With apologies to the well-known phrase, a funny thing is on the way to the Forum. The announcement that Paul Merton and his Impro Chums are appearing at Bath Comedy Festival’s opening night on April 1st, is great news. If you don’t know Bath Forum, it’s a fabulous art deco former cinema, hiding behind a rather humdrum classical façade. Inside, fantasy Roman gladiators prance around the glorious ceiling centrepiece while giant shields and spears decorate the side panels. It’s a tribute to the city’s ancient beginnings with its feet firmly planted in 1930’s modernism.
These days the Forum, having been a picture palace and a bingo hall, is enjoying its third incarnation as a church, so one has to show a certain sensitivity as to what one can stage there. This is probably the first time this enormous venue has been used for pure comedy and having seen Paul’s show at Edinburgh Fringe playing to capacity audiences we know it will be a perfect fit. Totally improvised, squeaky clean and fantastic fun, you couldn’t wish for a better start to what is going to be the best and biggest BCF yet.
When the Forum hosted bingo, the owners were tremendously proud of their beautiful building. Unlike some of the bigger chains they didn’t rip the insides out. Yes there were Formica tables in the stalls and a rather naff tea bar, but on the whole the place survived intact. Similarly, the current occupants have carefully restored the interiors to their former glory.
Many years ago Natural Theatre presented their scurrilous rock and roll spoof The Rocky Ricketts Show in the Forum. There were some very naughty numbers and I’m sure the current occupants wouldn’t have let us through the door. Because it was bingo all day every day we had to extend the stage with scaffolding and planks very quietly while all around us in the semi-darkness it was eyes down for a full house. Not an easy task.
To fix up some lighting we had to go up into the roof space. This was terrifying as the huge streamlined suspended ceiling was exactly that: a thin layer of moulded plaster suspended on knotted ropes and wires from a steel frame. One slip would send you crashing through to land in a heap amongst the startled pensioners below.
Under a thick layer of dust I found an old peaked cap. Brushed up it revealed itself to be the original cinema commissionaire’s hat, in a classy shade of dark green with the word Forum embroidered in gold thread on the front: an artefact totally redolent of the building’s grand past.
They let me keep the hat but unfortunately at some point over the years it has disappeared from my wardrobe. Otherwise I would certainly be wearing it when I step onto the stage to introduce the show on April 1st.
See http://www.bathcomedy.com for Comedy Festival news at it comes in.