The Stage


Shenton's View

Theatrical hazards….

I blogged only the other day about the collapse of Telegraph critic Charles Spencer’s seat at the opening night of The Deep Blue Sea last week, and indeed he wrote about himself in his review of the production: “I was completely caught up in this deeply moving revival of Terence Rattigan’s masterpiece when the emotional tragedy on stage was counterpointed by sheer farce in the stalls. My seat suddenly collapsed. I know I’m overweight but surely not that overweight. Rarely has the dilapidated state of our crumbling West End theatres been more forcefully brought home to me. Mercifully, the man from the Sunday Times offered me his spare seat.”

Intriguingly, the front-of-house billboard of Charlie’s review - which reprints most of his otherwise rave review in full - omits this opening paragraph. But these are far from the only occupational hazards that those of us who go to the theatre, and write about it, frequently suffer or at least witness: at Saturday’s matinee of The English Game, Richard Bean’s brilliant new state-of-the-nation play told through the players of a local cricket team, a disgruntled player lobbed his bat on the ground, and it hurtled across the stage and into the front row of Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre!

It reminded me of a first night at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs a few years ago of a play called Flesh Wound by Che Walker, that nearly inflicted one on a critic seated in the front row.

As Rhoda Koenig put it in her review for The Independent, “First nights at the Royal Court Upstairs are getting a bit too much alike. At the last one, seated in the first row, I had to cover my eyes while one actor did something revolting to the other’s hands. This time, sitting in the same spot, I made the same gesture, for the same reason - not, as it turned out, a wise move, for, a moment later, a knife with an eight-inch blade flew across the stage and whacked me in the ankle. Well, I once panned a novel by Jeanette Winterson and I’m still here, so I guess I just lead a charmed life.”

You might also need to lead a charmed life to actually get served in Cafe Nero, or - as a friend and I now dub it — Caffe Zero these days. With a policy of only ever having two staff at any branch, regardless of the size of it, you are lucky if both are actually at the counter at any given time; and even more bizarrely, the tiny one on the Strand - right opposite two prime theatres, the Adelphi (where the sell-out Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is playing) and the Vaudeville (home of the aforementioned The Deep Blue Sea), shuts at 7pm on a Saturday evening, a full half-hour before curtain up on either show. So they threw me out on Saturday so they could shut…. and this from a chain that is at least theatrically aware enough to currently use their loyalty card scheme to advertise the RSC Histories season - and theatre nerds (yes, I am talking about myself!) may be intrigued to know that there’s an entire set to collect, with one for each play.

And talking of zero: it’s not enough that the multi-tasking Tim Walker, lead theatre critic of the Sunday Telegraph by night, often gets in a muddle in his reviews for the paper (famously thinking that Larry Olivier - as he repeatedly called him - blacked up to play Iago in Othello and that Colin Firth starred in the original production of Equus), but he’s now getting muddled about the differences between movies and plays in his day job writing Mandrake diary column, too. Last Friday he breathlessly told his readers that Daniel Day-Lewis is contemplating a return to the stage (for the first time since he quit it mid-performance while playing Hamlet at the National) to now play Guido Contini in the musical Nine, and wrote: “The role involves portraying a famous film director who experiences personal and creative crisis while trying to balance all the women in his life. Dame Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard are lined up to play the women.”

Leaving aside the financial impossibility of any theatrical producer ever being able to afford the payroll for a production like this, the show was last revived on Broadway only five years ago (when the brilliant Antonio Banderas played the role). What Walker was in fact reporting on is a planned film version. If the facts are less than consistent, at least his review ratings are consistently inconsistent, too; continuing the bipolarity I previously identified here, yesterday he awarded five-stars to The Deep Blue Sea (and acclaiming Greta Scacchi for the best acting he’d seen for ten years - not to be taken too seriously when he also considers that Patrick Garland is Britain’s greatest stage director),he also gave one-star to That Face.

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