OF 'THE JOYS'
|This is the story, written as events unfolded, of the demise of the Players' Theatre Club and the efforts of its sole director, Dominic Le Foe, to find a new home. The diary includes a blow-by-blow account of the attempts by Chris Hegg to reopen the venue as the Villiers Theatre. After two years and expenditure of some £300,000 he bowed out and the auditorium, though not the bars, was handed over to a triumvirate with solid theatre backgrounds and proven track records. This third contender for the premises was known as the New Players’ Theatre Club, a group of members who endeavoured to maintain the spirit and traditions of the original. There was for a time yet a fourth entity vying for the title of Defender of the Joys, but I seem not to have recorded any details. Just as well; the narrative is complicated enough as it is.|
Genesis of The Joys
In 1842 at 43, King Street, Covent Garden, the comedian W.C. Evans opened his Song and Supper Rooms (late Joy’s) – a reference to the previous occupant of the Georgian building, Joy’s Hotel. In 1936 the Players’ Theatre Club (founded in1927) moved into the third floor; the following year Peter Ridgeway, co-director with Leonard Sachs, decided to recreate the hearty style of entertainment Evans had presented in the basement with such success almost a century earlier. Devised and produced by Harold Scott, the show opened on December 3, 1937, and, reported the Daily Telegraph, ‘captured the public in quite a sensational way. Mr Ridgeway intends to carry it on indefinitely under the title of “Ridgeway’s 'Late Joys”’. Thus it remained until, alas, the Club closed sixty-five years later.
At 8.00am court bailiffs arrive at the Players' Theatre, situated in The Arches, Villiers Street, under Charing Cross Station. They take possession and change the locks, scuppering Jim McManus's first production which is due to open the following day. Dominic Le Foe's disastrous stewardship and stultified artistic policy have finally led to the closure of the seventy-three year old institution with debts in the region of £600,000, a huge amount for an under three-hundred seater. The largest creditor is the landlord (the Sultan of Brunei) and it is his agents, Jones Lang Lasalle, who have decided that enough is enough. I contact the man in charge, Mr J. Quelch, who arranges for me to enter the premises in order to retrieve a video of my 2001 production (see Addendum A).
Over the next few weeks news filters out of a number of offers for the lease, and the unexpected winner is a group headed by Chris Hegg. This is bitter news for Dominic, who banned him from the Players' a few years ago when he attempted a takeover. Not only was Hegg banned but also his girl-friend, a delightful performer called Rebecca Little, and anyone deemed to be a friend of his. Somehow Michael Kirk escaped this interdict, possibly because he is too popular with the members.
I first met Hegg in June 2000, when he told me about his on-line company e-MEDIA-com. He asked me to put a show together for a tour he was setting up of naval bases. Only if the shows are for officers, says I. Of course, says he. I never heard another word.
Chris separates from Rebecca Little, in whose flat he was a sub-tenant. He announces that the Players’ Theatre will be renamed the Villiers Theatre and will open in October.
October opening postponed till next February; bars will open this coming November. Chris says all is signed and sealed and the board consists of: CEO Chris Hegg, Finance & Marketing Director Dennis Davies, artistic director Michael Kirk, beverages & restaurant director Andrew Fielder. Non-Executive directors: Keith Fawkes-Underwood (chairman), Michael Rose (solicitor), Rachel Penman, Kenneth Alan Taylor, Simon Fielder (brother of Andrew), Peter Kosta, Andrew Whittaker (chairman of New Players' Theatre Club), Anne Noonan.
Hegg agrees to join a party of twelve for Brian Attwood's stag weekend in Amsterdam. Does not turn up at Gatwick, leaving organiser out of pocket for air-fare and hotel.
Dominic faxes me a letter from the landlord's solicitors (Evershed's) dated 29 August which states 'our clients are on the verge of granting a new lease of the premises to a third party'. So Chris does not have a done deal as claimed.
Chris no longer on board of e-MEDIA-com. Shares down to 12p. As of 17 September still has not given any explanation to or even contacted Attwood regarding the Amsterdam trip. Not wise to offend and then ignore the editor of The Stage.
For the second time he claims to have joined the TMA. A check reveals this is not the case. Nor has he applied to join SOLT. Again says all is signed and sealed except for one minor document expected from Brunei. Cancels planned one-hour gala show for 6 October as too expensive.
Receive a circular from Andrew Whittaker & John Straw concerning New Players’ Theatre Club. Yet another rehash of who did what and when and who didn't do what and when. It's quite clear the old Players' under Dominic had been trading while insolvent for years. His argument is that Whittaker screwed up the negotiations; their case is that the Owner had had enough and decided to pull the plug.
With the circular is news of a Celebration of Joys Michael Kirk is putting together for two nights at the Villiers (as I must now call it) in November. Johnny Dennis is chairing – Jim McManus and I not wanted. Nor is Peter John whom I ring. He doesn't seem too concerned at being left out.
Ring Jim, who admits to being so devastated at being passed over he had a sleepless night. PJ, it seems, was told that only people who'd worked at the Players' for 25 years or more would be invited to take part. Ring Kirkie who says he is sorry if I'm upset but he has booked Johnny. Why not ask the three of us to do a ‘half’ each? I ask. Couldn't afford it, he said. But we'd have done it for nothing, just as we did all those other gala shows for nothing. Kirk didn't think the Celebration of Joys was such a big event anyway. Not a good start to his managerial reign. He can book whom he likes, of course, but must learn how to treat people. I thought I'd let him know I was miffed though when I found myself saying 'I've been chairing there longer than Johnny' I suddenly thought 'This is so petty. I’m being a prat'. He says the refurbishment would probably take six months. This takes us to next May so the slippage from the original estimated date of opening is now seven months.
Dominic hires Conway Hall (HQ of the British Ethical Society – ironic or what?) to announce that he (a) has been promised backing of £120,000, (b) has five possible venues in which to reopen the Players', (c) has gone into voluntary examination, one step short of bankruptcy, and (d) in order to test response is putting on two nights of Late Joys at the Assembly Rooms, Surbiton, on November 22 & 23.
Both Nora Ward and John Straw (treasurer of the New Players’) ring to offer me tickets for Celebration of Joys. I decline on the grounds that I didn't want to spend the evening trying to reply to people asking me why I'm not in it. Peter Charlton tells me an online casting service has been advertising for dancing boys for the show. What will they be doing?
Celebration extended to five nights. Packed out and a great success, though Charlton says the three dancing boys were dreadfully out of place, didn't know the songs and were poor technically. But JD assures me the choreography by Sophie-Louise Dann was excellent. There were seventeen artistes listed in the programme, which was full of errors and typos. The 25-year rule seems to have been abandoned.
Jim tells me Nora Ward invited him to take one of the seats she had booked for the last night. She talked non-stop throughout, and when everyone came on at the finale dressed as Marie Lloyd (including JD in drag) she leaned across and said, 'That's Johnny Dennis...'
A letter from Dominic to his supporters gives details of how to book for his two nights at the Assembly Rooms and how to book for supper – he even quotes the menu. He has a committee, it seems, though is still short of a treasurer(!). Redundant government offices at 8 Northumberland Avenue off Trafalgar Square seem favourite and are being investigated. But can he get a drinks/entertainment licence?
He says he doesn't know what the New Players’ Theatre Club is all about, which is more than a touch disingenuous. He and Whittaker and Hegg remind me of the 13th century papacy feud when three men claimed to be Bishop of Rome at the same time. Dominic also says the story that artistes reported him to Equity for non-payment of salary is a lie. But it is not a lie, though the one who did go to Equity (Stephen McCarthy) got nowhere because the Players' has always been a non-union house and no Equity contracts were ever issued. Dominic also repeated the story that the occasional bounced cheque was due to errors by the bank. Nonsense, of course. At times the cheques were bouncing like a thicket of pogo sticks. He said he put in £9,000 to cover the shortfall. Where did he get the money? John Foley, the wardrobe master, told JD he never got paid for his considerable labours.
The Assembly Rooms shows in Surbiton have been cancelled due to a 'cock-up' by Ticketmaster in the Kingston branch of Bentall's. Dominic has to blame someone, of course. Bookings were 40 for the first night and 80 for the second when he decided to pull the plug. He did say the shows were to test the water and having got himself scalded will his enthusiasm to try for a new Players' home be dampened? The general opinion is that even if Ticketmaster had been totally on the ball it wouldn't have made much difference, certainly not enough to rescue the venture from ignominy. He's lost quite a bit of money, which he probably doesn't have.
Two people have told me that there are no signs of any work in progress at the Players'.
Hegg has ceded ownership of the Players’ props, costumes and music to Dominic but is being difficult, so today Dominic has recourse to the High Court. I hear from Peter John that Michael Kirk is going into My Fair Lady at DL. Can he play eight shows weekly and remain artistic director of the Villiers?
At a meeting of the BMHS Society Study Group at the CAA Keith Fawkes-Underwood (chairman of the Villiers Theatre Ltd) tells me with a conspiratorial smile that the Players’ props etc are 'safe' by which I gather he means Dominic has lost.
Keith tells JD, who was also at the meeting, that Chris Hegg is having problems raising capital. I'm not surprised. I've said all along how is he going to persuade investors to put huge sums into a business of which he has no track record and no experience?
Dominic rings to say he won the hearing last Tuesday, and is moving all the props etc to a store in the Old Kent Road. So what did Keith mean when he said everything was safe?
After the usual sideswipe at Whittaker, whom he blames for ruining negotiations with the landlords, Dominic says he is working actively on securing Northumberland Avenue, having on his committee/advisory team a consultant engineer, a surveyor, an architect, and five QCs including two retired judges! Presumably none of them has read the Judgment by Nicholas Mostyn QC in which he describes Dominic as a man 'with a long record of falsehood and deceit' (see online Le Foe v Le Foe and another, Family Division, High Court, June 19, 2001).
Receive a newsletter from the NPTC in which, after the usual stuff about keeping Music Hall going and the policy of the Villiers etc., etc., etc., we discover that Chris Hegg has a 20-year lease, that the Villiers Theatre Ltd will be seeking a listing on the stock exchange, and that 'a £2m capitalisation was stated as the expectation'. This figure goes up all the time but how realistic is it? The newsletter continues '....from Companies House records there does not appear to be any significant allotment of shares. This leads us to conclude that until the prospectus is issued no substantial funding is yet in place to allow refurbishment to start'. So if Chris Hegg can't even get his prospectus printed what chance is there of the place ever re-opening under his management? No date is offered, nor has any refurbishment started.
One other nugget from the newsletter (which still has Andrew Whittaker as chairman, giving the lie to Keith Fawkes-Underwood's declaration that Andrew had 'walked away' from the Club – or did he mean Whittaker has walked away from the Villiers?): 'Some members have enquired about the assets of the old Players' Theatre. Most of these have now been seized by the High Court Sheriff on behalf of a major creditor and will be put up for sale by public auction in the near future. It is hoped they will be auctioned on site where they remain at present.' So much for all that twaddle Dominic gave me about winning an action and preparing to take everything to a store down the Old Kent Road.
Chris Hegg’s enterprise e-MEDIA-com no longer to be quoted in Offex. According to the annual report the company is still losing money.
Email from Ian Liston to tell me Michael Kirk has resigned as artistic director. No details.
Fourth Newsletter from the New Players’ Theatre Club received today with a draft constitution, annual accounts, notification of AGM and further news that Hegg still hasn't published his long-promised prospectus inviting subscriptions for shares. The plan now is to open the bars in May and the theatre in September. Michael Kirk's resignation as a director of the Villiers Theatre is confirmed 'for personal reasons'.
The AGM is to be held on 9th April at the Greenwood Theatre 138-142 Strand, though the only Greenwood Theatre I know (and which I opened with a week's Music Hall in 1978) is behind Guy's Hospital over the river. The accounts show an item of £7,155 against 'Villiers Production of Joys', which indicates that the much admired Late Joys show last November was paid for by the New Players’ and not the Villiers Theatre. It seems an awful lot; did the New Players’ have to pay rent for the premises as well as production costs? £96.78 was also spent on Flowers and Food for Artists. Under Income is shown 'Guests and Artistes £3,140' which I suppose was the box-office take. It looks as though Chris Hegg kept the bar. £117.81 is shown as expenditure on the website, though this has not been updated this year.
| Apr 6
Emergency notification of change of address for the NPTC AGM next Wednesday. As I thought, the Greenwood's address was wrongly given – the Strand address is the admin offices, not the venue itself. I shan't go. It'll only be adoption of the constitution, election of officers and other procedural matters, all of which have to be got through but are pretty tedious to watch.Kirkie rings and offers me two dates at the Shaw Theatre for the NPTC. I asked why he had resigned. 'I've been advised not to say anything,' he says darkly.
At last I have the background on Chris Hegg's no-show for the Amsterdam stage party weekend: he had no money and was embarrassed to turn up broke. He has since repaid Brian Attwood in two instalments. We are probably talking about no more than £300, £400, or £500 max, but a sum seemingly too great to be raised by a man attempting to open a West End theatre. So why accept the invitation in the first place?
Last night at a gig in Bexhill I hear that 'Count' Le Foe is still pursuing the Northumberland Avenue premises.
Minutes of last week's AGM of the NPTC confirmed a constitution, a chairman and a treasurer but no secretary. Michael Kirk, however, has been appointed Artistic Director. Which is rather like deserting from the Vichy Government to join the Allies. Or should that be the other way round?
Walked past the Players' (as was) this afternoon; a sign on the door said 'The Villiers Theatre will be re-opening in early 2003'. We shall see.
Take chair at Late Joys Gala show for the NPTC at the Shaw Theatre, Euston Road. About 400 present and a wildly enthusiastic audience they are. Sheila Mathews and I work the Birthday/Celebrations section as a double act which went very well. Also in the bill: Michael Kirk (director), Pat Lancaster, Helen Watson, Maggie Beckit, Lorraine Hart & her daughter Tiffany Todd, Jim McManus, Robert Meadwell, John Larsen. Johnny Dennis made a brief surprise appearance at the end. Piano: Geoffrey Brawn. Chris Floyd did the setting, Robin Turley Smith was SM, and John Foley was on wardrobe. I was strictly enjoined not to mention Chris Hegg or Dominic.
Hear that Keith Fawkes-Underwood is opening the Foyer Bar of the old Players' next Monday, so that is on schedule.
Richard Bebb tells me that he had lunch at the Garrick Club (sub: £900 p.a.) with Dominic and his proposer just before Dominic joined some three years ago, since when he has not been seen.
Chaired a second Gala Joys programme at the Shaw. Packed house. The turns were all fine but the mix didn't seem to work as well as before. Hot night and problems with audibility. I started the second half with a cod Bingo routine, 'assisted' by Violetta and Josephine Gordon. It was very hard work and seemed to work though I'm not sure it was worth the time and effort. But at least it got Chou and Jo on stage. Andrew Faulkner accompanied and the performers were Sheila Bernette, Rosie Ashe, Peter John, Peter Sutherland, Doreen Hermitage, Michael Kirk (director), Gemma Page, Julia Sutton, Norma Dunbar, Jan Hunt, Philip Day, and Alan Curtis who made a wickedly witty reference to the celebrated occasion when Mr & Mrs Le Foe came to blows in the wings of the Players' Theatre and Mrs Le Foe had to be escorted off the premises by uniformed police.
JD tells me that Dominic has sold all the old Players’ seating to the Hackney Empire for use in the Bullion Room. You have to laugh at the old boy's chutzpah.
Chris Holland reports that Dominic rang him a couple of weeks ago to ask for help in moving all the costumes, music, etc., out of the Players’ and into a van. No money, just coffee and sandwiches (not from Eat or Pret-a-Manger but from the much cheaper Benjy's). Shortly afterwards Dominic asked for further voluntary assistance to get the lighting out. Chris declined as he was working at the Theatre Museum.
Hackney Empire's contractors have gone bust. Will Dominic get paid for the seating?
I hear from Chris Connah (via Simon Brotherhood) that the source of Dominic's funding to buy and store the Players’ movables is his son-in-law! He has, it seems, applied for the necessary licences for Northumberland Ave.
The Friday night I went to the Villiers there were few in the bar when all the other watering holes in the vicinity were packed to capacity, with crowds on the pavements outside. The supper room now has a cheap-looking temporary bar, and the whole place has been given a swift lick of paint – one coat by the look of it – which with the drab second-hand furniture give the place a reach-me-down ambience. An amateur from Salisbury, Kevin Catchpole, is putting a Late Joys show together for a single performance, but with the auditorium sans seating and the stage sans lighting I think the enterprise is doomed, and John Straw (Treasurer of the NPTC) wants nothing to do with it.
Drop in to the Villiers to find improved light-wood furniture in the back bar. Chris Hegg looked as wind-swept, scruffy, unshaven and harassed as usual. Hear him and Keith Fawkes-Underwood having a major row with someone involved in the Catchpole show, due to be performed on Saturday next (September 27). The performers, except for Chris Holland, are all amateurs from Salisbury, and the idea is to re-create an evening at Evans's Song & Supper Rooms. I was given a flyer for the show which was so ineptly printed as to be positively repellent. Hegg disappeared but I stayed and had a drink or three with Keith, who told me all the old Le Foe horror stories. He introduced me to Rachel Penman, a very attractive girl who is apparently the theatre’s artistic director and was full of a scheme to present an updated Divorce Me Darling. I donated my idea of a Grand Guignol season, but she didn't know what I was talking about. Then Keith began criticising her in front of me for not being on top of things. She was offended and further embarrassment was only averted by the arrival of an acquaintance which enabled her to leave our table. Keith was moderately pissed by this time, but he did tell me the theatre would not be re-opening fully until next March.
t seems the NPTC has decided to put on one more show at the Shaw in the New Year and then blow any remaining funds on the Mother of All Parties before winding up. I don't see Hegg lasting much longer at the Villiers so that will leave Dominic the triumphant sole survivor.
I hear from two sources that Mr Catchpole’s amateur Music Hall show at the Villiers was catastrophic. 68 in attendance (about a quarter full) including Nora Ward, Max Tyler, and Mr & Mrs Roger Fillary. They sat on hired hardwood folding chairs, with uncovered trestle tables for the supper (bought-in re-heated shepherd's pie and a pudding). Lights had been hired in but only for the forestage and with no changes of state, despite a 'technician' being in attendance. The pianist could not cope with colla voce accompaniments and ploughed through poor Chris Holland's laughs, such as they were. Problems with the food meant the show started about 45 minutes late, with the non-diners sullenly watching the diners filling their faces. It was all grisly, but Chris Hegg was nowhere to be seen.
The songs and artistes represented were almost all out of period, so why bother with this Evans's Late Joys nonsense in the first place? And with the exception of a male close harmony group the standard of performance was cringe-makingly bad. Why do people do it? Do they really delude themselves they are giving pleasure? To see rank amateurs lolloping ignorantly through numbers that one has seen performed brilliantly by the likes of Joan Sterndale Bennett, John Rutland, Eleanor McCready, John Heawood, Julia Sutton, Fred Stone, Sheila Bernette and Stella Moray, to name but a few, makes for a sad evening.
Dominic is putting on six Sunday afternoon Music Halls at The Venue, a fringe theatre next to the Prince Charles just off Leicester Square. I have not been invited to attend, even as a member of the audience. He is also putting on a one-night at the Watersmeet in Rickmansworth, whose cast will be the same as the opening show at the Venue.
Chris Holland tells me Hegg has asked the Villiers Theatre landlord to take the lease back! It had to come. He was never going to raise the capital needed. Chris also tells me that Dominic 'Count' Le Foe a.k.a. Terror of the Carpathians is pressing on with Northumberland Ave but is facing opposition from tenants of the private flats above the proposed auditorium.
This week's Stage reports that the Villiers management is sub-letting the auditorium to the New End Theatre Group, a triumvirate consisting of Brian Daniels (currently running the New End Theatre, Hampstead), Conrad Friedman (former board member of the Arts Theatre), and Mark Clements (former artistic director of the Derby Playhouse). Clements is to be artistic director, and the Villiers again will be re-named. Plans are to present off-Broadway shows, plus revues and late night stand-up. The trio will run the theatre in tandem with the Shaw Theatre, which will be a receiving house providing a home to, inter alia, regional rep productions. They hope to open by Easter, but £250,000 needs to be spent on seating 'as well as electrical and lighting systems'.
Dominic's Rickmansworth production was well attended, and his shows at the Venue were successful enough for him to be invited to put on another dozen or so evenings from later this month to March.
Vincent Hayes' new Brick Lane Music Hall at Silvertown had to delay its opening for the second time when the council insisted on emergency lighting being installed in the car park. He now plans to open his 'adult' Sleeping Beauty tomorrow.
Sarah and I pick up Rebecca (our daughter) and go on to Tower Hamlets cemetery, where the BMHS has refurbished Alec Hurley's gravestone. About 40 there, including Roy Hudd and collateral descendants of Hurley. Vincent Hayes then invited Sarah, Rebecca and me to look round his latest venture, originally built as St Mark’s Church but long lapsed into dereliction. Electrified gates round the car park show he has left nothing to chance. The interior is stunning, the dressing-rooms spacious (and with a shower!), the bar/reception area large but cosy, and the auditorium area quite thrillingly attractive and inviting.
He has done an amazing job; if there is any justice he should have a huge success on his hands. The big minus is the remoteness of the location. But he is up and running, though only working a couple of nights a week, just as he did at his previous two ‘Brick Lanes’, which I suppose must generate enough income to keep going. He is also doing his tea matinees for OAPs with Peter John and Julia Sutton.
Newsletter from the NPTC informs me that the Villiers Theatre Ltd went into liquidation on October 28, 2003, owing 'in excess of £300,000'. How Chris Hegg managed to lose so much money in not much more than fifteen months without even opening eludes me. The lease has been assigned to a new company set up last July called Villiers Trading Limited with Hegg(!) and Keith Fawkes-Underwood named as directors. How they persuaded the landlord to let them stay on board is another mystery. As reported earlier this new company will run the bars and the restaurant with the New End Theatre Group operating the theatre.
Dominic's coterie of supporters is apparently called The Players’ Restoration Group. I hear from Peter Charlton that he is asking for investors to put in £10,000 each. (Remember '...a man with a long record of falsehood and deceit...')
The NPTC is putting on five nights at the Cochrane in April. Kirk is again directing and is calling the show Here We Are Again. The usual suspects are taking part – Kirk himself, Sheila Bernette, Robert Meadwell, Peter Sutherland, Julia Sutton, with Johnny Dennis or Peter John in the chair. It is very much a case of There They Are Again, and I have my doubts whether the support can sustain five nights. Apart from Gemma Page no-one in the line-up is under fifty years of age.
At Robin Hunter's funeral Keith Fawkes-Underwood tells me the sub-lease for the Villiers Theatre is being signed this very week.
Chris Holland tells me Dominic has sold off some of the better items from the Players’ Theatre wardrobe, and that he has signed a lease on Northumberland Avenue.
The NPTC shows at the Cochrane were well presented and reasonably well attended. Le Foe is still running his Sunday afternoon shows at the Venue, where he has become a fixture. I hear confirmation of what Peter John told me a couple of weeks ago, that Dominic is not starting up his shows at Northumberland Avenue (see previous entry) but has now secured the basement of 10 Craven Street, off the Strand opposite Boots. The location is perfect, and the premises have the huge advantage of being originally intended as a bar/club/nightspot but never used. There should therefore be some facilities (lavatories, kitchen, fire exits) already built in. And there shouldn't be any problems with drink and music licences.
Max Tyler tells me the NPTC show at the Cochrane lost £11,000. They have the funds to cover this but it seems unlikely that the Club will survive for much longer. Come to think of it, that can't be right. I can see the show costing £11,000 but not losing that much. Maybe this figure represents accumulated losses.
This week's Stage has the following sidebar on page 2:
‘The New Players' Theatre in Villiers Street will relaunch with the 21st anniversary production of Snoopy! The Musical on July 21, with previews from July 14. Under new management company Off West End Theatres Limited, which also runs the Shaw Theatre on Euston Road and Hampstead's New End, the venue has undergone a £200,000 refurbishment and will reopen more than two years after its dramatic closure in March 2002.’
Thus, without ever having opened, the Villiers Theatre is to be re-named the New Players’. Much more sensible, if only because everyone always mispronounces Villiers. (It should be Vill-ers.) But I wonder what the directors of the NPTC, Andrew Whittaker and John Straw, will make of it? Yet another reason to wind up, I would think. More to the point, what will Dominic make of it? He, after all, is planning to open only a couple of hundred yards away, so if he calls his Craven St basement the Players’ Theatre there will be endless confusion.
Snoopy! was pulled without completing its scheduled run, due to indifferent reviews and poor business. Last Sunday took part in a Tribute Show at the New Players' to the late Robin Hunter; a good sized house and a splendid cast put together by Robin's long-time partner Aline Waites. Lots of chums including the wonderful 88-year-old John Rutland taking part. New seating in the auditorium with an extra row at the front where the piano used to be. But the walls and ceiling now a gloomy slate blue. The bar areas still unwelcoming, with nary a picture on the walls, making it look temporary. It closed at 10.30 just before the show finished, which mightily upset Barrie Cryer. Apart from some kind of pop show going in for a few days the theatre is now dark.
A newsletter from the NPTC announces another show at the Cochrane, for one night only. Further news is that they want to become a charitable trust with premises for educating and training young performers in the Music Hall arts. It's all so unrealistic.
At a Music Hall gig in Henley, when I mention that Brian Daniels is involved in the New Players’ Theatre, Jacqui Toye makes a face...
Johnny Dennis tells me Dominic has sold the Players’ costumes and music to Christopher Ager. This seems unlikely but he says he got this information from Michael Kirk and Peter John. I cannot believe it for four reasons: (a) Le Foe wouldn't give Ager the time of day, not after the strokes Ager pulled (his Players’ Grand Raffle whose first prize – a weekend in Paris – never happened, the pirating of an old Players' record, misrepresenting himself to British Air as a Players’ director, etc., etc.), (b) what would Ager want with this vast amount of matériel? (c) why would Dominic sell off his stock-in-trade when he is in the process of opening a new theatre club?, and (d) Ager would be extremely unlikely to raise the money. He did put in some late-night cabaret at the Players' last summer, but it didn't last long.
So I ring Dominic a few days later and ask him whether the story is true. He laughs it to scorn. He is still doing his Sunday night shows at the Venue, Leicester Sq., though I hear elsewhere that business is v. poor. He says Craven St is all ready to go, only being delayed by an obstreperous planning official from Westminster Council who is objecting to changes suggested by Dominic's architect.
2005 Players’ Theatre again renamed, now to be known as the New Players’ Theatre. NPTC loses £7,000 at the Cochrane. Michael Kirk resigns.
2006 Brian Daniels surrenders lease. Am invited by Dominic to take part in a 'gala performance' on December 12. Make my excuses.
|2007 Two unfortunate people who bought the old Players’ costumes from The Count have regretted it. One caught a nasty rash and the other had an infestation of fleas. Dominic is now attempting a series of Music Hall matinees at the Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street. I hear the first one attracted two men and a dog. You have to admire his persistence. NPTC mount a good show as always at the Cochrane.|
Dominic now intends to open at
Craven Street sometime in the Spring (see November
like his plans for Northumberland Avenue, it was all
fantasy and neither venue ever opened.
Dominic Le Foe (né
Arthur Cooper-Smith), now living with Maria
St Clare in a council house,
dies of cancer
aged 78. Appalling
obit in Call Boy. Leaves his
body to medical science, so no funeral.
2011 New Players’ Theatre renamed yet once more as The Charing Cross Theatre.
ENVOI2018 Currently the Craven Street rooms are occupied by the Raindance Film Centre. But what became of Dominic’s plans for 8 Northumberland Avenue? The only echoes of this pie-in-the-sky ambition (see January 18, 2003) may be seen in a basement corridor of the building – now an events multiplex – where there is a display of photos of past Players' chairmen, myself included. God knows why.
The Charing Cross Theatre survives today as a small-scale West End venue with memories of its original title and traditions fast fading; regular performances which maintain the spirit and traditions of the original Ridgeway's Late Joys are currently presented by The Players’ Theatre Club - visit www.playerstheatre.co.uk
One of the artistes finding himself 'unexpectedly vacant' due to the abrupt closure of the Players' Theatre was Robert Meadwell. Here Bob recalls the extraordinary difficulties he encountered trying to retrieve his personal possessions. MK
I don't know how easy it was for you to get hold of your video [see March 25, 2002], but I found it a struggle to get into the theatre. Chris Vincent and I eventually managed to get an appointment on Friday 5 April with Mr Anderson, a colleague of the Dickensian-sounding Quelch. We met him in a tiny office off the car park tunnel at 1 Embankment Place, and he escorted us into the theatre where photos of us in the 'Irish Bill' were still up outside. Clearly visible through the window next to the front doors was the corner table where we had our after show drink on Sunday 24 March – still covered in empty glasses and crisp packets. The rest of the foyer and bar had not been cleaned either. It was like the Marie Celeste.
Mr Ambrose was there to ensure that any item – however small – should not be removed from the building if it was considered to be part of the theatre's 'assets'. By the look of things that extended to the rubbish and litter. I was unable tro provide receipts as proof of ownership so, before I was allowed to take anything, I had to make a ludicrously detailed inventory of all my belongings. Everything. The minutiae had to be listed, from sticks of make-up, eyeliner, blusher. brushes, burnt cork – even the box of matches, safety pins, etc., to soap, towels, toothpaste, and the boxes and bags it all came in. My personal costumes and accessories had to be described – with their provenance! – and then held up for Mr Ambrose to take photographs of them. I can't believe the Bailiffs kept that up for very long.
For about four months afterwards the 'Irish Bill' photos – with their corners noticeably curling – remained outwside the darkened theatre. They were a grim reminder every time I passed it by.
So far these diaries and recollections have dealt with attempts to save the Players’ Theatre Club after its sudden closure in 2002. I am, therefore, most grateful to Gayna Martine for this jaw-dropping account of what was going on behind the scenes in the years before the bailiffs pounced. MK
I began as a Players’ artiste in 1986, first in the old Pink Tunnel* and then, after two years working for Cunard, at the Duchess Theatre. When the Club moved back to Charing Cross in 1990 I started doing shows for the musical director Geoffrey Brawn. Having just bought a very big house and needing money I applied to run the bar and sandwich/sausage booth on all the occasions that I wasn’t in the bill, with Sami Hughes as my ‘Sausage Tart’ understudy for those particular weeks.
Then Geoffrey and Dominic Le Foe asked me to take over as front-of-house hostess, and that was when I began to notice many discrepancies in the takings. It was glaringly obvious that money was going missing, and there were many pointings by Dominic about where it had disappeared to.
For a while, we had sinister thugs asking for the front-of-house manager, who after he was eventually sacked told me that Dominic had accused him of stealing £17.000 for his drug habit. It was not the truth, but after being threatened with the police he went quietly, and the money was claimed on insurance. I wonder where that £17,000 went.
The actor Seb Craig was employed to go through every department and find out why the business was failing in membership and losing money. This took three months to complete. Every member of staff was taken into his office and questioned. The books were gone through, the bar and restaurant staff were constantly observed – I believe even the members were probed as to their view of their club. Everyone was on tenterhooks and at last a fifteen-page document was produced, but none of us was ever allowed to read it.
I met Seb a few years later and he told me that when delivering his report he informed Dominic that he had not put his main finding into the document so as not to cause embarrassment, but was telling him off the record that, ‘The best thing about the Players' is Gayna Martine and the worse thing is you!’
Also, in the office Seb had often taken calls from members booking to see the show. On many occasions he would be asked who the chairman was that week and if Seb said Dominic, they would either book for another week or not book at all. When I was told this it all clicked into place, because it was from this moment onwards that there had appeared to be a vendetta against me.
Once when more money had disappeared there was a meeting of all staff at which Dominic announced dramatically that a couple of weeks beforehand the tills had not tallied. This he directed entirely and most obviously to me. When I pointed out that the date in question was when I had been performing in the bill and therefore not been working front of house, he blushed before glancing at Sami and adding ‘or your accomplice’.
After Roger Fillary was sacked for allegedly stealing a computer there was a succession of managers. The electrician Chris McCabe was one of the first, a man who could change light bulbs but hadn’t a clue how to manage. I got the impression he was Le Foe’s yes man, just there to do his dirty work. He began to accuse me of all sorts of things which didn’t make sense. I was so unhappy and reckoned it was better to be broke than be involved in this toxic atmosphere. So I said I would work out a full week then leave. Chris looked like he’d won the lottery and told me I would be paid for the week but I was to leave immediately.
The managers were at times privy to the Players’ bank accounts. Usually after they noticed the extra money which went into Dominic’s personal account on top of his Chairman’s salary, there would be some discussion about it followed by the departure of the Manager. This was always explained by accusing the departing person of being a thief. Chris McCabe did not go quietly and won £3,000 out of Player’s funds for unfair dismissal.
I was still going to the Club but now on the other side of the bar. Julian Courtney was then manager; he told me that Dominic was creaming off the top, but on confronting him Julian had been given his cards that same night. Then there was Mr X who was given the thankless task of phoning all the members to ask why they had not renewed their membership. This was a job he loathed, being met with insults and angry words by those who had twigged that Dominic’s habit of regularly getting rid of staff and accusing them of wrong-doing while at the same time touting for money and donations was smelly to say the least.
When Mr X got too close to the truth he found himself spending three nights in a Charing Cross police cell. Interrogated but not charged, he was advised to lay low and neither go near the Players’ nor speak to anyone involved. Simon Masterton-Smith and I met him in Brighton some months later. He was broken, frightened and ill.
But then Dominic could be very persuasive. He managed to hoodwink the cleverest of people and, according to his wife Maggie, was immensely proud of getting Barristers and Colonels to believe him, laughing at their gullibility.
My own departure was really over the top. I was accused publicly of hacking into the Players’ computer system, stealing the membership database and handing it over to the Brick Lane Music Hall. I didn’t own a computer at the time, and frankly technology is still not something I’m comfortable with. I certainly didn’t know that as the Players’ wasn’t online at that time not even a genius could hack into it! One member, a bank manager, tried to speak with Dominic on my behalf only to be expelled and forbidden to attend any more shows.
Nora Ward, a retired tax inspector and an exceptionally devoted member, was in charge of the monthly prize draw which had its own bank account. Dominic asked her to give him the £10,000 which had accumulated in order to pay some bills. She refused, saying it was against the law. Le Foe then turned on the waterworks and said the place would have to close so she handed it over, also donating £6,000 of her own money. Judge Derek Clarkson QC was also about to hand over a substantial cheque when the box-office manager Noel Connaughton advised him to look at the bank statements for the previous two years. But the Judge was refused sight of the accounts and Dominic never spoke to him again. These are just a few of many similar stories. Any number of members made contributions including Don Lawson and his wife Sheila O’Neill who gave more than they could afford and never got over being hoodwinked.
Finally, for seven years I had no employment other than at the Players’, and Dominic’s theft of my NI Contributions has made a massive difference to my pension. Bastard!
* Affectionate nickname amongst pros for the pink-painted auditorium under Charing Cross Station, home of the Players' since 1946. During comprehensive redevelopment the Club spent three years at the Duchess Theatre across the Strand, finally moving back in 1990 to brand new premises in The Arches off Villiers Street. London WC.