The week began with Andrew Lloyd Webber being mentioned by Boris Johnson, as he extended the lockdown from the originally hoped-for ‘Freedom Day’ of June 21 to July 19, at which point theatres may be able to re-open without social distancing in place; Lloyd Webber had previously threatened that if this was delayed, he’d defy the law and open his latest show Cinderella (featuring Carrie Hope Fletcher in the title role, pictured above) at full capacity, not only risking but actively inviting arrest. Johnson said he was prepared to exempt Cinderella from the ongoing restrictions by making it part of a trial of large public events.
After a social media backlash, in which Lloyd Webber — who formerly took the Tory whip in the House of Lords and had once famously flown back from New York specially in order to vote against extending benefits to poorer people — was accused of not standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the theatre industry by getting special treatment for himself, the week ended with him issuing a statement that the show would go on, as planned, with previews beginning this Friday (June 25), but that it would be performed to socially-distanced audiences (and he would bear the resulting losses himself).
Though, as someone remarked on Twitter,
Meanwhile, theatre producer and director Adam Lenson also pointed out that, despite Lloyd Webber’s claim that Cinderella would be the first musical to premiere since the pandemic, he had himself produced one at the Vaudeville only a couple of weeks ago, Public Domain.
He went on to say:
On Wednesday evening I went to the first preview of the return of Jasmine Lee-Jones’s play seven methods of killing kylie jenner, originally seen at the Royal Court Upstairs in 2019 and now back in the main house.
I went ‘incognito’ — buying my own ticket instead of requesting a press one, partly because there’s a clash on next Tuesday’s press night, but also it felt like an important play to see, and last but by no means least it felt good to support the Court financially and physically at this time.
But proving that we are never unobserved, the theatre’s terrific in-house press representative Anoushka Warden emailed earlier in the day to say: “Just spotted you’re in tonight’s first preview of seven methods…” I wonder if scanning the seating plans is part of the job (or maybe the box office recognised my name and tipped her off).
Clearly I can’t go anywhere incognito anymore: I also went to the cinema in the afternoon, and an actor/barman/usher working there also spotted and messaged me later instead of saying hello at the time, claiming not to have been sure it was me until I tweeted that I’d seen the particular film I’d seen — even though I was wearing both a “The Show Must Go On” tee-shirt and wearing a “Freelancers Make Theatre Work” facemask.
But then perhaps he was afraid of a personal interaction, after having taken me to task on Twitter a couple of weeks ago for something I’d written and accusingly messaged me then to say, “I think we think very differently on this issue. For me the moment something like this is uncovered or someone bravely comes forward to tell their story we believe them first.”
All of which is part of the zeitgeist of the Court’s play, a conversation between two women, friends since schooldays, about the public spaces we occupy, particularly on social media. And as it happens, there were not one but two features that addressed this on the same day I saw the play, too. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published a blog essay on the perils of social media, in which she passionately took ”certain young people” to task for
“a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship…. .There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion, who can fluidly pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness. People whose social media lives are case studies in emotional aridity. People for whom friendship, and its expectations of loyalty and compassion and support, no longer matter. People who claim to love literature – the messy stories of our humanity – but are also monomaniacally obsessed with whatever is the prevailing ideological orthodoxy”
Also on Wednesday, Ayesha Kazarika wrote a column in the Evening Standard about how the current online culture wars have become
“a fight to the death of who can scream and shame the loudest. And all it does is alienate people in the middle who want to find a solution which is humane, modern and common sense. But more moderate voices who could find the common ground here and find useful solutions are too scared to join in and who could blame them?”
I wrote here this time last week of myself being in the eye of my own social media storm last week; to be clear, I’m not the victim here, but I wrote a piece earlier in the week that caused a polarised reaction. I initially got a lot of private support for it, but then a different perspective was offered, publicly, by an actor who posted a video address to me personally challenging the column, and it created a public pile-on. It forced a re-think by me; I removed the column and apologised, within a few hours of the video being posted.
That should have been the end of it, but of course it wasn’t; still the self-righteous Twitter warriors persisted, lecturing and hectoring me to ‘educate myself’. As Adichie also wrote in her blog essay,
“People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself while not having actually read any books themselves, while not being able to intelligently defend their own ideological positions, because by ‘educate,’ they actually mean ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity’.”
Seeing seven methods of killing kylie jenner, which opens officially on Tuesday, could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. Theatre sometimes not only reflects life, it mirrors it.
MY COLUMNS OF THE WEEK
Sunday June 13
My column for today is here: http://shentonstage.com/that-was-the-week-that-was-5/
Monday June 14
My column for today is here: http://shentonstage.com/june-14-update-latest-scheduled-new-returning-shows/
Wednesday June 16
My column for today is here: http://shentonstage.com/june-16-welcome-to-theatrical-groundhog-day/
Saturday June 19
My column for today is here: http://shentonstage.com/shentens-my-top-ten-favourite-gay-themed-plays/
REVIEWS AND REVIEW TWEETS OF THE WEEK
I finally officially moved out of London last weekend and am now based in a country cottage in a village in West Sussex. This means that my theatregoing will be significantly reduced from 7-12 shows a week which used to be my norm (yes, really!) to a more manageable 3-5 in at least one overnight stay I plan to make every week, plus the occasional weekend matinee.
My first week here happily coincided with a lull in theatre openings, but I was in town to catch a couple of one-offs: a concert performance of Sunset Boulevard at Ally Pally (my first visit to this historic, gloriously reclaimed theatre) last Sunday (before I left London that evening), and last night’s concert by John Owen-Jones at Cadogan Hall, celebrating his recent 50th birthday. Tweets are below.
I was also in town last Wednesday for the day, and had bought myself a ticket for the first preview of seven methods of killing kylie jenner, as I can’t fit in this coming week’s press night on Tuesday. I’m relieved I am not formally reviewing it: in a review for Exeunt online, Emily Davis baldly stated, “An older person couldn’t write this play”, and then smugly proclaimed, “I really love that a lot of this script would be incomprehensible to an older person.”
Yeah, by all means trumpet your own sense of exclusivity; there’s a lot of theatre that is incomprehensible to younger people, or at least theatre that they will not fully understand the depths of until they are much, much older, like Sondheim and Goldman’s Follies, for instance, which is all about adult compromises and choices you make (and roads you don’t take) whose consequences you only realise in middle-age.
Her review is also partly written in GIFS, and she writes this:
“Even choosing GIFs for this review is practising a dialect, and that means I have to negotiate whether to use the GIFs which are referenced in the play, and reproduced in the playtext. I decide not to, because they’re all from black twitter and it feels like digital blackface to use them for my (white) own (critical) purposes.”
So writing about this play — even for a younger person — is a critical minefield. I’m glad I don’t have to negotiate it. But see above for part of the useful internal discussion it triggered me to have (which I first published in my daily subscription newsletter).
- Sunset Boulevard (Alexandra Palace Theatre, Sunday June 13 only):
- John Owen-Jones at Cadogan Hall (Saturday June 19 only):
- I also caught a film — yes, at actual cinema — this week:
LOCKDOWN (NOT ENDING QUITE YET) NEWS OF THE WEEK
LONDON HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
REGIONAL/ TOURING AND FESTIVAL HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
BROADWAY/WEST END/TOURING HEADLINE OF THE WEEK
MORE BROADWAY HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
THEATRE BIRTHDAYS OF THE WEEK
AND FINALLY, SOME PERSONAL TWEETS OF THE WEEK
- Sunday June 13
- Monday June 14
- Tuesday June 15
- Wednesday June 16