Book Review – Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die – 4 Stars


Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die

by Amber Massie-Blomfield

Publisher – Penned in the Margins


“the recurring conclusion that Massie-Blomfield keeps coming to is the overriding sense of community that the theatre brings”


Having lived in London for most of my life, I realise that I take theatre for granted. The capital has an overwhelming abundance of live performance spaces, from the grandiose and overpriced theatres of the West End, to the raucous rooms above pubs, and the deviant-feeling spaces in basements or underground tunnels. With a theatre of sorts on almost every corner, it is easy to forget the importance of having these places of artistic congregation in our lives.

In Amber Massie-Blomfield’s first book, Twenty Theatres to see Before You Die, she is on a quest to seek a theatre’s purpose and significance, particularly within the 21st century, where lack of funding and our reliance on instant technological gratification has contributed in many having to close down. Massie-Blomfield, who up until recently was the Executive Director of Camden People’s Theatre, has chosen twenty spaces out of hundreds of possible candidates to shine a spotlight on. With a friendly and warm tone that mixes storytelling with analytical style, she concisely examines theatre’s value to the wider community, whether it is its history, architecture or inclusivity that has made an impact.

Being of the same opinion as myself, Amber admits, “it would be easy to write only about theatres in London”. However, she has made a conscious decision to cover the width and breadth of the country. From the rocky cliffs of the Cornish coast, to the tiny Scottish Isle of Mull, and everything else in between, Massie-Blomfield travels across the entirety of our isles to find theatre that stands up to her ideals. Including a rather nifty map in the first few pages, it identifies the often bizarre stop off points on her road trip of theatrical discovery.

With each theatre outlined solely in a new chapter, this makes for an untaxing read that can easily be put down and picked up again. Some of the theatres act as autobiographical reminiscence for the author. From the Theatre Royal Bath where, as a child, her first encounters with productions occurred, to the Battersea Arts Centre where, after moving to London, she found a sense of family. Other places of note are recognised for their historical importance. The Roman Theatre of Verulamium and The Rose Playhouse, which now are nothing more than piles of relic stones, are important testaments to the timeline of the birth of theatre in Britain. Whilst the likes of The Theatre of Small Convenience, built within an old Victorian Gentlemen’s lavatory, are an oddity that, with compelled curiosity, just had to be explored.

The recurring conclusion that Massie-Blomfield keeps coming to is the overriding sense of community that the theatre brings. Whether it helps to shape a town, be a place of refuge, or break down class and cultural divides, a theatre can be far more than just a building for entertainment. It is unlikely that a non-theatre goer would select this as a book to read, so she is probably preaching to the converted. However, this does not diminish some of the intriguing discoveries Amber Massie-Blomfield makes. Not necessarily mind blowing, but certainly clear affirmation as to what the past, present and future of the theatre has or will provide. If nothing else, it gives you the bare bones for planning an almightily awesome cultural road trip across the country.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole



Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die

is available to buy online and at all good bookshops from 25 May 2018


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