“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.