Diary of a theatre addict: Re-visiting shows and theatre trolls

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I’ve had a ‘slow’ week — or at least a slower one! By tonight, I’ll have seen just seven shows — but also three readings, too, so perhaps that makes ten. I’ve also done two big interviews — with singer Jane McDonald, ahead of her season in Cats in Blackpool, and with actor David Suchet, as he returns to the West End in The Importance of Being Earnest this coming week, both of which will run in The Stage on July 9.

And as part of my teaching sessions at ArtsEd to the first year acting class, I’ve had playwright Simon Stephens come in to talk very generously and inspiringly to the two groups they’re divided into, too. Oh, and I’ve been interviewed myself publicly for BBC TV News (about the impending Harry Potter play), and privately by a student for an undergraduate thesis on how the blogosphere has impacted on the theatre.

I’ve also had a lovely catch-up lunch with my former critical colleague Charlie Spencer, now happily retired (and well out of it at the Daily Telegraph, whose arts pages seem to be floundering since the departures, too, of long-serving arts desk supremos Sarah Crompton and Paul Gent), and a meeting with Matthew Warchus and his executive producer John Richardson to talk about musicals (new and old) at the Old Vic (watch this space!)
So perhaps it wasn’t a slower week at all! But then I like to keep busy, so I’m not complaining. I’m only sorry, as ever, that I can’t see more: I’m particularly sorry that I had to cancel my ticket to see Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree on Thursday at the National (but relieved that at least it wasn’t Friday I cancelled, when the guest turned out to be my friend Philip Quast, who only told me on Saturday that he’d done it!); and I’m sorry I wasn’t at Burt Bacharach’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday (or at Glastonbury on Saturday, though I’m not sorry I wasn’t there!) I also missed the opening of The Seagull at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, but maybe I can still catch that in the next couple of weeks, and the opening of Rentboy – the Musical at the Above the Stag (which I probably won’t!)

It was a week in which there was also welcome news of a couple of forthcoming theatrical returns The James Plays trilogy are being revived for an international tour in 2016 and Nick Payne’s Constellations is returning to the West End for a short run at the Trafalgar Studios following its recent UK tour.

Bend-It-Like-Beckham-The-Musical-StageKeeping on top of all of this is just one of the many jobs I do in addition to the “night job” of actually seeing and reviewing shows. And some, of course, I see purely for pleasure: having seen, and loved, the preview I attended to review Bend it Like Beckham last weekend (which you can read here), I went back again to the opening on Wednesday to enjoy it all over again. I already know that this will become a show I return to again and again…. (My interview with director Gurinder Chadha can be found here)

Re-visiting shows, for work and/or pleasure, is something I do often enough. This last week I also re-visited Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (my review is here), to see my 3rd Willy Wonka: it’s amazing the calibre of classical acting talent this role is attracting, as Jonathan Slinger now follows in the footsteps of Douglas Hodge and Alex Jennings.

I also reviewed the openings of Educating Rita at Chichester’s Minerva on Tuesday (review here) and The Trial at the Young Vic on Friday (review here). The first saw a bit of unscripted onstage drama when Lenny Henry Educating-Rita(below) lost his way, part way through the first act, and had to leave the stage to recompose himself.  In an idiotic column in The Observer, Elizabeth Day declared the incident, “one of the best things I have ever seen on stage” and went on to say,

Up until that point, the play had seemed stilted and dated. Henry’s collapse was a real, human moment amid an unconvincing make-believe. The unexpectedness of it added a frisson of surprise to proceedings. For the duration of the play, we were thrillingly uncertain as to whether he was going to make it to the end in one piece or not. I don’t much like the theatre. You’re not really allowed to say that, are you?

Then why go, one has to ask? She then proceeds to list her litany of complaints against the theatre, including this one:

Plays are long. Unnecessarily, self-indulgently long. You’ll have to miss dinner to see one, either wolfing down a quick sandwich beforehand or spending several pounds at the bar on tiny tubs of ice cream or artisanal crisps (roast ox or Szechuan pork flavour, retailing at £1 a bag). There are never enough loos. Trying to elbow through the crowds to the lavatory during an interval at the National is like enduring the first day of the Ikea sale crossed with a battle scene in Game of Thrones.

Perhaps she should simply go to see Constellations — 70 minutes without an interval, and she can not only eat at leisure after, but use the restaurant loo while she’s at it. But then why let facts get in the way of a good generalisation? At least there IS an interval in a long play (by which I mean anything over 2 hours). If we’re complaining, at least theatre shows have them — movies don’t.

She also moans: “Somehow, because it’s theatre, we’re all supposed to love it and talk in hushed, reverent tones about how great it is. I’m not sure why this should be. It feels like we have lower critical standards for plays than almost any other art form.”

But I’d also suggest that this kind of sneering, attention-seeking tone seems to come from anti-theatre trolls than almost any other art form, too. Why do apparently intelligent people feel compelled to let us know how much they hate it? It’s really quite simple — just don’t go. And save yourself — and us — the effort of having to listen to your complaints.