Last night Hay Fever opened in the West End, but you can’t read about it till Monday, as reviews have been embargoed till then, as I have previously explained; yet by the same token, comic Jackie Mason’s farewell season in the West End with his new show Fearless doesn’t open till Monday, but you can already read reviews from the Daily Telegraph (four stars from Dominic Cavendish), Guardian (two stars from Brian Logan) and Metro (three stars from Sharon Lougher).
And tonight the first press performance for Zach Braff’s All New People apparently takes place at the Duke of York’s, though I’m not sure how many critics actually know about it, so it’s anybody’s guess if or when reviews will actually appear.
Clearly the press night system is not only under strain, it is breaking down. There was a time, not so very long ago, when producers would beg to get their shows reviewed; nowadays, it seems, producers are more keen not to have them covered.
Technology may be changing the way we live and interact, but there’s nothing to replace the live interaction — even if it’s an online one. In a story in The Times the other day on stay-at-home sex workers who interact with their clients remotely by webcam, one model pointed out, “People download a song for free, but will pay to see the gig.”
And odd though that may sound, it supports something I’ve long been saying: that live theatre will survive, whatever the technological changes, because audiences still want to be there in the room, as it happens. Some of the audience may, thanks to initiatives like NT Live and the Royal Opera House’s live relays into cinemas, be in another room at the time, much like our online sex worker, but at least it is happening in real time.
It’s difficult sometimes for those of us consumed by the life of the theatre to imagine a life outside it, so I was heartened and impressed to read an interview with Magaret Edson in the New York Times last week of her brief, Pulitzer prize winning life as the playwright of Wit (currently being revived on Broadway with Cynthia Nixon), and her even richer one now as a schoolteacher.
As she puts it, “There was just something I wanted to say, and the play seemed like the best way to say it. But the contribution I want to make now I want to make in the classroom. The difference between teaching and play-writing is not incomprehensible to me, they’re not so different. They both create a public event that leads to understanding.”
She’s a woman who knows her worth, and the worth of different kinds of work: much of the play was based on her experience as a unit clerk on a cancer floor in a Washington research hospital, and she tells the New York Times, “It was the lowest job in the entire hospital. It was like being a stage manager in a play, keeping track of the supply cabinet, the patients’ schedules.That was a very weighty time. I don’t mean heavy. It was just very meaningful to me. I loved that job. I felt so useful.”
Tomorrow English National Opera offers the London premiere of John Adams’s 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer at the London Coliseum, which has a libretto by Alice Goodman, who has also had a change of career in the years since the opera was first staged. (She is now a Church of England priest). But depressingly there are threats of protests. Based on the true story of a disabled Jewish tourist was murdered during the hijacking of a cruise ship by Palestinian militants, the Sunday Telegraph last weekend reported Rabbi Shmuley Boteach stating that the ENO’s production was “morally reprehensible” and he planned to stage protests with Jewish groups outside the theatre. He is also quoted complaining, “It is extraordinary that a prestigious cultural institution would give a voice to terrorism in this way.”
Goodman, for her part, admits, “I did not think I would see another production of Klinghoffer by a leading opera house in my lifetime. People who kill and hijack do get to sing beautiful songs and the bad people in it are not entirely bad while the good people are not entirely good. It is a risk for ENO but I applaud them for sticking their head above the parapet.”
In an interview with Tom Morris, the former artistic director of BAC who now leads Bristol Old Vic (and is also collecting a nice weekly royalty as co-director of the global smash of War Horse) in Metro earlier this week, he points out, “‘It seems to me that the opera is pretty fearless in inhabiting different contradictory positions. John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman throw themselves into both sides imaginatively and emotionally. So, yes, there are things articulated in the opera that you can take offence to but only if you take them out of context and measure them against a vested political position on either side.”
Beyond the threat of protest, the bigger job has been getting the opera onstage in the time available: he tells Metro, “It’s been a strange combination of ecstasy and mind-numbing frustration. The amount of time to embrace all the theatrical potential of this great work, and these fabulous musicians, and put all that on stage, is tiny.” I can’t wait to see tomorrow if he manages to pull it off.
Finally, who needs a megaphone (or even to place an announcement in the engagements column) when you’ve got the Daily Mail to do it for you? In Wednesday’s Daily Mail, the Ephraim Hardcastle column led with this news: “Romance is in the air at The Critics’ Circle. The theatre section’s grand fromage, The Stage’s Mark Shenton, announces his forthcoming nuptials. He is to marry his boyfriend, also named Mark. They’re known affectionately as The Haddocks, due to their black beards and physical similarity to the Tintin character of that name. They’ll marry in New York’s Central Park. They enjoy joint custody of a rabbit.”
I’m happy to say that all of this is true (apart from the fact that my beard is more reddish than black) and they didn’t need to hack my phone to find it out, either. Even the rabbit is real: Ellie turned nine last December.