Going to the Theatre? No? Pub then?

I love going to the theatre, my friends do not.

I had a spare ticket the other day to see a production in the Royal Court and the surprising thing was that this was quite a struggle to give away.  I found this especially odd as I was offering an alternative evening of entertainment for my friends as well as the opportunity to do something different and experience something new.  The reluctance may not be so suprising considering I was talking to students, and trying to persuade my friends to do anything is quite a hard ask.. This got me thinking however that if I was not a drama student and interested in the Theatre, and also more aware of the scene, would I be inclined to necessarlily spend (sometimes quite a considerable amount of) money to go and see something I would be unsure as to whether I would enjoy? The ‘Theatre can also sometimes be seen as a rather pretentious and elitist medium.

Is the Theatre an ‘invite only’ world, is it easy to just go and see a show? Can people readily afford it, or feel comfortable enough to get involved at any level?I think unless you make an active choice to see theatre regularly it is something that does not come naturally to many people.   Is is  something that needs to be introduced and sometimes forced! It is like most things, it is hard to fully appreciate unless you put a bit of effort in yourslef to experience more of it, or to do a little research.  I think people find it such an effort to get invoved as it can  be such a hit and miss thing.  There are alot of bad productions that waste your time and money, a bad experience can put anyone off for life.  The theatre also has a constuct of being made up of prodominately white middle class intellectuals, not a very inviting senario for many.

It is my mission to take my friends to a little ( and cheap) theatre, to start them on their adventure into the world of theatre, and hopefully spark debate and enjoyment.  It is here where I see that pub theatres really work, it is a comfy and informal way of making theatre more mainstream and accessable for more and more people. o down to the pub we go, then maybe there will not be a wasted ticket next time!


A-list cast: a draw or a distraction?

There’s a growing sense of excitement as you walk into the theatre knowing that you are not only going on a night out to see a piece of theatre, but that you are going to see an actor who you may recognise from films such as…. and T.V series like…. and potentially the actor who you obsessively follow.

You are about to see the person you fantasise about, or really and truly admire.  Someone who you never in your wildest dreams thought you’d ever be likely to see. And there they stand, mere feet in front of you, the air is tangible with excitement. More often than not it’s just so and so from ‘The Bill’ but still the heart races, and there’s something quite thrilling about ‘recognising’ the cast.

I can’t help thinking though, that you tend to enjoy a piece of theatre more for who you ‘know’ rather than for the artistic merit of the piece.  Its novelty is such that certain constructs of the actor override any other feeling you have on the piece.  For example, I recently went to see ‘Our Class’ by Tadeusz Slobodzianek, this play is based on an atrocity in Poland during WW2 (a basic and unjust description of the plot, this is a very bleak and intense piece of writing).  About two minutes into the play I suddenly realise that the actor who played Stan Shunpike from Harry Potter is in the cast.  Being a fan of Harry Potter my excitement grew as I watched the actor deliver a very fine performance.  However on reflection this excitement was somewhat tasteless and completely distracted me from the piece for a good 10 minutes.  Was I really able to shed the idea that I was watching a character I knew and loved play something completely different? Eventually yes, my initial excitement was irrational and absurd and luckily I was so drawn into the performance I was able to forget, but for all those people not invested in the piece the story could be very different.  The Harry Potter construct was not an apt image to have in my mind whilst watching a play about the Holocaust.  I do realise that this was my own problem rather than a calculated and specific casting decision from the production team.  The standard issue with A-list casting is that it is done for publicity and (more often than not) profit, rather than anything else.

A play could receive a very long and prosperous run due to the A-list line up of the cast. Calendar Girls immediately springs to mind, which only merit seems to be the slight z-list draw of the actors.  I do not want to mislead you, I have not seen the play, but reports from reliable friends inform me that it is a show for the sake of having recognisable actors on-stage.  There is no real ‘acting’ to be seen just the known and well loved characters from popular television shows.

Another example of how A-list casting can be distracting is when I went to see ‘The Priory’ by Michael Wynne.  In this cast the acting was first rate, the actors clearly deserved the A-list ranking that they had achieved, and were (unusually) great stage actors.  I did go to see the play in admiration of most of the cast, to see if I could rate them as theatrical actors.  As an audience member I feel that I have the right to judge the performances of  ‘celebrities’ and give them a harder time for their efforts.  Rupert Penry-Jones for example (a favourite from the television programme Spooks) I especially had my eye on, making sure he didn’t disappoint and could actually act live.  The problem I faced in this performance however was completely different altogether.   As we were walking into the auditorium I noticed a rather famous actor, Tom Hardy of Bronson fame, sitting in the audience.  My seat was in clear view of him and of course I was very excited to of a) noticed him and b) have a clear view.  I then proceeded throughout the production to constantly check his reaction of the play and to have a quick peek.  It’s not every day you have that sort of view. Luckily the play was good enough to draw me away.

It is exciting to see someone live who you normally see and admire through a screen, it is also exciting to find that they are good actors and are able to transfer their skills onto the stage, which is no mean feat.  It is also exciting to say that you have seen ‘so and so’ and to be able to talk about it later.  Ultimately it is fun and I think adds something to the experience, however if this was to happen in every play I went to see I would probably never be able to connect fully with a play again. Until you can disconnect personally with the actors onstage it is hard to fully believe and connect with the characters they are trying to portray.  I can find it far too distracting, unless the acting is good!

We’ve got to be realistic in the sense that your average theatre goer is most likely to pay to see ‘someone’ in a show.  This cannot be looked down upon; my only contention with the idea is that the standard of the piece can be compromised and that the most fantastic performances don’t necessarily come from ‘him off the telly’.  Anything that brings extra people out to see a piece of theatre is a good thing, and by and large you will be entertained.  Whether the image and spectacular production of a show is enough is another question.

A-list casting is changing the way the theatre’s are being run, people pay for ‘names’ rather than the quality of the piece.  Hey, if you’re the ultimate fan of the star you’re seeing and this is the chance to see them live, what’s not to like?