ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRI DEC 10

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Welcome to today’s  edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily that is e-mailed to subscribers every morning (to subscribe, send message to ShentonStageMailingList@gmail.com), and is also available online here.

FROM TODAY MASKS ARE NOW COMPULSORY AT LAST… SO TWO CRITICS TOOK ONE LAST STAND LAST NIGHT

At the Young Vic last night, which had already mandated mask wearing for its audiences and had staff in the auditorium reminding first nighters at James Graham’s new play BEST OF ENEMIES to wear theirs, there was virtually full compliance. Except for two entitled theatregoers in the five and sixth row of the centre block: Quentin Letts, theatre critic of the Daily Mail, and Lloyd Evans, theatre critic of The Spectator.

Both have fruently written of their irritation at such rules, and last night demonstrated their contempt publicly, as well as their disregard for fellow theatregoers around them.

It really is nothing short of shameful. But from today mask wearing is now compulsory, by government order, so it will be interesting to see how they behave next week. Of course, they should be asked to comply, and if they still don’t, be asked to leave the theatre. But will any venue dare to do so?

Yesterday UK Theatre tweeted:

But of course “strongly recommended” the wearing of face coverings throughout our buildings is very different to INSISTING on it, and audiences have simply chosen to ignore the requests.

Yesterday, too, Rosemary Squire, joint chief executive of Trafalgar Entertainment, issued a statement about the introduction of Plan B restrictions, in which she claimed: “Our sector was ahead of the game in recommending that face-coverings should be worn in theatres (unless exempt or consuming food and drink in bars or auditoriums) and, whilst there will be some challenges for our venue teams in enforcing the new rules, we welcome the fact that this move provides a clear and consistent line on this issue.  We hope it will offer further reassurance to customers, performers and venue staff.”

Funny — when I attended JERSEY BOYS the week after it opened at Trafalgar’s only West End theatre, the Trafalgar Theatre, there was virtually no one at all wearing masks. So much for being ahead of the game.

She goes on to say,

“However, whilst these measures will increase confidence for some, there is a danger that further restrictions may amplify concern for others particularly our more vulnerable audience members. We expect to be fielding calls as a result; and after a fairly extraordinary bounce-back over recent months we are concerned at the potential for some customers simply to ‘stay-away’ over the crucial Christmas period. As we are once again faced with challenges and uncertainties, we stand firm in our position that we must do everything in our power to protect our world-leading industry, keep our theatres open and oppose any further restrictions that could risk a return to the unimaginable.”

This goes to the nub of why theatres have been so reluctant to mandate mask wearing until the government have now forced it upon them: that it would endanger the return of audiences, who might be put off by being forced to wear masks. But the claim that this would “amplify concern for others particularly our more vulnerable audience members” is disingenuous as well as misleading: it is the more vulnerable members of audiences who are put off by the lack of safety in our theatres. 

If she means Quentin Letts and Lloyd Evans, though, I don’t think they’ll be missed.

BEST OF ENEMIES
Perhaps that makes Letts and Evans my best of enemies — or frenemies, as a friend in New York labels such relationships. We validate each other’s existence by giving ourselves someone to parry with. And  we don’t want theatre critics agreeing with each other all the time; where’s the fun in that?

It is exactly that kind of deliberate tension between people with different points of view that James Graham chronicles superbly in Best of Enemies, which like Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, re-stages a famous real-life TV political duel — in this case between two commentators of the 1968 American political conventions to select their presidential candidates — to make a wider point about the loss of civility in discourse.

As William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal (played by a steely David Harewood and a dripping-with-cynicism Charles Edwards respectively, pictured above) play out a bruisingly antagonistic battle with each other on public television — causing a ratings spike that saw the bottom-ranking ABC TV manage to ascend to the most viewed channel when they were on — Graham also pertinently shows us where this kind of thing took us, in which television helps people choose their president: as Vidal says, “This would mean that you might have the most disastrous man in the country who just so happened to be an entertaining television performer… and he could beat  a virtuous person of no telegenic charm.”  Ouch.

COMPANY OPENS ON BROADWAY

There are more ouches in the reviews today for the transfer of Marianne Elliott’s hit West End production of Sondheim’s COMPANY, the first revival of one of his shows to open on Broadway since his death (it was due to originally open on Broadway on the day of his 90th birthday in 2020; he saw previews of its return to Broadway last month, by which time he was 91, but didn’t live to see last night’s opening).

Director Marianne Elliott and her co-producing partner Chris Harper must be rueing the day they decided not to bring Rosalie Craig, who originated the role of the female Bobbie in London to great acclaim, with the production; instead, they replaced her with Tony winner Katrina Lenk. More than one review — including the still-influential New York Times (however much that influence is now waning) — dub Lenk as miscast. Jesse Green, calling her “both miscast and mishandled”. writes, “Bobby’s transformation into Bobbie has been accomplished at the cost of a few ribs, turning the character into a rag doll. Unable to meet the dramatic and vocal demands of the role, Lenk seems merely pummeled by it.”

And in the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney writes, “Even a conspicuously miscast lead doesn’t cancel out its pleasures. That would be Katrina Lenk, who in Indecent and, in particular, The Band’s Visit  was a divinely enigmatic stage presence — sultry, graceful, languid, combining a veil of melancholy with a spark of mischief. The latter show landed her a well-deserved Tony Award for best actress in a musical.As talented as Lenk is, however, to this longtime fan of Company she seems jarringly wrong for Bobbie, regardless of the character’s gender…. Bobby/Bobbie’s yearning has to be apparent, too, and Lenk makes her inaccessible. Without the sense of an ache inside for something more emotionally satisfying — a quality by all accounts not missing from London lead Rosalie Craig’s performance — the internal conflict that drives the show has a fuel shortage. Lenk mostly seems aloof, casting a quizzical, sometimes bemused eye over her married friends while remaining too opaque about Bobbie’s own needs.”

Still, there’s plenty of praise for the production, and for local legend Patti LuPone: as Chris Jones notes in the Chicago Tribune, “Unlike Lenk, who is perfectly charming and perfectly consistent throughout the entire production, LuPone’s Joanne actually changes over the course of the number, journeying toward some kind of love (or at least human communion) as people typically do in musicals.”

TODAY’S THEATRE BIRTHDAYS (DEC 10):

SEE YOU ON MONDAY
See you in your inbox on Monday. But if you can’t wait that long, you can find me on Twitter @ShentonStage (though not as often on weekends)

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