a couple of washbasins but only one hand-dryer so I imagine there would be quite a queue on a busy evening during the interval. I found out later that there was a disabled toilet on the ground floor.

        ===The Auditorium===

        This theatre has both stalls and circle but the circle was closed when we visited as the theatre groups were using the circle area and the bar area upstairs for changing and relaxing.

        The stalls consisted of about 15 rows of seats. The predominant colour as you walk in is red as all of the seats and the carpets are very red. This is not an ornate theatre so there is no lavish decoration inside the auditorium. Strangely enough the stage does not have a curtain. This surprised me as I thought that a fire-curtian was a standard safety item in this sort of venue and also the lack of a normal curtain seemed odd. I did ask my daughter if there was a curtain but they chose not to use it but she said that there just didn't appear to be one.

        The stage is not very high but all of the seats in the stalls seemed to offer a reasonable view due to the slight sloping nature of the auditorium and the staggered seating across the rows. I am quite short but I had no problems with the view, even with another adult sat in front of me.

        The main problem with the auditorium is the seating. The seats have quite a low back so are not terrible comfortable but the worst part was the lack of legroom. As I stated I am somewhat vertically challenged but I could barely get my legs comfortable. My husband and son ended up sitting at a slight sideways angle to fit their legs in (luckily there was an empty seat next to my son). Entering and leaving the row if there was anyone still in their seats was quite a challenge as even standing and lifting the seat didn't really give a lot of room for manoeuvre. To be honest anyone that was more than even slightly overweight might find the whole situation rather uncomfortable.

        Even though we were watching an amateur performance I felt that the lighting and the sound quality was actually very good.

        ===Final Thoughts===

        I liked visiting this cosy little theatre but it is a shame about the cramp seating as that is about the only negative point. Due to a lack of funding the theatre was closed in 1987 as there wasn't enough money to pay for the necessary refurbishments. In 1991 it re-opened and I presume that the auditorium was refurbished then although it still held the feeling of being quaint and old fashioned. More money was provided in 2002 and I presume that went to refurbishing the foyer area as that did all look quite new and clean. We certainly had a good night out and my daughter is very pleased to have played on the same stage as well-known names such as Elizabeth Taylor and Rowan Atkinson.

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