Wednesday, 23 January 2008

'The Smallest Show on Earth' at The Rex, Berkhamsted

A slightly unusual post this one.

At the weekend I went to the 40th birthday party of a friend of mine. It was an unofficial party because it took place at The Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted and they don't do private hire so we had to keep it quiet, initially at least. My friend you see is an actor and had played a part in saving the cinema from disappearing altogether. Not so long ago it was derelict and had been that way for some time as a struggle continued between property developers who wanted to build flats and cineasts who were keeping them at bay with Grade II listed status and a certain amount of protection from English Heritage. The full story of what happened can be found here and makes great reading. Suffice to say the cinema has been restored, as you can see, and is quite simply the most gorgeous cinema I've been too. There is a bar downstairs and lovely tables with revolving seats which you can enjoy for the same price as a ticket in Leicester Square.

My friend has called on many of his famous contacts to come and give after-film Q&A sessions to help make the cinema a huge success (which is why we got away with the party type thing) and he picked a special film to screen on this special evening which couldn't have been more apposite. The Smallest Show on Earth tells the story of Bill and Jean, a young couple, who inherit a derelict cinema known as 'the fleapit' from a distant relative. Along with the cinema itself come three elderly employees played with comic relish by Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers and Bernard Miles. Bill's plan is to sell the cinema but when he is offered a pittance by the owner of the rival Grand he is advised by his solicitor (Leslie Philips) to pretend to reopen The Bijou and make it a going concern. There's plenty more plot to come after that but the spirit of a small cinema trying to survive against the odds made it the perfect film to show at The Rex.

The paying audience upstairs, made up of all ages I hasten to add, seemed to enjoy it as much as us champagne swillers downstairs, with a marvellously old fashioned round of applause at the end. All in all it was one of the most charming evenings out I've ever had. If you happen to live anywhere near The Rex (and even if you don't) you really should make a trip there sometime. It's well worth any effort and great to see some independence in the age of the multiplex. They show all the latest releases as well as the odd classic (Valentine's Day - Top Hat).

Their website can be found here and the cinema itself here. Go on, treat yourself.


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