Charles Vance certainly made his mark on the Theatre World and launched the careers of many both on and off stage. With a passion for all he did and a pride in his work, we honour the late Charles Vance who during a career spanning over 40 years produced over 180 pantomimes.
Charles Vance, a self styled anarchronism and a leading champion of rep theatre giving hundreds of actors, stage managers and designers their first opportunities in the world of the professional theatre. He enjoyed his role as the last of the old-time actor managers, often seen at first nights with a silver-topped cane, once owned by the redoubtable Victorian actor Henry Irving, and wearing a green velvet jacket. There was always something raffish about Vance, who was proud of his origins as an Irish Jew, the son of a dealer in leather goods and the nephew of Harold Goldblatt, who founded the Ulster Group Players. At the age of seven, he was heard on BBC Radio’s Children’s Hour. At Queen’s University, Belfast, where he read law, he joined its amateur dramatic club, which he found mediocre. He first appeared onstage at the city’s Grand Opera House. After university, he joined a theatre company
that toured Ireland with the plays of Shakespeare. There followed a spell at the Gate, in Dublin, which he described as “like going to heaven”.
After a prolific career as an actor, Vance launched his own production company in 1960 with his wife Imogen Moynihan, the daughter of the distinguished Liberal peer, the second Lord Moynihan. Their first production was Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which was staged at the Empire Theatre, now the Little, in the Norfolk resort of Sheringham.
Their first full season followed a year later at the new Civic Theatre in Chelmsford. There were further seasons in Torquay, Cambridge, Eastbourne, Hastings, Weston-super-Mare, Whitby, Wolverhampton and at the Leas Pavilion, Folkestone, which Vance bought in 1976. In 1987, he instituted the Summer Play Festival at the Manor Pavilion, Sidmouth, which continued every year until last year, when seat prices forced him to abandon the enterprise.
A typical Sidmouth season was a clever mix of 13 plays, offering something for everyone, including two Rattigan plays – Vance knew the dramatist well – two Ayckbourns, Jane Eyre and Private Lives. Work by Francis Durbridge took the place of Agatha Christie after an international media production company took control of the latter author’s copyright. Throughout a career that lasted nearly 50 years, Vance mounted hundreds of touring productions, ranging from Stop the World –I Want to Get Off to The Merchant of Venice. He produced 180 pantomimes all over Britain, and in the latter part of his life he became known for his world premieres of stage adaptations of Ealing comedies, starting with Kind Hearts and Coronets in 1998.
As a publisher and editor, he founded the British Theatre Directory and was, uniquely, twice president of the Theatrical Management Association.
Charles Vance, who was born Charles Goldblatt on December 6, 1929, died on January 13 at the age of 83