After referring to the controversy around the delayed opening of the Old Vic’s Complicit yesterday, I received an e-mail last night from a friend who had just been to see it: “All I will say is that I can see no reason why it couldn’t have opened as scheduled if tonight’s performance was anything to go by.” He went on to say, “There was no sign of Richard Dreyfuss, who gives a committed and passionate performance, needing any assistance from the earpiece he is visibly but discretely wearing. I really think all the ugly rumours and naysaying ought to stop. It deserves a little more respect than such cheap shots.”
Now it may well be that my friend’s expectations might have been low, given the early feedback that had surrounded the show; it’s also possible that more of the so-called “development time” had already bedded in a much better show. But there’s a definite danger of fuelling a climate of distrust around a show, and I realise I am part of that here; but then because previews, of whatever duration, happen in public, there’s also an inevitable danger of the public exercising the right to the opinion they have paid full price tickets to attend.
Nowadays critics, as I’ve commented here before, are far from the first word (or even the last) on a production; bloggers are not bound by the conventions of regular press nights, and report what they see when they see it.
The Teenage Theatre Critic, as he calls himself, blogged after attending the very first preview; and though he said that the “production wise nothing seemed too far from completion”, he added, “What won’t change (or not a lot) before opening night is the play itself, and I’m afraid to say it’s something of a turkey.”
He doesn’t even mention Dreyfuss’s reported difficulties with his lines; but another blogger, John Morrison, who attended a few days later, does, and reports, “Top marks to Spacey for appearing on stage before the third preview on Friday to apologise for the show starting a few minutes late — a nice change from the Dromgoole approach which is ‘Let the buggers wait’. I was slightly disconcerted when he described what we were about to see as a work in progress and asked for understanding for any technical glitches. There weren’t any glitches that I could spot, though Dreyfuss was having trouble remembering his lines.” Inevitably, too, the West End Whingers have also posted their response to the play already as well.
This is a brave new world that is impossible to police; and the Old Vic and other managements who therefore delay their exposure to critical attention do so at their peril. But at least Spacey had the good grace and manners to apologise for the late curtain up; there was no such luck at last night’s official opening of Thriller Live at the Lyric, which went up a full 35 minutes later than the advertised start time of 7pm. It turns out we were waiting for the arrival of Tito Jackson, Michael’s brother, and his entourage; and once again, one was reminded of the clash of priorities on such press nights. While the Lyric’s tiny foyer was a mob scene of minor celebrities (most of whom I didn’t recognise, but whom photographers were swarming around), it was difficult to negotiate one’s way into the theatre at all.
The early curtain up is historically to enable overnight critics to make earlier escapes afterwards to file their notices; but by the time this show eventually started, that advantage had been lost. No wonder that Quentin Letts, sat beside me, ended up fleeing before the end - he had a deadline to meet. (And the show, to be honest, was going to be just more of the same). But he did ask me to ring him if the theatre burnt down. I was tempted to set it on fire myself, just so I could make an early escape too; but it very nearly happened of its own accord. There was a brief bit of onstage smouldering (probably from one of the indoor fireworks that had been detonated), but it was, unfortunately, quickly extinguished.