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The National Lottery's Big Night of Musicals 2024

There’s the Post Office scandal, in which some of its senior staff still somehow believe miscellaneous subpostmasters were guilty of fraud, theft and false accounting, despite ever mounting evidence to the contrary. They’re doing everything they can to mitigate losses and ensure compensation is never paid out to the innocent parties, some of whom are no longer with us. And then there’s Capital Theatres, who run a number of venues in Edinburgh (yes, I’ve been in them, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, whose events always give me a bit of respite from the madness of the Festival Fringe), showering as much praise as they could on Graham Simpson, an usher there for thirty years.


I’d not seen The National Lottery’s Big Night of Musicals before (and, to be honest, I found the follow-up shows on BBC Two afterwards more entertaining) – it was designed a little bit like BBC One’s Six O’clock News, in which we were told what was coming up over and over again, as if we hadn’t heard it the first time. There were videos of behind the scenes footage of certain shows, the only ‘VT’ of any interest was one about the Next Generation Youth Theatre in Luton, and the Pendleton School of Theatre in Salford, who combined forces with Beverley Knight to sing ‘Seasons of Love’ from Jonathan Larson’s Rent.


Big scene changes were covered up well by having host Jason Manford rabbiting on from various parts of the Manchester Arena – I thought he did well to address the almost inevitable booing that ensued when mention of ‘going across the Pennines’ was mentioned. You’d have thought the Wars of the Roses was still going on. In the end, of course, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which started out in the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield (the first show I ever bothered trekking up to Yorkshire to see – I was welcomed, not with ‘Hello’ but with ‘D’YA WANT TO GET PROGRAMME?!’) was given hearty applause. This being television, ‘ass’ was replaced with ‘tush’. But who tells someone else to kiss their tush?


A Chorus Line from Leicestershire’s Curve Theatre was also represented, but nothing – as far as I could tell, from Manchester itself, a whole host of shows from London heading up North to perform instead. It’s one of those ‘bums on seats’ affairs: there’d be complaints from certain quarters if The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables weren’t included in there somewhere. Here, Phantom looked more like a canoe in the sewer and nothing else more than usual. The National Lottery’s budget stretched to having Nicole Scherzinger, of Sunset Boulevard fame, briefly interviewed, but did not stretch to having her perform. When I saw her in Sunset, I found she wasn’t the problem: it was just a dud production, with gimmickry and tacky, unnecessary filming of nothing particularly interesting. Poking around her dressing room with a camera was, I thought, a terrible invasion of her privacy.


Anyway, I mustn’t get too grumpy – an hour-and-a-half of musical theatre being showcased on primetime television doesn’t happen every day. Invariably, people will get upset that their own favourite musical shows weren’t featured, but this isn’t the equivalent of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, much as some would dearly love to have a three-and-a-half hour extravaganza with a ‘ten minute version’ of something or other.


I’m sorry to read Jason Manford had to deal with some nasty comments on social media just for highlighting that there are affordable tickets available for most shows. It all depends on perspective – for some, theatre, along with anything else that isn’t essential bills and living costs, is out of the question for the foreseeable, and it doesn’t matter if tickets are £25 or £250, because they can’t afford it. Give them free tickets and they still won’t go, because they can’t afford to take the evening off work, or the additional transport costs. I’ve been there. Other people just seem to love having a moan. To the point where even if their tickets were free, they still wouldn’t enjoy an evening at the theatre, because they’d find something else to moan about that wasn’t to their exact standards and specifications. Oh, the humanity. They should just be grateful they weren’t prosecuted by the Post Office.

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