I think nothing, of course, of seeing the same production more than once, as regular readers of this blog will know: I saw Next to Normal, for instance, nine times on Broadway in all. That made me, quipped one wag, an investor rather than a critic, as I bought my tickets more than they were given to me.
But in that case I found a particular affinity and resonance with the show that meant that it spoke to me; I went partly for the pleasure of a beautiful piece of theatre, but also for the pain of what it dealt with. (As it happens, Ruby Wax visits similar territory in her new autobiographical Losing It, accompanied with songs by Judith Owen, that opens at the Menier Chocolate Factory tonight; I went in early to see that last weekend, and my review will be appearing on The Stage website tomorrow).
There are other times when we’re specifically invited back to see the same production a second time, as for example when it transfers from its originating theatre to the West End - recently, we turned out en masse to see Clybourne Park a second time, but the openings were a few months apart, and there had also been some cast changes.
RSC productions, too, that premiere in Stratford-upon-Avon are routinely re-reviewed when they come to London (though I personally don’t always make the trip to Stratford myself when they first open); in the case of David Tennant’s Hamlet, which I did see at Stratford, we ended up seeing his understudy Edward Bennett on the London opening when Tennant had to suddenly withdraw owing to his back problems (and now, believe me, I can truly identify with); but then Tennant returned for the last week of the London run after his back surgery, and we were invited to see it a third time.
The RSC are also officially giving us a third go round at their productions of King Lear and Romeo and Juliet, both of which were reviewed when they first opened at Stratford, seen again when they transferred to London’s Roundhouse before Christmas, and are now being made available to review again when they return to Stratford to inaugurate the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a press day on March 10.
The main focus there will be presumably to review the way the new theatre works, and it’s quite a good test to see it via productions we already know the virtues of. (Unfortunately I won’t be there as I’ll be in Australia; but I look forward to seeing the theatre in action at the premiere of the first show to originate there when Michael Boyd directs Macbeth in April).
Then, of course, there are the cast changes that we are sometimes invited back to see. I ended up seeing the last London production of La Cage Aux Folles multiple times, first at the Menier Chocolate Factory, where it originated with Douglas Hodge and Philip Quast; then again when it transferred to the West End, with Quast now replaced by Denis Lawson; then, with a friend from New York, at a post-Christmas matinee where both Hodge and Lawson were off and replaced by their understudies; again when John Barrowman took over from Hodge; and then yet again when Quast returned to the production, newly joined by Roger Allam in Hodge’s role, and then one more time on their last night together.
I also saw the opening night of the show’s transfer to Broadway (Hodge joined by Kelsey Grammer); and may yet see it again there in April, since Hodge has since been replaced by Harvey Fierstein (who wrote the book) and Grammer by Jeffrey Tambor, a favourite actor of mine from his deadpan appearances as Hank Kingsley in TV’s The Larry Sanders Show.
We are also naturally used to attending the openings for theatrical double bills, trilogies (like the all-day opening for Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia) or even entire cycles (the RSC’s History Cycle required attendance for two full trilogy days, with another play one either side of each trilogy day, to make eight plays in all). But this week, I think, there may have been a first, with the National asking us to see the same production and the same actors two nights running, for their opening of Frankenstein last night and the night before.
Of course, the catch was that two of those same actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, are role-swapping between performances, one playing the title character and the other the creature, and then swapping over. So they wanted us to see them play each role. And indeed, when it comes to Frankenstein’s appearance as part of NT Live in cinemas around the country and world, the same opportunity is being provided: it will be screened twice, on March 17 and 24 (though only the March 17 performance will in fact be live; the second one will be pre-recorded).
Thank God the show was good and repaid a second view on consecutive nights; I’m also glad that I had a change of angle on each. While we are typically given the same seats for each production at the National - my usual Olivier assignment is usually Row D on the centre aisle - I saw it from those seats on Tuesday night, but for last night I was in Row K, so could see the show on a wider frame and longshot.
It also meant for the overnight critics who have all duly filed their reviews for this morning’s papers that they could be more relaxed last night; having already seen the show once the night before, I’m guessing that most will have structured the bulk of their review before they got there, and only adjusted them to accommodate the change of casting. Certainly looking down the centre aisle there wasn’t the usual flurry of note taking; Libby Purves, two rows in front of me, even put her notebook away before the end.
Welcome though it is that we got to see this show twice - and I suspect this won’t be the end of it, either, as I have a hunch it’s going to be a long running success, either with return seasons to the National or a transfer to the West End, so we’re bound to be back to see other actors take over - I do, however, wonder what this is doing for other shows that are craving coverage.
There are only so many nights in the week, not to mention column inches in which to write about them. Of course it is right and proper that a major cultural event like this should achieve a big media impact, and there’s nothing better than seeing the theatre make it off the reviews pages and onto the news ones. But there’s also a lot of other shows opening all the time, too; and if we’re at the National two nights running, that means we’re not somewhere else.