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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE.

Sondheim for the 1,074 lucky one-percenters

On Monday, I wrote here about the high prices for the West End run of COCK in the under-endowed Ambassadors Theatre (at least from the point of view of number of seats available to sell, thus pushing up its exclusivity already) that opened last night (see below).

I also mentioned the prices for the Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends gala, being produced by Cameron Mackintosh at the Sondheim Theatre on May 3, which I listed as £75-£250. In fact, I was incorrect: they are £75-£1,250.

A friend who was trying to book yesterday was greeted with a message that told them there were 2574 people ahead of them in the onine queue — and that the only tickets then still available were the aforementioned £1250 gold tickets.

Given that the Sondheim Theatre has a seating capacity of only 1,074, it’s hardly surprising that demand has far outstripped supply — and even at “regular” prices that ran from £75-£250, the entire event sold out very fast indeed.

Of course Cameron Mackintosh wants to ‘bless’ the theatre that bears the composer’s name with London’s first posthumous tribute to him, rather than staging this at the 02 Arena (home of his famous 25th anniversary Les Miserables concert), but it does seem that Sondheim’s famously loyal — even fanatical – fans and regular theatregoers alike are being painfully excluded from participating. (Of course, I’m sure there will be plans to film it — or maybe even live stream it — which will enable many more to be ‘present’ in the room when it is happening).

No wonder, though, that I saw this most bitterly funny of tweets yesterday:

Theatre, of its nature, is a medium that doesn’t lend itself to democratic gestures — there are only so many prime seats, and so many seats at all. But given the auspiciousness of this event, as the first tribute to the composer — and its stated aims to raise money for a new foundation that has been set up in his name to nurture and encourage young writers — it seems a pity that it has been turned into a sour joke.

What a cock-up….

And speaking of sour jokes: putting theatreland’s most in-demand new production of the year into the 444 seater Ambassadors Theatre meant that Cock, starring Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey (pictured below), has become another highly exclusive event.

It has been interesting to read the muted reviews from what still passes for our national press today, some of whom went to the final preview on Monday.

In the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish sums up the mood perfectly: “Presented against a curved back wall of burnished metal with fluorescent-effect rods dangling from on high, the production projects modish style without attaining the searing intensity of the original cockpit staging. And while the script has broadly kept pace with the times, liberalism’s leaps and bounds have lent a sepia tinge to its focus on bisexuality, even if it still strikes a valid blow for unconstrained self-definition. (NB: everyone remains clothed and sex is teasingly implied.) All in all, it still measures up, but the super-talented Bartlett – the original magic Mike perhaps – went on to bigger and better things and is girding his loins for two premieres in the coming weeks.”

But alongside the national press, it was interesting to see a number of (mainly male and gay, all-white) bloggers trumpeting their appearance at the first night. One had even seen it already, having bought a ticket for the first preview. As I, too, am effectively a blogger nowadays — as is Libby Purves, previously chief theatre critic of THE TIMES — I’m not saying that bloggers are not to be courted and accommodated. But who are the ones that are being granted such privileged access? Established publications carry their own independent authority (however compromised that is, as in the Daily Mail or Sunday Times).

But do theatre producers invite bloggers because they expect them to behave like hyperactive seals, validating the shows with their enthusiasm when the critics haven’t been quite as thrilled?

And where, in fact, are the new diverse voices that blogging was supposed to bring to the theatre? Who decides which ones get a seat at the table — or in the stalls, or perhaps behind a pillar? 

When I, revealing my sense of entitlement perhaps, complained about my inability to review a show last year after I was seated behind two very tall gentlemen which meant that I was unable to actually see much of it, one of the aforementioned bloggers replied on twitter that he was indeed behind a pillar, and had no trouble reviewing what he saw.

He was happy enough just to have been there. And that makes a press agent’s job so much easier. No complaints, and a rave review for their client anyway! Usually, however, a producer wants to give a critic the best opportunity to see their work.

Some theatre notes…..

I’m both proud and relieved that, given that I no longer have to live by “normal” critical deadlines, I can see shows on my own timetable, as well as see things off the usual radar if I choose to.

So on Sunday, for instance, I had an evening of pure pleasure relishing in a lovely set of theatre songs from two of the West End’s very finest musical voices, Oliver Tompsett and Louise Dearman (pictured below), at Horsham’s Capitol Theatre.

Amongst numerous highlights: it was glorious to hear them joining forces on Once’s Falling Slowly; Ollie singing Bring Him Home from Les Mis; Louise performing Alanis Morissette’s Ironic (from Jagged Little Pill, a show en route to the West End) and the title song from Tell Me on a Sunday, proving she’s iconic.

Both of them appeared, separately, in WIcked — and both sang songs that they didn’t themselves get to sing in that show, with Ollie switching “The Wizard and I” to a song as if it was being performed by Fiyero, the character he once played.

And yesterday, I caught David Mamet’s rarely-seen 1977 play THE WOODS in a wonderfully atmospheric production by Russell Bolam. Next to the combustible OLEANNA (revived last year at the Arts, in a production that transferred from Bath’s Ustinov), THE WOODS is a more brooding, instead of bruising, two-hander, though it has a moment of typical Mamet violence. Francesca Carpanini and Sam Frenchum are thrillingly good as they chart the neediness and distance of a quickly floundering relationship.


If you can’t wait that long, I can also be found regularly on Twitter here (though not as often on weekends):