Cyprus Avenue at Glasgow's Pavilion Theatre

Words by
Sarah Bridge

7th December 2023

Theatres up and down the country are currently packing in the audiences in search of festive entertainment over the busy Christmas period, but planning for 2024 schedules is already well underway. Including the anticipated production of Cyprus Avenue at the Pavilion Theatre.

Presented by Trafalgar Entertainment

One such theatre is the 120-year old Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, acquired earlier this year by Trafalgar Entertainment which owns theatres in England, Wales and Australia.

One of the Pavilion’s most-anticipated productions of the New Year will be David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue, which played to sold-out audiences at the Tron Theatre earlier this year.

Cyprus Avenue at the Pavilion Theatre - Outside Pavilion Theatre
Outside the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow

Starring acclaimed actor David Hayman as Eric, a Belfast Loyalist stuck in the past, the production received five-star reviews. Hayman himself received the coveted Outstanding Performance at the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland for his role and says he can’t wait to share it with the Pavilion audiences as well.

‘When I first read Cyprus Avenue, I thought it was the most extraordinary, compelling, shocking, disturbing and hilariously funny piece I've read in years,’ says Hayman. ‘It’s a really important piece of work by David Ireland and I'm absolutely thrilled we're going from a 225-seat theatre to a nearly 1,500 seater, as it means thousands more people will see it.’

‘We were sold out for the original run and you couldn’t get tickets for love nor money,’ he recalls. ‘It’s a brutally funny piece in the darkest of shades where the audience are laughing in spite of themselves. People who saw it were still talking about it weeks and even months later – it’s such an extraordinary piece of theatre which really packs a punch.’

It's particularly exciting for Hayman who is from Glasgow and who has known the Pavilion as an iconic part of the city’s cultural scene for so many years.

‘I love the idea that Trafalgar Entertainment, who have taken over the Pavilion - which is traditionally a variety theatre with pantomimes and tribute acts and magicians - are trying to change the ethos of the place and do some serious drama here as well. I'm genuinely excited to see how it will be received,’ he says.

Opening in 1904 as a music hall, the venue, which is one of Scotland’s oldest and best-loved theatres, has played host to stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Billy Connolly and Lulu. Hayman remembers it fondly from his youth as ‘something of a bear pit, a genuine working-class theatre,’ and is hoping that his return to the Pavilion in Cyprus Avenue will be the first of many.

‘Watch this space!’ he teases. ‘The thing about Glaswegians is that we love theatre,’ he adds. ‘We've always loved going to cinema and live theatre. Trafalgar is trying to broaden the scope and range of the Pavilion and people will really respond to it. I can’t wait!’

Cyprus Avenue at the Pavilion Theatre - David Hayman
David Hayman with co-star Sinead Sharkey

Helen Enright, chief executive of Trafalgar Theatres, hails, like Hayman, from the city of Glasgow, and says she is delighted that the company was able to acquire the Pavilion in April this year.

‘It’s a lovely old historic building, absolutely packed with original features, it’s right in the centre of Glasgow and it’s a great size at just under 1,500 seats.’

She adds: ‘What’s also great about it is that it attracts a regular audience from Glasgow, real working-class people who love the theatre. I was there recently to see a show and chatted to the front of house staff about all the people who come in on a regular basis - it has a real connection with its audiences. It’s a very intimate theatre, much more intimate than its size suggests, so wherever you are in the auditorium you feel very close to the stage.’

While Helen is keen to keep the wide range of productions on at the Pavilion, the plan is to extend the program to do a lot more weekly shows rather than one-off productions at the weekend, increasing the theatre’s output from 200 to 300 performances a year.

‘Typically there would have been a pantomime which runs for about six weeks, and then, other than that, it would have been one-night performances only and very little in the way of weekly content,’ she says. ‘We’re not trying to replace what content we already have at the Pavilion, but to add to what’s there.’

Proof that this approach could work was shown in the drama which was playing when Trafalgar took over the Pavilion. Myra’s Story, set on the streets of Dublin, played for four nights and, says Helen,’ it was quite incredible to see how the Glaswegian audiences really connected with the production, so we could see that there was an opportunity for hard-hitting drama here.’

Seeing the success of Myra’s Story paved the way for Cyprus Avenue, says Helen. ‘It’s in a similar mould as, while it has a different subject matter, it’s a dark comedy, it’s gritty and realistic and I think that will work really well with Glasgow audiences.’

As well as Cyprus Avenue and perennial favourite The Rocky Horror Show, on the Pavilion’s schedule for 2024 are star appearances by the likes of David Suchet, Ben Fogle and Gareth Gates, a murder mystery production and, fingers crossed, a new musical set in Glasgow. ‘We’re in discussions at the moment and we’re really keen as it’s based in Glasgow,’ says Helen. ‘Productions at the Pavilion don’t have to have a special connection with the city as we have shows from all over the world, but this is something that we feel will particularly resonate with its audience.’

Cyprus Avenue at the Pavilion Theatre - Helen Enright
Helen Enright, chief executive of Trafalgar Theatres

With many of its original fixtures and fittings, the Pavilion is a unique place in which to perform, and Helen is keen to keep its historic appeal.

‘We certainly won’t be making any changes to the auditorium itself but we are hoping to open up the basement space a bit more so that it’s less constrained for theatre-goers,’ she says.

With the city of Glasgow recently announced as the recipient of a £20 million Heritage Lottery Fund, there is the hope that some of the funds might be directed toward the Pavilion and regeneration of the city centre and its cultural spaces.

‘Like many other places, Glasgow was hit hard by the impact of Covid and its theatres in particular, and it would be great if the money was used to regenerate certain areas,’ says Helen. ‘The Pavilion is much loved by local people but there is always room for getting new people into the theatre.’

Trafalgar Theatres now have 15 regional theatres, from Bromley to Crewe, Hasting to Sydney, and is behind two new theatres opening shortly, Olympia Theatre in London and Fareham Live in Hampshire.

Says Helen: ‘We’re always on the lookout for theatres of a certain size – typically 800+ seaters – and it’s really about what opportunities there are, both in the UK and overseas. The bigger your network, the more the economies of scale just really kick in. It’s very hard to run a theatre as a stand-alone venue, so when we take on a venue we can run it more cost-effectively as part of a group, with centralised infrastructure and ticketing system and so on.’

‘But’, she adds, ‘Each theatre is unique and it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the people who work in them and the people who visit them. If you can present a consistently high-quality program, both with national appeal and something which has a more regional appeal to local audiences, then that’s how you can really make it work, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.’

Helen cites the Beck theatre in Hayes which features a more diverse programme than you might see in other parts of the UK, due to its diverse catchment area.

‘If you want to get local people coming to your theatre then you have to present things that they're going to want to see, so it's really important to be properly embedded in the community,’ she says.

London is a great showcase for new content, and if it works in London then it will often work well elsewhere, such as hit Trafalgar Theatre show Jersey Boys.

‘I remember when we persuaded Disney to allow The Lion King to tour,’ says Helen. ‘There was the feeling at the time that it might damage The Lion King in London, but absolutely the opposite happened, and it’s now a worldwide phenomenon.’

With the pandemic and the squeeze on spending, how is the future looking?

‘I think that theatre generally tends to be very robust, even in very difficult times,’ says Helen, and partly the reason is that if you can't holiday abroad, then you might instead treat yourself to a trip to the theatre. Audiences have been growing for decades even with so many other things competing for people’s time.’

Another highlight for 2024 is expected to be the world premiere of Clueless: The Musical, which Helen hopes will open in Bromley, south London, before moving onto the West End. With musicals, murder mysteries and multi-awarding winning stage productions, it looks like it’s going to be a packed 2024 for Trafalgar Theatres.