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Jan 9 / Simon

Time to roar

January 2017
A small city with a large past. Hull is pushing the boat out as City of Culture 2017. Simon Tait reports

“Everyone back to ours” is the homely, welcoming slogan for Hull’s year as City of Culture in 2017, but the city’s front parlour is so crowded that its director, Martin Green, has only announced the first quarter’s programme.

At the end of this opening period, though, will be what promises to be the most extraordinary event of them all, occupying the ethereal and beautiful Humber Bridge, the longest single span suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1981. In April the orchestra and chorus of Opera North will turn it into the biggest concert stage ever with a musical installation presenting a new piece by Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen and collaborators Jan Bang and Eivind Aarset, with the sounds of the bridge itself caught by Hull-based sound artist Jez Riley, all experienced by the audience through earphones during a walk across the 2,200 metre bridge.

It’s an ethereal, futuristic offer from a little city, population 258,000, with a large past. Kingston-upon-Hull was invented by Edward I as a supply base for his campaigns of Scot hammering, at the spot where the rivers Humber and Hull meet the North Sea, and through the Middle Ages it became the main port to import cloth, iron ore, oil seed and timber from northern Europe. It, and its merchants, grew rich. When Charles I tried to take control of the city’s arsenal in 1642 he was turned away at the gates, laid siege and after five weeks was defeated, thus providing the first action of the Civil War. Later in the 17th century the poet Andrew Marvell was Hull’s MP; so was William Wilberforce a century later, launching his anti-slavery campaign from here.

With whaling coming to the port in the 18th century it continued to flourish, and fishing generally became Hull’s main source of prosperity through the 19th century, with railways making distribution relatively easy. With prosperity went civic pride marked by the creation of buildings like the majestic Guildhall.

After the First World War housing estates were built and there was more urban development, but overfishing in the 1920s and 30s set off an industrial decline. In the Second World War Hull was devastated by bombing raids, and post-war reconstruction was slow and laborious, while fishing declined more. The old docks were closed, a new dock to handle container traffic opened in the 60s, and Scandinavian super-ferries operate from there. But unemployment is now among the highest in the country, and the floods of 2007 made thousands homeless. Hull needs this boost, and it has recruited battalions of music to give it a fair wind.

The City of Culture has already worked its magic, with more than £1 billion of industrial investment coming in since it was announced in 2013, and there’s a £100m cultural infrastructure programme under way. The great musical legacy will be Hull’s new £36m 3,500 seat music and events centre, Hull Venue, but that won’t be finished until 2018 so the multiplicity of music on offer will take place in the city’s existing venues.

However, Hull University’s Middleton Hall has just reopened ready for 2017 after a £9.5m refit which includes a 400-seat concert hall where, on February 9, Chinese guitar virtuoso Xuefei Yang will give a recital, and where a week later Schubert’s Winterreise will be sung in a new English translation by the baritone Roderick Williams, accompanied by Christopher Glynn. On February 23 The New London Ensemble will give a wind quintet’s take on Mozart there, and the following afternoon the actor Simon Callow joins the band with musical stories from Prokoviev’s Peter and the Wolf to Martin Butler’s Dirty Beasts for a family show. The ensemble deNOTE reveals some secrets of 18th century chamber music, using period instruments, on March 2, and on the 31st Mica Levi brings to the Middleton the London Sinfonietta who she will conduct in Under the Skin, her Bafta-nominated score for the sci-fi film.

For the time being Hull’s principal venue remains the magisterial City Hall, former municipal nerve centre and now august performance venue, where the Royal Philharmonic will make its contribution on February 2 with the film music of John Williams, and on March 16 the Hallé brings Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

At the Ferens Studio from March 10 to 12, the Sinfonia UK Collective will reveal the work of Hull-born musical pioneer Ethel Leginska (born Liggins) who died in 1970 aged 84 after a career in which she was the first woman to conduct many of the world’s orchestras, a composer, founder of the Boston Philharmonic, teacher and performer.

Looking forward into the summer, there is to be the first part of the New Musical Biennial in Hull, when the PRS for Music Foundation joins with Hull, the Southbank Centrem, BBC Radio 3 and NMC recordings to commission new work from composers as varied as folk star Eliza Carthy, the composer Gavin Bryars and jazz ensemble GoGo Penguin.

But the big event that will fit most cosily in Our Place in this first quarter takes place at the City Hall on February 25, when the Hull Philharmonic has its big night. The amateur orchestra has been part of the city’s cultural landscape for 130 years, and resident in this venue for a century. It was founded in 1881 in an age when music was performed in everyone’s front parlour to varying degrees of proficiency, with 27 members. There are now 80 and the Phil is acknowledged as one of the finest in the country, and will show its quality by performing the world premiere of a new work by Sir Karl Jenkins, with the pianist Martin Roscoe as guest.

“Hull has always had a unique cultural voice,” said Green in launching the year, “and in 2017 it will roar”.

Sep 27 / Simon

A people person

We talk local life with East Dulwich councillor Charlie Smith, who has recently been appointed deputy mayor of Southwark
By Simon Tait, Dulwich Diverter, Sept-Oct 2016

He was almost a star several times, Councillor Smith. A little known fact about the cheery gent with the permanent grin known throughout East Dulwich as Charlie is that he isn’t Charlie at all. And it would be nice to think that the actual Arthur Smith had changed his name to avoid confusion with another well-known Londoner, but the truth is more prosaic: “My dad was Arthur Charles as well so if anyone in the house shouted out ‘Arthur!’ it was me dad,” he says. “So I got to be Charlie, and it stuck”.

Born in 1948 he married his childhood sweetheart Sue in 1966 when he was “17 and a bit” at the place to get married in the 60s, Chelsea’s Caxton Hall, almost standing in the queue between Ringo Starr, Barry Gibb and the other celebrities who chose the Central London Register Office for their nuptials. Charlie’s younger brother was the Radio Caroline DJ Tony Allan, who died from cancer in 2004 but is still a legend in pirate radio heritage.

Charlie’s own claim to the centre stage comes next year, when, barring mishaps, he is invested as Southwark’s 116th Mayor.

This year he and Sue celebrated their golden wedding anniversary surrounded by their three daughters and five grandchchildren. Londoners both, born and bred, Charlie and Sue came to East Dulwich 20 years ago, both hailing from Pimlico where they met as teenagers. He had left school at 15 to become a joiner in the building industry, but after five years of evening classes – “In the job application box for certificates I didn’t think I’d impress anyone if all I could put was ‘25 yards swimming’” – he found himself with A levels in English literature, criminal law, sociology and economics, all handy for a lifetime of public service.

He became a surveyor for a Paddington housing association working with the homeless, and then did the same with the government’s Property Services Agency and then for the Peabody Trust. He worked for Westminster Council’s Cash Incentive Scheme, helping council house dwellers find appropriate accommodation. He worked with the homeless in Croydon and for the last 12 years before his retirement in 2012 was a surveyor with the Hyde Housing, the association set up 50 years ago to help people excluded form the housing market.

Early on, local politics became an abiding interest. Charlie made the tabloids in 1990 when he was standing for Westminster Council the leader of which, Lady Shirley Porter, was standing alongside him at the count. “The press were all there, Mrs Thatcher was expected, and they asked me if I was going to win. I put up Churchill’s victory sign. Then they asked me what I thought of the Poll Tax and I reversed the sign – and in the photographs that were in the next day’s papers it looked as if I was aiming the gesture at Shirley Porter, with the headline ‘No way to treat a lady’,” he recalls with a chuckle. He didn’t win the seat.

But years of calling on needy people in some of the poorest corners of the capital has provided invaluable experience through three terms as a Southwark councillor. “You learn to observe things, and how to take care – we learned a lot about not taking unnecessary risks from the Suzy Lamplugh case (a young estate agent on a routine call who disappeared in 1986 and has never been found),” Charlie says, “and now from the murder of Jo Cox. You never know what’s going to come, but you have to learn how to deal with folk, how to behave. Being able to listen and take people and their problems seriously always puts you in good stead”.

He stood for Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster South in 1992, coming second after the Conservative, and tried again for Chichester five years later with a similar outcome in spite of garnering 10,000 votes, but his heart has been in local affairs. In 1998 he was elected for the Ruskin Ward, now Village Ward, and in 2002 continued as the councillor for East Dulwich, serving until Labour lost control of Southwark Council in 2006. In 2010 he stood in another Southwark ward, Cathedral, without luck, but was elected for East Dulwich in 2014 and shares the ward with two Lib Dem councillors.

“The place has changed almost out of recognition since 1996,” he says. “House prices have spiralled up, and East Dulwich is much more prosperous than when we first came here, but you shouldn’t make assumptions that the people change. Snap judgements about age and class are nearly always wrong, and you need to listen to what people want to tell you before you know how you can help”.

There have been major changes in our high street, Lordship Lane, with the largest Foxtons estate agency in the South East on the site of the old Social Security office, restaurants and wine bars opening, and Marks & Spencer to comng soon in place of Iceland, a new primary school where the police station once stood, key worker housing where a cinema was, a Picturehouse at what was St Thomas More Hall, and beyond East Dulwich Station a complex development going through the planning process to give his beloved Dulwich Hamlet football club a new arena.

“Planning is a challenge in East Dulwich and I have to keep an eye on developers to make sure they stick to what has been agreed,” he says.

In East Dulwich the issues of housing and benefit entitlements of 20 years ago have faded away in favour of property development and parking. He has experience on the borough’s education and planning committees and is proud of the ward’s schools and how they have developed. Although local councils are no longer education authorities, they can still play a part by helping to buy sports equipment or to fund school outings.

He is a popular guest at school prize days, preferring not to resort to the bromides of many speakers as they exhort children to work hard and pay attention. “No, the last one was at Heber School where I decided to talk to the children about Syria and refugees, and to think about children less fortunate who had been forced to leave their homes”, Charlie says. “It was going very well, and then the head, David Block, said ‘I know about that too, my parents were child refugees from Nazi Germany’, and suddenly it was so much more real for the kids. It was a good moment”.

Now he serves on the licensing committee and often spends his evenings in the back of a police car, touring alcohol outlets and checking that their business equates with their licence. “Licensing has to take into account where the outlet is – is there a reputation in an area for problems with drink? – and their hours to make sure they’ve closed sales in accordance, as well as not serving alcohol to under age customers,” he says. “It’s important to see for myself what’s going on, and we’re not slow in taking people’s licences away if they’ve broken the rules.”

But at a civic ceremony in Southwark Cathedral in May the Labour group appointed him Deputy Mayor of Southwark, a largely ceremonial role “visiting everywhere in robes and badges” as an ambassador for the borough, which puts him in line to succeed Kath Whittam as Mayor next year.

“I love it,” Charlie says. “Last week we were at Hornchurch with all the mayors at an outdoor concert, before that there was an indoor cricket competition at Lord’s in which a team of autistic children competed – marvellous, and so well disciplined.”

He tries not to let his civic duties interfere with his pastoral ones, however. “It’s being on the doorstep, talking to people, not just at election time but all year round, that makes the difference to people here and it’s an honour to represent them”, he says. “Sometimes I can’t help but sometimes I can, and that makes it worthwhile”.

Sep 26 / Simon

Grand Lodge marks its 300th anniversary

The Times, 24-9-2016
Simon Tait
Although its origins lie deep in the Middle Ages, British Freemasonry as an organised network of egalitarian gentlemen’s clubs, or lodges, takes its foundation from a meeting at the Goose and Gridiron pub near Sir Paul’s Cathedral on June 24th, 1717, when the members of four lodges got together to create a Grand Lodge. Sir Christopher Wren, a member of the St Paul’s Lodge who had effectively been the Masons’ chief organiser, was seen to have “neglected his offices” – he was in his 80s by then – and was passed over as the first Grand Master in favour of Anthony Sayer, a gentleman of which little more is known.
Principally, says Diane Clements, director of the Freemasons’ Museum and Library, their aim seems to have been to arrange a decent feast of which they had felt a lack, but the tenets set then are principally the same today: brotherly love, community charity and moral truth.

To mark the tricentenary the Grand Lodge, a dominating Art Deco temple in London’s Covent Garden, is opening a new gallery that dispenses with some of the myths about Freemasonry and for the first time relates the story of a much misunderstood society.
Since 1717 the Freemasons have been accused of secrecy – Diane Clements prefers the word “privacy” and it is not a secret society, its rules being open to public scrutiny – which has allowed myths to develop and accusations of undue influence in public life. There are no blood sacrifices, Roman Catholic Freemasons cannot be excommunicated, there is absolutely no connection with ancient Egypt or the Knights Templar, and the secrets are about nothing more than modes of recognition. Since 1908 there have been women’s lodges whose first “Most Puissant Grand Commander” was the women’s rights leader Annie Besant.
Many members of the royal family have been members, and the exhibition has the enormous gilded throne made by Robert Kennett in 1791 for the then Prince of Wales when he became Grand Master. Celebrating his own anniversary next year of 50 years as Grand Master is the present Duke of Kent, who will open in the exhibition on September 29.
But there are rituals, from one of which we get the word “hoodwinked” from the practice of placing a bag, or hoodwink, over an initiate’s head during enrollment. The exhibition has photographs of some of them, showing that trouser legs are indeed rolled up by candidates to prove they are flesh and blood, and there are three degrees of membership, admission into the third being the most testing and giving us another common phrase.
In 1723 the first rules were drawn up. The only religious requirement is that Brothers believe in a single god and its roots are in the Old Testament; there are many Jewish and Muslim members; religion and politics are never discussed at lodge meetings where the only recognised ranks are those of the fraternity. The symbolism of recognition that dots the ceremonies and apparel of Masons mostly derives from the tools of the stonemason’s trade, his square, compass and plumbline, and chiefly the mason’s apron, their “jewels”. The prisoners of the Japanese in Changi Jail in the 1940s fashioned jewels from metal taken from a derelict bus; during German occupation Jersey Masons made aprons from paper; at the Siege of Ladysmith in 1899-1900 Brothers fashioned their aprons from linen napkins.
Freemasonry had a prominent place in public life, but it was effectively forced underground by Nazi persecution. Hitler even obtained a list of lodges in the UK for targetting, and the Grand Lodge sent microfilms of its most treasured documents to Canada, Australia and New Zealand for safety in case Britain should be invaded.
But the Freemasons have taken on a much more public charitable role since the 1980s, and far from in decline membership in England, Wales and the Channel Islands (Scotland has its own organisation) now stands at over 200,000 in 6,800 lodges, and 6 million worldwide.

Three Centuries of English Freemasonry opens at the Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ on September 29.

Jul 8 / Simon

Echoes of the past

Nadfas Review Summer 2016
Brook Street in London was gnome to two brilliant musicians, two centuries and one brick wall apart. A new museum recreates their homes at number 23 and 25. Simon Tait funds out more
Shaving one afternoon in his Mayfair bathroom Jim Hendrix was suddenly aware that he was not alone. Peering past his own reflection in the mirror, he was aware of a figure apparently standing behind him, a round face framed in a white wig. “The bathroom was upstairs and he came down and said ‘You’ll never guess who I just saw…’,” recalls his then girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. “Madeleine Bell (the singer) was here and we said, ‘What are you on?’ but he insisted it was true – he’d just seen Handel.”

It was the summer of 1968 and the couple had recently moved into the third floor Brook Street flat in London’s Mayfair, found through an advertisement in a London evening paper for a rent of £30 a week. “We had no idea who Handel was until music students started coming round wanting to see where he lived because of the blue plaque on the wall – and they’d no idea who Jimi was,” says Ms Etchingham.

In his private moments, as he worked on his own compositions, Hendrix would play classical music, often Handel, as well as blues and jazz. “We went to the HMV shop in Oxford Street and bought The Messiah and The Water Music and came to love Handel,” said Ms Etchingham. “Classical music was calming, Jimi liked the rhythms,” said his biographer, Harry Shapiro, “and though it probably didn’t influence what he wrote it certainly helped his mood”.

It is a trick of fate that two iconic musicians from such different parts of the spectrum came to live in side-by-side houses two centuries apart. Handel’s house, No 25, was acquired by the Handel’s House Trust and restored, opening as a museum in 2001, and now Hendrix’s tiny flat at the top of No 23 has been restored by the trust to the way he knew it at a cost of £2.4m, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and opened in February. The domuses have now been combined as Handel and Hendrix in London, the museum’s new name.

Georg Friedrich Handel, born in Halle, Germany, in 1685 and coming to London to seek his fortune in 1712, was already a success when he moved into the newly built four-storey townhouse in Brook Street in 1723, at the age of 38. Although he had anglicised his name to George Frideric he was still an alien and as such not allowed to own property, and even though he became a British citizen in 1727 he continued to pay an annual rent for the home in which he lived for the last 34 years of his life, dying here in April 1759. It was even then a well-to-do part of London.

It was at 25 Brook Street that Handel composed most of his finest works, including The Messiah, Zadok the Priest and The Royal Fireworks Music. He made use of the whole house with his servants sleeping on the top floor (in space now used for the Jimi Hendrix display about the rock musician and his circle next to the corresponding rooms at No 23 where Hendrix and his partner were to make their home two centuries later). On the second floor was his bedroom and dressing room, and on the first he composed, rehearsed and held informal performances. From the ground floor (now a shop unconnected with the museum) he sold music and tickets to his concerts. Among the objects on display is a letter from Handel to his librettist, Charles Jennens, about The Messiah, and Mozart’s hand-written arrangement of a Handel fugue. There are also portraits and caricatures of the great man, including on his bedroom a magisterial bust by Roubilliac.

The music room was the centre of Handel’s life here. Invited to a rehearsal of Alcina, the opera Handel composed soon after his arrival in Brook Street, with his favourite soprano Anna Maria Strada, the society intellectual (and close Handel friend) Mary Pendarves declared: “Whilst Mr Handel was playing his part, I could not help thinking him a necromancer in the midst of his enchantments”.

The music room still hosts concerts – not cramming in the 40 or 50 Handel used to invite but 25 or so – and when NADFAS Review visited, the harpsichordist Laurence Cummings and flautist Rachel Brown were rehearsing (pictured). Laurence was playing a new acquisition for the museum, a double manual harpsichord made in 1754 by the London maker Jacob Kirkman whose instruments Handel is known to have played. It was a gift in 2015 in memory of Ellie Warburg of the banking family, who had died the previous year.

The idea of the museum started with the musicologist Stanley Sadie who, with his wife Julie, set up the Handel House Trust in the early 1990s to acquired the house and convert it. Its restoration to the way it would have looked in Georgian times was painstaking. Archive evidence was delved into and an inventory of the very sparse contents taken after his death, now in the British Library, with scrapings of the original paint taken so that the house could be returned to the way Handel would have known it. It was opened to the public in November 2001.

Now it has been joined by memories of another musical icon. Unlike Handel’s house next door, the tiny flat is crammed with the personal tropes of its occupants mostly bought from junk shops and street stalls – Hendrix and Kathy Etchingham bought rugs, his particular enthusiasm. “With Kathy’s help we have had to acquire everything to recreate it,” said Sarah Bardwell, now a trustee of the museum and its former director, who began the project. “We used some of the sources, like Portobello Road, that Kathy and Jimi did, but we were also able to haunt the websites that they could not”.

Many items had to be remade to exact specifications, and even the brilliant white woodchip wallpaper has had to be recreated. The crimson bedspread on the divan, the carver chair, the curtains and the shawl that doubled as a bed canopy – even the unfolding firescape outside the window – have all been made. On the bed is Hendrix’s famous Epiphone FT79 acoustic guitar, bought for $25 in New York, which was his principal song-writing instrument on which he created his famous version of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower.

The flat had a bathroom and kitchen (yet to be restored) above the main room and a second room used to store clothes and guitars, now with a display of the covers of some of Hendrix’s vast record collection. And while other rock stars of the late Sixties lived in luxurious seclusion in St John’s Wood, Cheyne Walk and Weybridge, Hendrix was enjoying domestic bliss at the heart of the world’s trendiest city.

But Hendrix’s stay here was all too brief. He and Etchingham broke up in March of 1969 and they moved out the following month, Hendrix dying from a barbiturate overdose in September 1970, aged 27. But his blue plaque is at 23 Brook Street, which Hendrix called the first home of his own, next to George Friderik Handel’s at No 25.

Handel & Hendrix in London at 25 Brook Street, London W1K 4HB, is open 10am-6pm Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat; 10am-8pm Thurs; 12pm-6pm Sun; closed Monday.

Jul 8 / Simon

The self-help club for actors that’s gaining ground

Stage 7/7/2016
Four and a half years ago, Sarah Berger formed the So and Sop Arts Club to help actors find work. Simon Tait finds out how it has expanded to help members collaborate, increase contacts and gain experience
The So and So Arts Club started by accident. The actor and director Sarah Berger was sharing a desk space in a delicatessen with a friend, working on an idea for giving fellow theatre folk a boost. The friend asked what the idea was. “I said I was fed up with doing so-so plays by so-and-so playwrights, and she said that’s what you should call it, the So and So Club” says Sarah Berger, and four years ago the club was founded.

The So and So is a professional actors’ self-help club that sources good new plays as material for rehearsed readings. Its ethos is of supporting artists across generations and it now has over 1,200 members in nine countries including Canada, the US and Australia, with patrons such as the critic Michael Billington, the director John Caird, the agent Ken McReddie and the actor Frances Barber. Its members are actors, writers and directors, among them Phyllis Logan, Terry Johnson, Bill Alexander and Joanna David.

“I’ve been an actor for 35 years and when you’re a pit pony hanging on to the rock face for a long time you get to a point when you’re tired of complaining about the lot – of actresses in particular,” Sarah said. “I thought I’d do something about it, but you can’t do much on your own so why not reach out? I’d say to other actors, I’ll open my contacts book, try to share opportunities and generate proactivity, will you do the same? Lots said OK.”

Using those contacts and Facebook she began doing readings in often unconventional places – one of the first was in a stained glass studio in West Drayton when a hat was spontaneously passed round the audience so that the readers actually got paid. They still do, getting £40 a reading, and the club which has generated work for more than 600 actors, writers, directors and designers.

For the last 18 months the So and So Arts Club has had its base in a four storey house at 6 Frederick Place off Old Jewry in the City, owned by the Mercers’ Company and let for a nominal rent. It is shared with James Roose-Evans’s Frontier Theatre Productions and its rooms of various sizes are used for rehearsals, readings, performances and offices, which Sarah can let as affordable space for other artists, “a holy grail in London”, to help fund the club. The So and So is now looking for longer term premises in which it can also establish a Fringe venue where young actors, too many of whom lack sufficient experience Sarah believes without the rep system, can learn their trade.

“Performers in particular feel so disempowered, it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done, what you’ve achieved,” Sarah said. “You look at TV in this country and you’d think only five people live here, it’s the same faces all the time, and that has crept into the theatre. It’s a very very closed shop, despite not having a functioning union anymore. The club helps people collaborate and meet each other, make it more of a level playing field.”

Sarah built a website to keep communications live, and it has been a one-woman operation. Membership costs are minimal and the turnover is tiny.

So far there have been 39 rehearsed readings and 68 performances including several productions at Fringe venues such as the Tristan Bates Theatre, the Drayton Arms, The Mill at Sonning (where she presented the British premiere of a Norah Ephron play) and at Jermyn Street. All that is earned goes back into the So and So; Sarah takes no payment.

She began a series of festivals in 2014 with the Hopefull season at the The Hope pub in Islington, four quite different plays for older actors for which she got her first and last arts council grant, and did it again last year, despite being turned down by ACE this time, at Fred’s Place, as she calls it, this time with a musical added -– “stories of people over 40 because I’m getting tired of having fallen off the face of the earth since I got past that age” – for which everyone was paid the Equity Fringe minimum.

There have been more festivals, such as A Kick up the Arts which showcased 15 plays with interactive masterclasses and workshops, and Women in the Arts with a similar format co-produced with the Actors Centre.

The biggest So and So venture so far begins on July 4, a month long season at Fred’s Place called Women at War: 16 plays, four films, two exhibitions and special events. A taster on June 27 was Seven, a one-off play by seven playwrights about seven heroic female activists from around the world featuring Miriam Margolyes, Rula Lenska and Josie Lawrence.

Sarah herself is directing Cleo Sylvestre in a play about Mary Seacole, the black Crimean War nurse whose statue was unveiled at St Thomas’s Hospital on June 30 (she will take the play to the Edinburgh Fringe). Her festival co-producer, the American Broadway director Rachel Neuberger, has written her own searing play, Nepenthe, about the notorious Block 24 brothel at Auschwitz. There’s an exhibition of portraits by the war artist Arabella Dorman. “This is a bold, important idea,” said So and So supporter Imogen Stubbs. “Now, more than ever, we need to raise our voices as artists to make sure that women across the world feel both heard and supported.”

The club is being set on a more formal footing, under the chairmanship of a City financial consultant, James Winterbotham. In June he set it up as a Community Interest Company (CIC), a corporate body that has a community purpose rather than a commercial one; it can make a profit and raise capital but also gets more sympathy from local authorities and the likes of the arts council. “However,” he said, “they do need to demonstrate good governance, hence Sarah’s desire to have us on the board”.

He met Sarah though his actor/director wife Emmeline Winterbotham (who also happens to be the Master of a City livery company), and was impressed by the So and So business model. “Speaking to Sarah was refreshing since she passionately believes that, first, the theatre profession should be paid, and secondly productions should be properly marketed. This requires applying business principles to the arts”, Winterbotham said. “Our intention is that the business is put on a sounder financial footing that enables Sarah to pursue her artistic aims using professional performers, to create stability for future planning and will enable her to be paid a proper salary. A key element of this is to have a space for performance, rehearsal and office use”.

First will be the creation of a business plan, and then finding a permanent low-cost base in the City – the lease on Fred’s Place could be ended at any moment. “I see this coming together of arts, business and an otherwise unused asset from a benign landlord as a perfect model”, Winterbotham says.

But, as So and So supporter John Caird, the director, says it has to be about theatre. He has known Sarah Berger since she was a very young Olivia in his 1983 RSC production of Twelfth Night opposite Zoe Wanamaker’s Viola.

“Theatre is a social art,” Caird said, “ and you can only make judgements about how good you are by being in the company of people you are working with, sharing ideas. Being a young artist is a very lonely business, especially for an actor, and you get on by making partnerships, forming alliances, doing things together. That’s why So and So is so important and why it works.”

The So and So Arts Club
Founded June, 2014
Membership 1283
Headquarters 6 Frederick Place, London EC2R 8AB
Status Community Interest Company
Aims To create work for actors, directors, writers and designers
Chief executive Sarah Berger (unpaid)
Chairman James Winterbotham
Turnover £15,000 pa
Funding Membership (£30 pa) and box office
Staff None