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A matinee, a Pinter play…..

“Another long exhausting day, Another thousand dollars, A matinee, a Pinter play, Perhaps a piece of Mahler’s.”

Thus sings the character of Joanne in Sondheim’s song ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’, immortalised in the original Broadway production of Company that it comes from by Elaine Stritch, anatomising the life of society ladies who have time and money – but also “look into their eyes,/and you’ll see what they know:/Everybody dies.”

But while we are all waiting to die, matinees – if not, always, Pinter plays – are a fun way to pass the time. [Click below to continue reading]

They can also, as Natasha Tripney points out in a Guardian blog, be a guilty pleasure: “There’s something a bit thrilling about doing during the day what one usually does in the evening - especially if it’s a midweek matinee. The whole experience is a little naughty, as if you were skipping school or pulling a sickie - which, thinking about it, some of the audience probably are doing. Several of my own favourite matinee experiences came about through trying to avoid Wednesday afternoon biology lessons during my A-levels.”

That’s, of course, an able-bodied younger person speaking. For some older theatregoers – the ones that, as Natasha also points out routinely populate matinees (“Old people usually predominate. The only times I’ve seen a thermos produced from someone’s handbag, and the contents consumed mid-show, were during matinees”) – it’s often a practical and safety necessity: to be able to get to (and until the nights finally draw in, from) the theatre while its still light. And not past an early bedtime.

But I like matinees myself because, in an already crammed schedule, they sometimes allow me to catch up. And there’s nothing quite like the Wednesday matinee at Richmond Theatre (where I’ll be tomorrow afternoon, for the current touring Hobson’s Choice), where a loyal, enthusiastic audience turn up most weeks, it seems, to support whatever is on. It feels virtually like a subscription house. I do, though, sometimes wonder if it can continue like this forever: will my generation be turning out every week when we’re 65+ in the same way? Or will the likes of Punchdrunk’s followers be installing stair lifts for us to visit their shows, too? I’ve already noted that their latest show is discriminatory against people wearing glasses, since the masks you are forced to wear don’t comfortable accommodate them; indeed, in his Sunday Times review Christopher Hart points out the same thing, “the mask kept squishing my glasses up against my watering eyeballs, only adding to the general sense of hopelessness and horror”. But the shows are also far from accessible to all, either: disabled people or older people who can’t promenade for three hours simply can’t go.

Matinees can also be particularly useful for out-of-town trips if you wish to get home on the same day without having to stay over, thanks to a train system that seems to think we should mostly be in bed or where we want to be by 10pm. And even where the trains do run late, if you do make it back to London on the late train from Stratford-upon-Avon, you would still have to struggle home somehow from Marylebone, since the tubes have stopped running, too.

But I do wish that matinees had the same buzz and cachet here as they do on Broadway, where the Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees are amongst the most popular of the week. There’s a real energy around Broadway come lunchtime on each of those days, as audiences converge on Times Square; nobody seems to have anything to do except go to the theatre.

3 Comments

I agree with Mark re: matinees. However, from my own personal experience, both as an audience and also (sometimes) cast member, there is a general feeling in the UK that one "marks" the matinee, thus saving the energy for the evening show. A sorry state of affairs.....

"For some older theatregoers... it’s often a practical and safety necessity: to be able to get to (and... from) the theatre while its still light. And not past an early bedtime": not just theatregoers. In his latter years the poet, songwriter and general eccentric genius Ivor Cutler refused to play if he couldn't get back to sleep in his own north London bed that night, which is why the last time I saw him in Edinburgh he went on at 2.15 in the afternoon. (A long-time member of the Noise Abatement Society, he also looked disapproving if we applauded too fervently!)

"disabled people or older people who can’t promenade for three hours simply can’t go" to Masque Of The Red Death: I suppose I have to start looking on myself as being disabled through extreme obesity. (I did the math, and found that I weigh at least one and a half Homer Simpsons.) I lasted the course at BAC, but only by taking two separate stints off in the music-hall and also grabbing chairs (or leanable-against walls) wherever possible in other spaces around the building. It's not for my sake, you understand, although the cause is that my legs simply can't support my body weight for long periods unmoving; it's for other people. I've been hyper-conscious of it since the time in early 2005 at the Gate's excellent promenade production of "Tejas Verdes" when I shifted my weight, my knee refused to lock out and I collapsed like a dynamited tower block. Twice. They weren't faints; I was entirely conscious the whole time, which of course only added to the embarrassment. But since then I've always taken care to scope out promenade and site-specific spaces as far as possible, and to ensure that I have a refuge no matter how far removed from the centre of things (since I've nobody to blame for being this size but myself).

As for the main subject of the entry: what I enjoy most about matinees is eavesdropping on interval or curtain conversations, such as "I don't know where it's set... It's as if THOSE two know each other, and SHE doesn't" midway through Pinter's "Old Times" (at Richmond!), or coming out of a Mime Festival show, woman (slightly wheedling): "That was quite good, James"; man (with the petulance of a nine-year-old): "It was rubbish and boring", or the college crowd at a matinee of "The Woman In Black" who were complaining to each other during the interval about the swathes of (non-irritant) stage smoke... as they lit up their cigs!

It's not true that disabled people simply can't attend Punchdrunk productions - at both Faust and Red Death I saw audience members in wheelchairs being given special assistant by stewards and the actors to make sure they could experience the show.

Also, with regards to the masks, they have a different type of mask for glasses-wearers which I've worn with glasses a few times and is far less uncomfortable - I'm surprised they didn't offer it to you as they always have done to me when I've attended with glasses! Perhaps it's not done on press nights for whatever reason?

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