Saturday, 21 April 2007

Stockport Plaza - An Interwar Night Out

To The Stockport Plaza Friday evening to see Miss Potter, the story of Beatrix, of Peter Rabbit fame. The Plaza was built, in striking art deco style, in 1932, to help Stockportians take their minds off the depression, so the notes say on the display in the faded (though once sumptuous) lounge where we sipped our aperitifs before taking our seats in the circle. We are told the cinema drew in crowds from miles around to enjoy the comfort of this up-market facility together with its Compton theatre organ but sometime in the seventies takings fell so low it degenerated into a bingo hall. Eventually a charitable trust stepped in and with a half million pounds grant from the council and the help of a body of dedicated volunteers it was restored and now offers selected films, sometimes musicals from the thirties, sometimes more modern fare.

But the purpose of the present day Plaza is as much to offer a step back in time as anything else. We just missed the Compton emerging up through its hatch in the floor in front of the screen but were happy to be serenaded by hit songs from musicals from the thirties’, forties and fifties. After many crescendos and flourishes the bald pate of the organ player sunk back into the bowels of the cinema to warm applause, and the intermission began. This was the occasion for the usherettes, in period attire, to offer us Lyons Maids and tubs of ice-cream. Just as in days gone by, no doubt, the queues stretched back to the projector box.

Then came the Pathe News films, from 1951 and another from the early ‘sixties, complete with Bob Danvers Walker’s strident tones, making every item sound like a wartime triumph and causing every attempt at humour to fall resoundingly flat. We saw Vera Allen, a petit, long forgotten Hollywood starlet pouting at the camera in a publicity shoot and an item on George who had been bottling wine out of oak barrels for 30 years (‘what a lucky fellow!’) Then the main film arrived- a not especially memorable piece of family fare starring Renee Zellwegger and Ewan McGregor (no relation to Peter Rabbit’s infamous adversary). But, with nostalgia the prescribed mood, everyone basked in its inoffensive charm, period detail and gorgeous footage of the Lake District.

We stayed on as the credits rolled up expecting to join everyone in the traditional stand-up for the national anthem. But credits for the mini-bus driver for the Isle of Man film unit and Miss Zellwegger’s catering assistant(an acting coach might have been preferable) came and went and still those familiar quavering yet elephantine tones failed to issue forth. But we refused to be disappointed and departed this temple to interwar entertainment, well satisfied with our brief journey into the past. The same could be said, I’d wager, for the goodish crowd of fellow nostalgia seekers, mostly of an age to have savoured the experience in the original, but leavened by more than a few teenagers and younger ones to suggest such evenings will not surrender to bingo or its equivalent for a while at least.

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