2 months, 7 weeks in a hotel, and enough sand in my shoes to create my own inner city coastal path, I’m now back in the UK for 2 weeks on ‘vacation’. Yes, I’m holidaying in my country of birth and do you know, it’s rather marvellous! Granted, I’ve not been in some shabby B&B but I really am glad to be back home in the bountiful green hills and rolling meadows of Somerset.
I did manage to enjoy a few days in London prior to returning home, and got to see some brilliant theatre. I forget how much I take London’s huge variety of theatre for granted. Knowing you can pop into town and see a musical, head to the Southbank for some live music or maybe venture north for some award-winning fringe is such a luxury. And I certainly made the most of it managing to fit in a triumphant musical revival, a brilliantly inventive G&S, a series of new writing at the Soho and some incredible Stadium Arts work at Laban from the NYT. Its something I already miss just being in Somerset so you can well imagine my thoughts when sat in a hotel room in north west Germany….
The show, Ben Hur, is on track, I think, and whilst the cast are enjoying some much needed tlc, the creative team are still busying themselves fine tuning bits as a rather grandeur symphonic orchestra record the soundtrack. Upon our return to rehearsals, there are over 1000 costumes to be fitted and then we’ll start teching with full set, costume, light and sound which I’m sure will bring with it many new problems that we’ll have to solve before London. But, I’m sure we’ll get there.
During phone calls home during rehearsals, I couldn’t tell you how many times I was told “it’s everywhere over here: tubes, buses and TV…. everywhere!”. They were referring to the positively militant marketing strategy used to promote the show in London. And as with any new show, the rumour mill had gone into overdrive and so upon returning to the UK I found myself both amused and shocked by the variety of stories people had heard.
And it got me thinking about the good old rumour mill and how much of a positive or negative impact it can have on theatre. Obviously, its something that’s always going to be there - we all know actors like a good gossip and there’s no shortage of crew or front of house staff who wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to hear what Julie from costume got up to last night. But when the darts are pointed at a new creation, something no one outside of the ‘bubble’ will know of, it can have varying effects.
Casting rumours will float around with any show, new or old and prove to be little more than hear say or harmless whisperings - and if I’m honest, there isn’t a member of S Club 7 who I wouldn’t like to see in Phantom 2 and it would only be right for Peter Andre to take the lead in the upcoming revival of Summer Holiday.
And then there are the ever lingering rumours of this show closing and that one touring whilst three Broadway imports are on their way over providing they can fit the set onto a ship or a plane. Again, a few disappointments perhaps and some unwelcome truths but on the whole, nothing too damaging. Although if any sort of musical tribute to Dolly Parton did find its way to these shores, I reserve the right to lambast and hound those involved until an official government ban is in place.
So in spite of all the tittle tattle and industry wide gossiping, does it remain the case that any press is good press? Roxie Hart syndrome whereby any news is spun in the favour of the defendant? I’ve no doubt most big shows have an ear to the ground these days and keep a close check on internet forums, backstage gossip and lobby chatter. If not to protect them from potentially damaging ‘closing’ rumours, but to hype up a certain name that may or may not be taking over from “that blonde one from Atomic Kitten”.
The marketing and press departments of any theatrical organisation are potentially the make or break of the show. A good campaign can drum up the necessary hype and excitement and can often leave the punters creating the rest for you - Alan saw a poster for such and such and told Sharon and she happened to know Carol on costumes who said that cretin from Big Brother is the lead but Alan also knew Timmy from wigs who had already unofficially but officially confirmed that ‘Sue off the radio’ was down to play the kitsch American country diva.
Of course, the opposite is also true. If a show doesn’t have the right advertising or enough of the right advertising it can lead to a potentially good show collapsing before it’s really had a chance to get going. We all know of the Spring Awakenings of the West End and of course shows like We Will Rock You which famously bucked the bad press effect and continues to play to packed houses 6 years on.
So, without getting it in the neck from our “Mad Bavarian Leader” (obviously not my words, the affectionate title given by the British press), all I can say is, yes, there are horses. Yes, there are birds. And yes, there are gladiators in little clothing. However, I don’t personally ride a horse, no one really dies in the chariot race, unlike the film and Geri Halliwell, Phillip Schofield and Christine Hamilton do not feature in any way.