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Stage Fright

Stage Fright

03 February 2015 | Lloyd Hughes

It’s a sad fact, but the town of Evesham doesn’t have a lot going for it. Its heyday was as a successful market town, with the richly fertile soil of the Vale of Evesham renowned for the quality of its produce. With the decline of the local agricultural industry though, those days are long gone. Now it seems that all it’s got to shout about is an eclectic array of charity shops, a single sticky floored ‘nightclub’ and a delectable restaurant offering that primarily consists of a couple of curry houses and a Fayre and Square. High Society it isn’t.

The town has been in a steady spiral of decline for many years, despite several attempts to reinvigorate its appeal. A revamp of the High Street has failed to repopulate it, whilst the lengthy replacement bridge works have not so much put the nail in the coffin, as packed down the soil on top. Evesham has its defenders, but the fact remains, if you want to experience or purchase something genuinely decent; you tend to go further afield.

Despite this though, there has been one ray of light in the gloomy outlook of recent years, that being the Regal Cinema. Shut for over a decade, the town’s residents had been awaiting its reopening for what appeared to be forever, resorting to travelling to Worcester or Cheltenham to see the latest box office release during the seemingly interminable wait.

I anticipated its unveiling with an air of scepticism. Developments in Evesham had continually disappointed me since about the age of 7, so my hopes weren’t high. Rumours of a reopening had abounded for so long, that 1) I thought it would never happen 2) I thought it would be half-arsed at best, and destined to tick along for about 8 months before folding. Turns out, I was wrong.

The Regal is brilliant. It offers a truly diverse mix of entertainment, with rock bands, stand-ups, orchestras, burlesque acts and more performing there. The cinema experience is on a par with the excellent (but much more expensive) Screening Rooms in Cheltenham. Acts from far and wide have come to perform at the Regal, enriching the town in the process and helping to slow the rot in its reputation.

Now, being a long standing resident of the local area, social etiquette generally means it’s fine for me to ‘slag it off’, as it were. Anyone living in the town tends to constantly bemoan the things it lacks. But if an outsider dares to speak ill of the state of the town’s amenities or points out the ‘rot’, then partisan feelings run high and they’re seen off in no short order. And when it comes to the Regal, the jewel in Evesham’s tarnished crown, the community is particularly protective. It’s this parochial pride that brings me to the subject of Jim Davidson…

The comedian was due to perform at the Regal at the weekend just passed. Tickets for the gig were, if not sold out, certainly running low. But despite the apparent enthusiasm for his act, those who had purchased a ticket were informed shortly beforehand that the show had been cancelled due to ‘technical problems’ if you’re Jim Davidson, or ‘unforeseen circumstances’ if you’re the Regal.

Conflicting accounts emerged. Rumours soon abounded that Jim had flounced off in a huff and refused to perform. I immediately remembered the time that he’d (allegedly) refused to do a gig because the front row were disabled. Was it a similar set up? Had Jim thrown a hissy fit because he couldn’t ridicule the first few rows without some serious opprobrium? No. Apparently it was the stage, or more specifically, the height of the stage. ‘12 feet high’ according to Jim. ‘Like Beachy Head,’ according to one sarcastic observer. Or ‘7 feet 6 inches’ according to the Regal.

Jim said he suffered from vertigo ‘a bit’ (so said Worcester News) and the thought of performing on it was ‘scary’. In a bid to obtain the moral high ground and put a positive PR spin on things for him at least, he swiftly announced that he’d be doing a free performance at the nearby Evesham Arts Centre (actually a decent venue, but poorly marketed) to make amends for his fear of heights. The logistics of this gesture remain to be seen, but if it goes ahead (and is actually free) then fair play to him.

The Regal’s take on things was somewhat different. The venue’s management released a statement, which suggested Jim hadn’t even seen the stage, before storming out after appearing ‘agitated’ on arrival and staying for ‘approximately 4 minutes’. Locals leapt to the venue’s defence on the cinema’s Facebook page, vilifying Jim and waving virtual torches and keyboard pitchforks.

There’s been a fair bit of mud slinging on both sides as Jim retweeted disgruntled former employees accusing the management of being lax when it came to payment. He also lambasted the venue, exhorting his Twitter followers to “check the place out and see the photos on trip advisor”…low and behold…“the place is a cinema” (the clue’s in the name, Jim), whilst also saying ‘the venue’s sh*t”. It’s been an unseemly to do that hasn’t reflected well on both parties.

I do have some sympathy with Jim, as I saw a performance of Just a Minute at the venue, during which a vertigo suffering Paul Merton had to sit on a chair at the foot of the stage whilst his co-stars performed above him. But he did perform. He didn’t abandon the show and leave the cinema, so my sympathy only goes so far. Perhaps Jim could’ve waited (for those that didn’t get the cancelled message) and apologised from the foot of the stage in person? The fact remains though, that the stage is high, so I do question the Regal’s version of events that he didn’t even see it…

It’s all very strange and the whole truth is likely to be known only to those who were actually there – as ever. But it’s a double dose of bad PR here. Bad PR for the cinema, as the Regal’s name has been dragged through the mud as ‘a sh*t venue’. And bad PR for Jim Davidson who’s been made to look like a strop-throwing diva as the story circulates in the national press.

Hopefully the Regal won’t suffer off the back of it (the way the town has rallied around to defend its besmirched honour suggests it won’t, but lets hope future acts aren’t put off) and hopefully Jim sticks to his word and does his Arts Centre gig for free. It would be nice though if they could settle their differences and present a united front, doing each other a favour in the process. Somehow, I doubt it.