ShentonSTAGE Daily for MONDAY JANUARY 9

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Last Friday I began a new weekly diary round-up of some of the week’s headline news and opinions on it, which included some reflections on The Stage 100 list.

Now of course it would be silly to give too much weight to a list that’s hardly scientific and is DESIGNED to create a stir — otherwise, why put Nadine Dorries at the very top of the list of the year’s most influential theatre people? But before I let it go, these lists are, of course, as interesting for who is left OUT as it is for who is included. And of course — being self-limiting by their name to list the Top 100 (a definition that is stretched in any case by multiple people sharing many of the numbers) — it’s inevitable that some worthy names will be left out and not everyone can be included.

But it is surely an utterly egregious omission that Bill Kenwright and David Pugh were both left out. Kenwright remains one of the premiere touring producers who produces more touring weeks than just about any other producer out there, ensuring that quality theatre survives in regional receiving theatres; he is also now the owner of London’s Other Palace Theatre and programmes the Theatre Royal, Windsor as well (where Ian McKellen, no less, made headlines by performing HAMLET at the age of 82 two summers ago). Pugh’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (SORT OF) was an Olivier winner last year, and he is about to take it out on the road; he’s also poised to bring Sheridan Smith back to the West End in SHIRLEY VALENTINE.

It’s not just rude and disrespectful, it’s plain wrong. Not least when the list DOES include Christopher Clegg, producer of DEATH DROP (arguably the single worst West End show I’ve ever seen). According to THE STAGE citation, he is “leading a renaissance in live drag performance in the West End.”

Yet Julian Clary, whose annual panto appearance at the London Palladium (pictured above in JACK AND THE BEANSTALK) easily outclasses any of the cheap tat paraded by Clegg, isn’t on the list, either. (Can someone remind me how many Olivier nominations DEATH DROP received, please?)

Clegg threw a predictable hissy fit on Twitter when I pointed this out. Ironic, of course, given that his twitter handle is a direct tribute to me — he calls himself “That Awful Chris Clegg” there, a description I inadvisedly used in a private message with his PR Arabella Neville-Rolfe, which she duly passed directly onto him, and he has now been using as a badge of Twitter pride ever since. I’m relieved to now be blocked by him. Saves me the bother.

I’m also relieved to no longer have my name associated with THE STAGE 100 list, as I did during the many years when I was Associate Editor there, and would have had to defend those this list invariably insulted. I feel for Sam Marlowe, David Benedict and Lyn Gardner who are publicly credited with the Stage’s editor and deputy editor for compiling the list now.

It is perhaps time at last to retire this list — intended to celebrate achievement, it in fact sows division, and has turned itself into another competitive event in what should be a collaborative industry.

As Sondheim puts it so aptly in a song from GYPSY —

“No fits, no fights, no feuds

and no egos, Amigos, together!”

The sorry state of arts journalism

As THE STAGE debacle demonstrates, arts journalism feels like it is stuck in a downwards spiral, fighting for subscribers and relevance in a world in which theatre PRs are chasing dwindling coverage from an ever-diminishing pool of professional critics and outlets that actually give them proper space.

No wonder that many actively court the growing ranks of bloggers and ‘influencers’, who will — in a world of “g(r)ifting” — freely exchange generous star ratings and overwhelmingly positive coverage for the honour of being courted at all. The PR campaign for the West End arrival of the flop Broadway musical version of MRS DOUBTFIRE was launched last year with some bloggers being sent fruit pies and branded dressing gowns; a gift Trojan horse that then put them in the uncomfortable position of hawking a show that already has a problematic heritage. 

That discussion will, no doubt, really come to the fore when the show itself is seen, and not just suppositions of what it might contain. But the bloggers swallowed the PR machine uncritically, just for the sake of a sweet treat and complimentary dressing gown!

It’s precisely why truly INDEPENDENT arts journalism still matters, even if it’s in dramatically short supply.

As we go into 2023, I will continue to fly my own independent flag here. Welcome back — however bumpy the road ahead proves to be, I will still be here.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2023

My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-january-9/

This week sees the delayed press openings for the Donmar’s revival of WATCH ON THE RHINE (on Tuesday) and the Almeida’s revival of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (on Thursday), both of which were originally due to open before Christmas but were postponed by illness and a cast change respectively.

See you here on Friday

I will be back on Friday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)

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