Mark Johnson is a blogger over on Beyond The Curtain, sharing reviews and features of all things stagey. During the lockdown, he has worked to raise money for Acting for Others and continued to support the arts. I chatted to Mark all about his favourite shows, his favourite music and how he has been supporting the theatre industry during the ongoing shutdown.
How did you get into theatre blogging?
I’ve been going to theatre solidly since about the age of 14 after being hooked once I’d seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with my mum at the London Palladium. I guess in those years from then to now social media has bloomed into the big thing that it is now. I’ve had a blog for quite a few years now, I used to post on there about theatre and write up about the shows I loved. I then started a WordPress site in 2017 where I just solely focused on reviews and then in 2019 I decided to take it further and launch the page I have today, Beyond The Curtain.
Can you remember the first show you saw?
It would be a pantomime back when I was only 3/4 at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall but I can’t really remember anything about that! The first show I remember though was Joseph a few years later, again at De Monfort Hall. Richard Swerrun (who sadly passed away last year) was a superb Joseph.
How have you been coping during the theatre lockdown?
It’s been such a strange year hasn’t it? Not just for theatre but for life in general. I guess in reflection none of the virus stuff felt real till that Monday in March when it was announced about the theatres closing. I’d at the time just started a new job on the Box Office here in Leicester and things were looking up for me personally but then all this happened and it’s been a challenging time for us all. I still have days where I feel quite low and a bit defeated by everything. It’s only in the last couple of weeks here in Leicester that the lockdown has eased so it’s been nice to go out a little more, but even then I wouldn’t probably feel safe in a pub or restaurant just yet. Only on Sunday did I see an actual theatre building for the first time since March. It was so emotional. I must also mention the gang of theatre bloggers and lovers that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of. We’ve done lots of quizzes and bingos and things together and it’s been such a joy to get to know them and spend many hours in their company. They’ve been a weekly highlight and have kept me going – even if everyone did have to suffer a three hour bingo!
Have you been able to keep your blog running during lockdown?
I’ve tried but I’ve probably been a bit slacker than I wish with it – I guess it’s the mental side effect of theatres not being open than some days I feel quite low about it so I put it off to let my mental side not be to heavily effected. That said I did series of Interviews with over 30 performers and creatives back in April and last week I hosted a full day of fundraising for Acting For Others where I interviewed 15 theatre performers and creatives. I’ve written more tweets/Instagram post reviews than full blown review posts.
Do you have favourite show, and why?
This will come to no surprise to anyone who knows me but it’s Amelie. I have such a deep love for this show. I saw it 10 times during it’s tour and it’s run at The Other Palace. It felt such a magical world to get lost in everytime. The gorgeous quirkly little tale of a Dreamer who wants to create good for others. Then there’s the incredible soundtrack. The actor-musican method used on the show further enchanced it’s beauty and it’s charm. It’s the BEST peice of theatre I’ve seen, and quite possibly that’ll be the case for the rest of my life. The Original London Cast recording that was relased in June has certainly kept me going during these times too.
Desert Island discs – 5 showtunes I couldn’t live without!
I’m going to mix it up rather than just do all 5 from Amelie! (also ask me this another day and you might get a different answer!)
- When The Booth Goes Bright – Amelie. My favourite song of ALL time.
- The Starry Night – Starry. This is such a gorgeous song from this concept cast recording.
- Tour De France – Amelie. The sheer talent and musicianship on this by the Original London Cast. Stunning.
- Pick Out A Simple Tune – Half A Sixpence. All the upbeat joy.
- Under The Greenwood Tree – As You Like It (RSC 2013 Production). This is a very specific one but from the Royal Shakespeare Company production of As You Like It (my favourite Shakespeare production to date). The music for the production done by Laura Marling and it’s so gorgeous! It’s sung by the brilliant Chris Jared who would naturally later go on to be Nino in Amelie. The whole soundtrack is available to download and it’s a delight.
Old Classics or Modern Marvels?
I’m honestly not picky. I don’t think it really matters when a show is written to if it’s good. If it’s a good show then it’s timeless. It’s always great to see and support new British Musicals though.
What is your favourite movie musical?
I definitely find this question harder to answer than my favourite stage musical. I’m going to cheat and give you three:
- Lullaby of Broadway. A geniously great. Doris Day led movie. It’s such a joy with some great musical numbers and performances.
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show. One of the greatest musicals stage or screen. Iconic performances from the likes of Tim Curry, Richard O’Brien (who wrote the musical) and Susan Sarandon.
- La La Land. I know this one splits people into love or a dislike but I adore it. I actually saw it 7 times in the cinema (!). A hark back to the glorious movie musicals of old. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling on top form.
What show are you hoping will be the first show you see after lockdown?
I’ve been asked this a few times and my answer is I don’t know. I’ll probably take whatever the first show I can get is regardless of what it is. I don’t think I’ll wait for it to something specific. I’ll happily watch ANY theatre right now.
Have you felt able to continue to support the industry during the shutdown?
I hope so. As mentioned above I did a fundraising day where I raised nearly £250 for Acting For Others. I’ve also brought ‘The Show Must Go On’ t-shirt. I’ve brought access to a few theatre production streams and donated after watching some of the free streams too.
If you could go back in time and watch any show from the past, what show would it be and why?
Again to avoid too obvious I’m not going to just say Amelie here – although that would be my first answer. My other answer would be I’d LOVE to revisit the stage musical production of The Lord of the Rings that ran at Theatre Royal Drury Lane back in 2007/08. I adored the films when I was a teenager and naturally, I was hooked on the stage show. I saw it 6 times during it’s run and the sheer scale and spectacle was like nothing I’d ever seen in a theatre and I’ve seen nothing quite like it since! The effects and the staging were breathtaking. A beautiful soundtrack added to the entire delight. I’d give anything to see it one more time.
Have you been watching shows that have been streamed during lockdown?
I have watched a fair amount – I’ve tried my best to get in as many as I can without totally overloading myself. There’s been so many and such varied productions that it’s hard to nail down three but here are three standouts:
- Songs For A New World. This is the closest I’d felt to have the pure joy of a theatre show during all the things I’ve watched during this time.
- The Merry Wives of Windsor – Shakespeare’s Globe. The production that I saw live at the Globe in London in 2019 was streamed as part of their YouTube free shows. I LOVED the show last year and it was a joy to revisit it. Pearce Quigley is a comic genius.
- Showstopper: The Socially Distanced Improvised Musical. A genius evening with the Showstopper team (who announced they’re doing another one on the 28th August) as they created a new hour-long musical from scratch by the viewer’s suggestions.
I’d like to add honourable mentions to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bridge Theatre), One Man Two Guv’nors (National Theatre), Flowers For Mrs Harris (Chichester) and Wise Children (York Theatre Royal/The Old Vic).
I would like to thank Mark for his time and his answers to this interview, as well as to wish him the very best. Stay safe x