Last night was the opening of the Bolshoi Ballet season at the London Coliseum, and around 7pm the crowds were thronging the pavements of St Martin’s Lane, pushing and shoving – and that was just the dance critics (I was able to welcome Alastair Macaulay home when I spotted him amongst them from my table in the Café Nero next door; he was back on assignment to review the season for the New York Times, but unlike Ben Brantley, isn’t producing a daily blog of his adventures). Meanwhile, across the street, a far more orderly – and notably younger, not to mention frequently female — crowd were entering the Duke of York’s to see the superb revival of David Storey’s modern classic, In Celebration.
I had, of course, seen In Celebration already on the press night, but last night I went back – not to review it but to host a post-show Q&A with the entire cast for The Mousetrap Foundation, under whose auspices many in the audience were seeing the show for just £5 each. This is a programme that makes the theatre accessible, in every sense, to young people – those attending pay a fiver, and Mousetrap pay the producer a proportion of the rest of the ticket price, while also arranging extra events like the Q&A to enrich the experience further for them. It’s a fantastic scheme, building – in a practical and meaningful way – audiences for the future. (The producers of In Celebration in fact already have an excellent access scheme of their own in place, in which those under 25 can book good tickets in advance for just £15, too).
But what is there in this dour, gritty Northern mining family drama to attract a younger audience, you may well ask? The answer, of course, is obvious: Orlando Bloom, international Brit movie star of Troy, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean fame, making his theatrical stage debut. But even though he’s the first person to walk out onstage when the play begins, there’s no whooping and hollering: this audience is way too cool for that. And they are extremely attentive throughout, being drawn into the world of the play and saving their cheers for the end. Amazingly, no mobile phones go off at all during the performance. This is the best-behaved audience I have been amongst for ages.
Fielding the Q&A, I am expecting to have to fend off questions about movie stardom, and the question duly comes: “International movie star, a heartthrob who is beloved of so many women – how do you cope with the attention?” But the young woman posing the question doesn’t direct it to Bloom, but to Tim Healy, who plays the miner dad in the play!
It was me who was forced to lower the tone. I told the audience that the last time a David Storey play was seen at this theatre, The Changing Room (when the Royal Court revived it as part of their season there while their home theatre was being refurbished), the entire cast took their clothes off – but unfortunately, I added, last night they kept theirs on. Lynda Baron replied that she’d be up for it. But as Mark Lawson pointed out in The Guardian in a pre-opening interview with Bloom when rumours of stage nudity started circulating on the internet, “The only undressing stage direction to be found in Storey’s text is a hospitable invitation to Steven to take off his coat if he’s staying. Is it possible that the new staging reinterprets this scene so radically that Bloom keeps on going once he’s got his coat off?” Lawson then reports Bloom’s reaction: “The actor has bad news for anyone hoping for Last Tango in Wakefield: ‘I heard what they’re saying. But you’ve read the play. Where would I possibly get my clothes off in it? It’s bizarre’.”
But if the audience are entirely respectful, asking intelligent and focused questions about the play, it is after the performance that insanity suddenly takes over – not, I hasten to add, inside the theatre but outside it. The area around the stage door is positively mobbed. Traffic in St Martin’s Lane is brought to a standstill as the crowds spill into the street, and the car waiting to pick up Bloom blocks the flow further. I’ve not seen mob scenes outside a theatre like this since Julia Roberts’ appearance on Broadway in Three Days of Rain would bring West 45th Street to a nightly standstill.
One of the play’s co-producers Michael Edwards tells me that they’ve had to add four security men to the budget, who are very diligent – sometimes too diligent. The other day Dearbhla Molloy – who plays Bloom’s mother – had to call stage door from her mobile to be allowed past them.