I have never managed to sit through an entire episode of BBC Television’s The Great British Bake Off, despite its 2013 and 2016 BAFTA awards for Best Feature. There is little appeal for me in watching people attempt, with varying degrees of success, to make cakes. What makes some others happy makes me bored. Still, it should be acknowledged that the series has sparked off an interest in baking, with membership of the Women’s Institute significantly increased. It has done for baking what Strictly Come Dancing has done for ballroom dancing, and now London’s theatre industry has joined in with West End Bake Off.
It was always going to be a gamble hosting such an event outdoors, but the weather was kind to this event. Perhaps a little too kind – a small cake I had bought to consume a little later had melted by the time I got around to it, having been interrupted (in a good way) by various producers, actors and other theatricals. On a personal note, it was lovely to be able to converse and, I suppose, to ‘network’ in this way – it is often the case when on the reviewing circuit that conversations are cut short by having to take our seats in the auditorium, either for the first half or the second, or otherwise because there’s someone else involved with the show in question that a producer or PR representative is very keen for me to meet and get acquainted with. This event also allowed for cast and crew of shows represented to visit other stalls for themselves and meet people in other shows. It was very touching to see such camaraderie and mutual support for one another’s productions. It must have contributed to the overall positive atmosphere.
There were one or two enthusiasts who had come prepared with their questions and recording devices, and took the full opportunity afforded to them to grill their favourite theatre stars. As for the judging, I have no idea what the criteria was, so I do not know whether to agree with the verdict of Michael Ball OBE, Dame Barbara Windsor and Christopher Biggins. As far as I could deduce, the prize was simply the pride of being the winner, and congratulations were given to the cast and crew of The Secret Garden: Spring Edition. Their stall, when I finally managed to get to see it after it got understandably swamped, was very colourful, with flower-shaped cake toppings.
The actual point of it all – and I don’t think this was emphasised enough during the event itself – was to raise funds for Acting For Others, an umbrella organisation for a number of theatrical charities. Their most prominent event is the annual bucket-rattling that goes on after the curtain calls at West End theatres for two weeks in October. West End Bake Off added more than £4,500 to their coffers, funds that will “offer emotional and financial support to members of the entertainment industry who have fallen on hard times through illness, injury or circumstance”.
Titanic The Musical had a very large cake in the shape of the ship as the centrepiece, with smaller star-shaped cakes, apparently representative of the 1,500+ victims of that ship’s doomed maiden voyage (I couldn’t personally see the connection).
An enduring memory is that of Christopher Biggins, loudly asking the cast and crew of Disney Presents The Lion King: “What took you so long to get here?” I couldn’t agree more. Later, Biggins conducted an auction of miscellaneous framed signed production posters, including a 1986 poster advertising The Phantom of the Opera signed by Michael Crawford, and a 2016 poster of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child: Parts One and Two signed by the principals. The Mamma Mia! stand made me smile at the start of proceedings with a large sign reading ‘Bake A Chance On Me’, and then again later at the end with their offers of “free bread”. The slice of banana bread I received from The Mousetrap was ridiculously generous, and I am grateful to them for that.
After about an hour or so, I did think the event overall could have done with a little more proactivity and encouragement to buy cakes – I found myself asking stallholders what they would recommend. Things did get more exciting in the last half-hour, with far more invitations to ‘try this’ than there had been in the hour and a half before, but by this point the organisers had stepped in and ordered all cakes to be sold at half price, and the opportunity to maximise charitable donations to Acting For Others was not utilised as fully as it could have been.
Two more stalls are worthy of mention. Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery got it right with regards to engaging in proactive selling tactics. They began selling “stolen cakes” in a bid to sell items that I did indeed previously spot on display elsewhere. The Society of London Theatre got my vote with simple cupcakes that looked like cupcakes and were indeed cupcakes: quite refreshing to see after feeling like a prepubescent child repeatedly asking, “What is that?” when looking at other stalls.
There was an excellent variety of baked foods on offer, and something for everyone – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, chocolate-free, sugar-free. People brought their children, their elderly parents, and even pet dogs. A friendly atmosphere combined with favourable prices to provide a more than satisfying experience, and raised a decent amount of money for a worthy charitable cause.
Review by Chris Omaweng
For those unable to attend the event, Acting for Others can still be supported by donating at its Just Giving page: www.justgiving.com/ctcafo
West End Bake Off is supported by The Mackintosh Foundation and Official London Theatre.
WEST END BAKE OFF, IN AID OF ACTING FOR OTHERS, FULL LINE UP OF PARTICIPATING WEST END SHOWS
West End Bake Off, in aid of Acting for Others today announce the full line-up of participating teams for the second annual West End Bake Off. Michael Ball OBE, Dame Barbara Windsor and Christopher Biggins judging the competition on Saturday 16th July from 11am – 1pm at St Anne’s Church Courtyard.
Teams from: The Play That Goes Wrong, The Book of Mormon, Savage, Mamma Mia, Disney’s Aladdin, Disney’s The Lion King, The Secret Garden, Stig of The Dump and The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Guys and Dolls, The Mousetrap, Les Misérables, The Railway Children, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, Titanic, Thriller Live and Wicked.