UCL undergraduate Matthew Turbett describes a night of time-travelling cinema in Northern England.
It is not often that one gets the chance to take over a venue like the Wakefield Theatre Royal, still less to transform it into a cinema from the 1960s; but this was the opportunity offered to the UCLU Drama Society on 19 July. Working as part of the AHRC-funded Remembering 1960s British Cinema-going project, we collaborated with Professor Melvyn Stokes and Dr Patrick Glen to take Wakefield back from 2017 to 1967, playing roles from theatre manager to usherette.
We began the process here at UCL, with a discussion of the main differences between cinema now and cinema in the 1960s. Without a doubt, none of the Drama Society participants had realised before starting the project how different things actually were back then. It was very enlightening to learn about how people used to view the cinema experience. It seems to have been much more elaborate than the single-viewing cinema visits that we know today.
After this initial conversation, we learned about the roles of different cinema workers, as well as some classic examples of cinemagoers who might cause a stir during the performance. These included a loved-up couple sitting on the back row, some CND supporters, and a group of feminist demonstrators. Bringing these various roles to life was great fun, and training ourselves to deal with different types of audience was also an exciting challenge.
Finally the day came to bring the performance to life. The Wakefield Theatre Royal is truly remarkable, and we were all thankful for the chance to perform in such a beautiful venue. The evening was well-attended and we enjoyed chaperoning in the audience to receive some short introductory talks of their own (including a presentation by the ‘cinema manager’). The main film chosen for the evening was Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, a psychedelic 1960s movie which I am sure took many of the audience back to their teenage years. Everybody enjoyed the occasion thoroughly, despite the occasional interlude to eject a drunk from the auditorium (an actor, of course!).
With the possibility of bringing this or a similar event to London, the UCLU Drama Society participants are all looking forward to seeing how the format will develop in future.
Matthew Turbett has just finished both the second year of his undergraduate degree in Physics and his term as President of the UCLU Drama Society (@UCLUDramaSoc). Since coming to UCL he has maintained a keen involvement with theatre and film within the university, whilst producing shows, films, and student festivals throughout London. He thinks combining academia with the visual arts is fantastic, and enjoys supporting, engaging with, and developing any scheme that promotes such collaboration.