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Adventures of the Baron!

The Scotsman

Play to breathe life back into music hall
JIM MCBETH

A UNIQUE partnership of Scotland's poet laureate and a German actor will bring Britain's oldest music hall back to life next month after decades of obscurity above a Glasgow amusement arcade.

The 19th century Britannia - known as the "Panopticon" - remains the most culturally and architecturally significant theatre of its era. Since it closed in 1938, it has been "lost" on the upper floors of an A-listed building in Trongate, Glasgow, owned by Bradley Mitchell of the famous city arcades' family.

Mr Mitchell helped fund its incremental rehabilitation, in anticipation of staging the first professional theatrical performance in 67 years.

Now Edwin Morgan, the 85-year-old poet laureate, and the German actor and director, Benno Plassmann, have produced a world first, a show about the legendary Baron Munchausen.

Safety rules mean the performances - on 12 and 13 October - will be seen by an audience of only 80 each night, but it is a huge step for the venue where Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy, made his debut, and a young Cary Grant performed for a Springburn ladies' night out.

Mr Morgan's Adventures of The Baron, based on the 18th century nobleman who achieved world fame for his tales of derring-do, was written for Mr Plassmann.

When the German settled in Glasgow he fell in love with Mr Morgan's poems about the city. He said: "When I met [Edwin] and became his friend I was delighted. One day I asked him about writing about Munchausen, a character who fascinated me.

"He did, it was published, and we went further by creating the one-man show in which I play nine characters, including five variations of the Baron."

He added: "The Panopticon is fantastic, a spiritual home for the piece."

The play is produced by Pip Hill of Glasgow-based company, The Working Party.

She said: "It's quite a coup, to have commissioned the poet laureate, a dream for us and Benno. When he arrived in Glasgow, he didn't feel he belonged and he used Morgan's writing to learn about his new home.

"Subsequently, they developed a friendship and it led to this significant theatrical event, not least because it will be the first fully-fledged professional theatrical production at the Panopticon since it closed in 1938. And the Baron is so fascinating."

The 18th century soldier and nobleman led an adventurous life, fighting the Turks for Catherine the Great of Russia. In old age, his tales became so infamous he was known as the "lying Baron" and achieved world fame. For 200 years, he has inspired film-makers, artists, politicians and even scientists.

Judith Bowers, the director of the Panopticon restoration trust, said: "This is a landmark for the Panopticon's unique cultural, social and architectural history. We'll soon be beginning more exterior work."

 

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