Review | Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die by Amber Massie-Blomfield


“You can take an empty space and call it a bare stage”, Amber Massie-Blomfield opens her book with this evocative statement and thus begins the journey she takes the reader on, inviting us to join her on her escapades to discover Britain’s “most astonishing and unexpected theatres”.

As a theatre lover, I like to think of myself as well-travelled among the country’s most popular theatres and yet the list that Massie-Blomfield has so intricately researched, even before visiting, puts my own to shame. Theatres including the open-air theatre in Porthcurno known as The Minack, which sits delicately on cliffs looking over the Atlantic Ocean, the Morecambe Winter Gardens theatre in Lancashire, “one of the most haunted theatres in Britain”, and the suitably named Mull Theatre, situated on the Isle of Mull, “a practical building constructed on a budget”. As the title of the book would suggest, Massie-Blomfield visits twenty theatres up and down the country after contacting friends and colleagues, asking the question “what is your favourite theatre in this country?”. With an influx of responses and reasons why these theatres existed to be personal favourites, Twenty Theatre’s to See Before You Die was in the works.

 Massie-Blomfield describes the book as “a love letter to Britain’s theatres’ and I now know why. Not only does her own sense of excitement about the adventures she embarks on jump off each page with every sentence read, but her writing is somewhat poetic. The balance of sharing the stories that each theatre has to tell, not only in their history but in their aesthetics, with her unique ability to write these so melodiously is notable.

“The theatre is hidden behind a bank of plane trees, a handsome, three-storey structure that sinks into the Cumbrian countryside” describes the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. This delicate description maintains throughout, encouraging you to get lost in the uniqueness of each space before being brought back to reality when historical analysis continues. Each exploration is different, making you eager to turn the page to find out whether the next theatre is as in-hiding as the last.

The book took two years for to write, and not just because of the theatres being all over the country, but with the detail exposing itself on the page, it is clear why. This is not only for theatregoers but for explorers, historical fanatics and lovers of individuality. It has encouraged me to step outside of the familiarities of the West End, of the theatres that I may as well set up camp in for the frequency of my visits and look further than those hosting the latest sell-out. I only hope that a sequel is in the works so that we can continue to “find our answer in a theatre” and bathe in the writing of Massie-Blomfield once again.

For more information on, and to buy Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die, visit Penned in the Margins

Words by Lucy Morris.

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